United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
TIMOTHY W. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
CENTRAL CONTRACTING & MARINE INC., and M/V STACEY DIANNE, in rem, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
M. YANDLE United States District Judge
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Timothy
Williams' Motion to Dismiss Defendant Central Contracting
& Marine Inc.'s (“CCM”) counterclaim
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure (Doc. 33). CCM filed a response (Doc. 41). For the
following reasons, Williams' motion to dismiss is
case arises out of Williams' employment with CCM on
October 22, 2014 as a deckhand aboard the vessel, M/V Stacy
Dianne. The Complaint alleges that Williams was working
aboard the vessel by himself without incident for several
hours until he “jerked on a ratchet to tighten a
rigging wire[, ]” at which time “the rigging
suddenly became slack and caused [P]laintiff to fall.”
(Doc. 1, p. 2). Williams brought claims for Jones Act
Negligence, Unseaworthiness of the M/V Stacy Dianne and
Maintenance and Cure under General Maritime Law.
filed a Counterclaim (Doc. 29) alleging that Williams has a
history of relevant injuries that he should have disclosed to
the company. The Counterclaim further alleges that CCM did
not require Williams to undergo a pre-employment physical,
but had he disclosed his previous injuries, he would not have
been hired. CCM is seeking reimbursement for the maintenance
and cure it has already paid to Williams.
motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the
complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted.” Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of
Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). A
complaint, or in this case, a counterclaim, must include
“a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2). A “complaint must contain sufficient factual
matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d
868 (2009) (quoting Twonbly, 550 U.S. at 570).
evaluating the sufficiency of the complaint, [courts] view it
in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, taking as true
all well-pleaded factual allegations and making all possible
inferences from the allegations in the plaintiff's
favor.” Anchor Bank, FSB v. Hofer, 649 F.3d
610, 614 (7th Cir. 2011). If a party alleges facts that show
they have no legal claim, they have pleaded themselves out of
court. See Peterson v. McGladrey & Pullen, LLP,
676 F.3d 594, 600 (7th Cir. 2012).
theory of recovery is based on the McCorpen defense:
Where the ship owner does not require a pre-employment
medical examination or interview, the rule is that a seaman
must disclose a past illness or injury only when in his own
opinion the ship owner would consider it a matter of
importance. If the ship owner is unable to persuade the court
or jury that the seaman could reasonably be expected to have
considered his medical history a matter of importance, he
will be liable for maintenance. He will be liable if it is
found that there existed reasonable grounds for the
seaman's good-faith belief that he was fit for duty.
McCorpen v. Cent. Gulf S. S. Corp., 396 F.2d 547,
548-49 (5th Cir. 1968).
principle is typically regarded as a defense used to
justify the denial of maintenance and cure payments before
they have been paid. Id. CCM, however, asserts that
it should be able to recover the maintenance and cure
payments it has already paid to Williams because the
McCorpen defense may have prevented Williams from
receiving maintenance and cure in the first place. Although
the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has not addressed
whether an independent cause of action can be brought based
on the McCorpen defense, the Fifth Circuit has.
Boudreaux v. Transocean Deepwater, Inc., the Fifth
Circuit held that once a ship owner pays maintenance and cure
to an injured seaman who has concealed a preexisting
disability, the payments can be recovered only by an offset
against the seamen's damages award, not by an independent
suit seeking affirmative recovery. 721 F.3d 723 (5th Cir.
2013). The Fifth Circuit reasoned that the employer has the
right to investigate an injured seaman's claim before
tendering any payments of maintenance and cure. If the
employer finds any causal link between the present injury and
the concealed preexisting disability, it can bring suit to
terminate its obligation to pay. Id. at 728.
contends that this issue has been previously addressed in
Phillips v. Hunter Marine Transport, Inc.,
“where a marine employer obtained a judgment . . . on a
counterclaim to recover maintenance and cure benefits the
plaintiff seaman was not entitled to receive.” (Doc. 41
p. 1-2). Phillips, however, is “inapposite as
the employer invoked diversity jurisdiction, rather than
admiralty jurisdiction, and asserted a claim for fraud and
material misrepresentation.” Am. River Transp. Co.
v. Benson, No. 12 C 6222, 2012 WL 5936535, at 5 (N.D.
Ill. Nov. 27, 2012). Simply put, Phillips concerned
a wholly different cause of action and was not decided based
on maritime law. Further, in Vitcovich v. Ocean Rover
O.N., also relied upon by CCM, the Ninth Circuit upheld
summary judgment for a ship owner on its counterclaim for
reimbursement of maintenance and cure, but “the court
did not directly address the validity of a cause of action
for recovery.” Id. Neither of these cases
decided the specific issue currently before the Court and the
Court is not persuaded by CCM's urging that it carve out
a new cause of action in maritime law.
have the opportunity and right to investigate maintenance and
cure claims such as this before payments are tendered and
they can do so without subjecting themselves to liability for
compensatory or punitive damages. 721 F.3d at 728. Moreover,
the inability for the employer to seek reimbursement after
the fact under these circumstances does not result in a
windfall for injured seamen who may have concealed their
previous injuries. Even absent fraud, an employer is entitled
to an offset for any Jones Act damages recovered by the
seaman to ...