No, working on various customers' barges does not make you a seaman

by Matthew H. Ammerman on October 2nd, 2018

Seaman status is determined by the well-established--though imprecise--test of Chandris v. Latsis: (1) a worker’s duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission; and, (2) the worker’s connection to the vessel or identifiable group of vessels must be substantial “in both its duration and nature.”[1]

The “identifiable group” requirement (a/k/a fleet requirement) and vessel status were at issue in the Eastern District’s Young v. T.T. Barge Services Mile 237, LLC.[2] The district court held that a barge cleaner, Marcus Young, was not a seaman as a matter of law. Young worked on barges docked at his employer’s set of work barges connected to shore by a permanently-installed walkway, steel cables, and utility lines. He was injured when he fell into an open hatch of one of the work barges. The court relied on Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach to hold that that the work barges did not move in the ordinary course of business, were moved only infrequently, and would not be considered practically capable of carrying people or things over water.[3] Consequently, they were not vessels-in-navigation supportive of seaman status.[4]

Young also sought to establish seaman status based on his connection to the customers’ barges, testifying that he spent about thirty percent of his time on Kirby Inland’s barges.[5] But Young’s connection to Kirby Inland’s barges was transitory. He cleaned several a day, and the nature of his work meant that he worked on the customers’ barges that happened to be at his employer’s facility. The district court distinguishes Naquin v. Elevating Boats, L.L.C., 744 F.3d 927 (5th Cir. 2014), because the supervisor in that case was assigned to his employer’s fleet of lift-boats.[6] Young was not assigned to a specific set of Kirby Inland’s barges. Young’s connection to Kirby Inland’s barges was transitory, and, consequently, he did not have a substantial connection to an identifiable fleet of vessels.[7] The court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed Young’s complaint.

The court’s distinction of the Naquin case is key. There is no question that Naquin was working on lift-boats owned by his employer, i.e., an “identifiable group of vessels acting together or under one control.”[8] Young, however, worked on barges owned by several different entities.[9] Young’s employer serviced barges owned by several different entities--like a shipyard doing classic LHWCA-covered ship repair work.[10] Naquin, however, worked either mostly or exclusively on his employer’s specialized fleet of lift-boats. In that capacity, Naquin’s connection and range of duties having to do with his employer’s fleet was broader than working on a third-party customer’s boat.[11] Naquin was not a transitory maritime worker who performs a specific service on a vessel owned by one customer and then moves on to the next job.[12]

The Western District of Louisiana also touched on the fleet requirement in Tsuhlares v. Adriatic Marine, LLC,[13] involving a third-party contract cook. Tsuhlares was a payroll employee of Bailey’s Catering, L.L.C., assigned to work for 13 different clients at 20 different locations, including vessels and fixed platforms.[14] He fell and was hurt while assigned to work on borrowing employer Adriatic Marine’s OSV ARABIAN. He was not a seaman, however, because he only worked 9% of his time on vessels owned by Adriatic Marine.[15] Tshulares had only a “transitory or sporadic connection” to Adriatic Marine’s vessels, and, consequently, failed to satisfy the durational element of the substantial-connection requirement.[16] The court granted Adriatic Marine’s motion for partial summary judgment, which was unopposed by Tsuhlares, leaving him to pursue vessel negligence claims against Adriatic Marine through 33 U.S.C. § 905(b).

The bottom line: an employee of a service company working on a various customers' barges does not have a substantial connection to an identifiable group or fleet of vessels. Those types of workers have only a transitory connection to the barges. They are not seaman.


[1] Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 376, 115 S. Ct. 2172, 2194 (1995)(emphasis added).
[2] 290 F. Supp. 3d 562, 2018 AMC 144 (E.D. La. 2017).
[3] Id. at 567, citing Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, 568 U.S. 115, 126, 133 S. Ct. 735, 184 L. Ed. 2d 604 (2013).
[4] Young, 290 F.Supp. 3d at 567 (“…barges are not vessels when they are permanently attached to land, and when any transportation function is incidental to their primary purpose as a non-vessel work platform.”)(citations omitted).
[5] Id. at 568.
[6] Id. at 569.
[7] Id. at 567, citing Daniel v. Ergon, Inc., 892 F.2d 403, 407 (5th Cir. 1990).
[8] Naquin, 744 F.3d at 930 (“Naquin's primary responsibility as a vessel repair supervisor was the maintenance and repair of EBI's fleet of lift-boat vessels.”). The fleet definition comes from Barrett v. Chevron, U.S.A., Inc., 781 F.2d 1067, 1074 (5th Cir. 1986)(en banc).
[9] Young, 290 F.Supp. 3d at 568.
[10] 33 U.S.C. § 902(3).
[11] Naquin, 744 F.3d 927, 930 (Naquin’s duties included inspecting the liftboats for repairs, cleaning them, painting them, replacing defective or damaged parts, performing engine repairs, going on test runs, securing equipment, and operating the vessels’ marine cranes and jack-up legs. Naquin was injured while operating a crane in his employer’s yard.).
[12] See, e.g., Lirette v. N.L. Sperry Sun, Inc., 831 F.2d 554, 556-7 (5th Cir. 1987)(wireline operator was a transitory maritime worker and not a seaman), citing Barrett, 781 F.2d 1067, 1074 (5th Cir. 1986)(en banc).
[13] No. 6:16-CV-00742, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130154 (W.D. La. 2018).
[14] Tsuhlares, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130154, at *3
[15] Id.
[16] Id. at *10, citing Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 368, 115 S. Ct. 2172, 2189 (1995).

Posted in Seaman Status    Tagged with seaman status, naquin, 5th Circuit, transitory maritime worker



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