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Block Island Fishing, Inc. v. Rogers

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

December 23, 2016

BLOCK ISLAND FISHING, INC., Plaintiff, Appellee,
JAMIE ROGERS, Defendant, Appellee.


          Jonathan E. Gilzean, with whom David F. Anderson and Latti & Anderson LLP were on brief, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Muzyka, with whom Kirby L. Aarsheim and Clinton & Muzyka, P.C. were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Lynch, Lipez, and Barron, Circuit Judges.

          LYNCH, Circuit Judge.

         This case involves rulings of some significance to seamen and their employers in this circuit, as well as for summary judgment practice. Jamie Rogers, a seaman, was injured on October 3, 2013, on the vessel F/V HEDY BRENNA. Admiralty law entitles seamen who become injured during the course of their service at sea to recover "maintenance and cure" payments from their employers. Block Island Fishing, Inc., is the owner and operator of the fishing vessel. Having made some maintenance and cure payments to Rogers and believing it had overpaid, Block Island brought this suit against Rogers to dispute the duration and amount of maintenance and cure payments that it owed.

         Block Island then moved for summary judgment on the ground that its maintenance and cure duties terminated on July 31, 2014. It supported its motion with record evidence showing that Rogers had returned to work as a commercial fisherman on another fishing vessel in July.

         The district court rejected July 31 as the proper date of termination. But it went beyond the issue raised by Block Island's summary judgment motion and found November 18, 2014 as the date on which Block Island's obligations ended. That was the date on which a doctor, but not Rogers' primary care physician, found that Rogers no longer needed follow-up care.

         The district court also noted that injured seamen are generally entitled to maintenance and cure payments only in the amount of their actual living expenses, but it reserved for a jury to determine the exact sum that Block Island owed Rogers, along with other issues not resolved at the summary judgment stage. Relatedly, the district court held on summary judgment that Block Island had overpaid Rogers by calculating its maintenance and cure payments using figures that overestimated Rogers' actual living expenses. It further ruled that Block Island could offset the sum of overpayment against any damages award that Rogers might win at trial. We affirm in part and vacate and remand in part.

         As to the exact date on which Block Island's maintenance and cure obligations ended, the district court erred by sua sponte replacing Block Island's proposed date (July 31) with its own (November 18) without giving Rogers sufficient notice or opportunity to make his case against the new date. A summary judgment order is premature where the nonmoving party lacked "notice and a reasonable time to respond" to the grounds on which that motion would be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f).

         We agree with the district court's implicit recognition that injured seamen like Rogers can generally recover only reasonable expenses through maintenance and cure payments, and that it will be the factually exceptional case where the seaman's actual expenses are not reasonable. Whether this case presents such exceptional circumstances is an issue for the jury. Finally, as a matter of first impression, we adopt the ruling of the Fifth Circuit in Boudreaux v. Transocean Deepwater, Inc., 721 F.3d 723 (5th Cir. 2013), and hold that Block Island may offset any overpayment against Rogers' potential damages award, but may not sue for the sum in an independent action. See id. at 726-28.


         "Because our review of a grant of summary judgment is de novo, we, like the district court, are obliged to review the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and to draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor." LeBlanc v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 6 F.3d 836, 841 (1st Cir. 1993). Although there are numerous dates at issue, the core of the dispute involves (1) when Block Island's maintenance and cure obligations terminated, and (2) the amount, if any, of the maintenance and cure owed. Block Island takes the position that it overpaid Rogers based on an inflated rent amount that it believed Rogers to be paying when, in fact, Rogers had found less expensive housing. Rogers takes the position that special circumstances dictate that actual expenses are not the appropriate measure here.

         A. Rogers' Injury and His Various Residences from 2013 to 2014

         In August 2013, Rogers and his family moved into a single-family home in Bristol, Rhode Island. He paid the first month's rent of $1, 600, which included utilities, but he cannot remember paying rent in subsequent months. In September 2013, Rogers joined the crew of the F/V HEDY BRENNA, a commercial fishing vessel owned and operated by Block Island. For a fishing trip in which he participated that month, Rogers was paid $2, 892 in his catch share for the trip.

         On October 3, 2013, during another fishing voyage, Rogers fell off the top bunk while sleeping and injured himself. Three days later, upon returning from the voyage, Rogers was diagnosed with a fractured rib and received medical treatment. In October 2013, Block Island paid Rogers $1, 752.37 in catch share from the October 3 voyage and $475 in maintenance. On November 1, 2013, Block Island supplemented that amount with an additional $175 in maintenance and $1, 857.78 in lost wages. The total sum paid from Block Island to Rogers over this period equaled $4, 260.15.

         In November 2013, Rogers and his family were evicted from the Bristol apartment and moved to a less expensive apartment in Fall River, Massachusetts. He paid $625 in monthly rent, excluding utilities, for the new Fall River apartment. On November 4, 2013, Rogers' treating physician, Dr. Christian Campos, gave him a "fit for duty" slip and cleared him to return to work as a fisherman "without restrictions."

         Rogers' health worsened in December, however, when he was diagnosed with pneumonia and was hospitalized for three weeks. Rogers attributes the pneumonia to his rib injury. Block Island learned about Rogers' condition and hospitalization on December 19, 2013.

         On February 20, 2014, Dr. Campos reported that Rogers' condition was improving and that Rogers could "increase his level of physical activity as tolerated without restrictions" while staying on pain medication. On March 17, 2014, Dr. Campos completed another examination and once again advised Rogers to continue to ...

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