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Forrest W. Phillips v. Hunter Marine Transport

September 26, 2012

FORREST W. PHILLIPS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HUNTER MARINE TRANSPORT, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Williams, Magistrate Judge:

FINDINGS OF FACT & CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

This action began as an admiralty case against barge owner Hunter Marine, and transformed into a fraud case against Hunter Marine's former employee Forrest Phillips. A jury returned a verdict against Phillips on November 11, 2011. The matter now comes before the Court for a bench trial on the portions of Mr. Phillips' complaint that were not presented to the jury. For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that Phillips was not injured during his work at Hunter Marine,*fn1 and ORDERS that the Clerk enter FINAL JUDGMENT in the case for Hunter Marine and against Forrest W. Phillips.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In November 2009, Forrest Phillips sued Hunter Marine under the Court's admiralty jurisdiction and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(h). Phillips asserted claims for (1) negligence under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104;*fn2 (2) unseaworthiness under general maritime law, and (3) maintenance and cure under general maritime law. In each Count, Phillips alleged that, while employed by Hunter Marine and working on the L.R. Chapman, he was injured on April 13, 2009, by a defective wire that jerked and injured his right shoulder and arm. Phillips did not demand a jury trial.

Hunter Marine, invoking the Court's diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, asserted counterclaims for material misrepresentation and fraud. Hunter Marine alleged that Phillips injured himself before boarding the L.R. Chapman, and that he falsely reported that he was physically able to perform his duties when he boarded the vessel on March 14, 2009, then falsely claimed that he was injured aboard the L.R. Chapman. Hunter Marine demanded a jury trial on its claims.

In January 2011, the parties fully consented to the undersigned magistrate judge's authority, and the case was fully referred pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73, and SDIL-LR 72.2(b)(3). After Hunter Marine's counterclaims were bifurcated and set for a jury trial in November 2011, to be followed (if necessary) by a bench trial on Phillips' Jones Act and general maritime claims. The parties stipulated that Hunter Marine had paid Phillips $92,110.88 as a result of Phillips' alleged workplace injury. The jury trial was held from November 8--10, 2011. The jury answered the following special interrogatories in the affirmative:

1. Did Forrest Wade Phillips conceal or misrepresent information from Hunter Marine's management when he completed the boarding report on March 14, 2009?

2. Did Forrest Wade Phillips conceal or misrepresent information from Hunter Marine's management when he reported being injured on the job on April 14, 2009?

3. Was the information that Mr. Phillips concealed or misrepresented material to Hunter Marine's decision to permit Mr. Phillips to work aboard the L.R. Chapman and/or to pay employment-related benefits to him as a result of an injury he claimed to have sustained on the L.R. Chapman?

4. Did Mr. Phillips' concealment and/or misrepresentation of material information cause Hunter Marine to pay benefits which it would not otherwise have paid?

5. Did Forrest Wade Phillips knowingly conceal or misrepresent material information to Hunter Marine when he boarded the L.R. Chapman on March 14, 2009 and completed the boarding report?

6. Did Forrest Wade Phillips knowingly conceal or misrepresent material information to Hunter Marine when he reported being injured on the job on April 14, 2009?

7. Did Forrest Wade Phillips conceal and/or misrepresent the information with the intent to deceive Hunter Marine and induce Hunter Marine to pay money to Phillips or to others on Phillips' behalf?

8. Did Hunter Marine pay money to Phillips and to others on Phillips' behalf in justifiable reliance on the facts as Hunter Marine knew them?

9. Did Hunter Marine's damages result from the concealment or withholding of material facts by Forrest Wade Phillips?

10. Do you find that Forrest Wade Phillips should be liable to Hunter Marine for punitive ...


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