Charles Cooper v. International Offshore Services, LLC, et al

[B]Case Name:* [/B]Charles Cooper v. International Offshore Services, LLC, et al.
[B]Date Decided: [/B]December 17, 2009
[B]Court: [/B]U.S.D.C. Eastern District of Louisiana
[B]Judge: [/B]Judge Lemmon
[B]Citation: [/B]2009 WL 5175216[B]Background:
[/B]This action, under the Longshore Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, LHWCA, arose from injuries suffered by plaintiff, Charles Cooper, while working as a seaman/crewmember aboard defendant’s, International Offshore Services, vessel.

Cooper was treated for his injuries and the surgeon determined he had reached maximum medical improvement. The defendants, paid Cooper indemnity benefits of $11,000 and $19,000 in medical benefits pursuant to the LHWCA.

Cooper settled his claim for benefits under the LHWCA and received $11,000 while his attorney received $2,000. The defendants were released from “any and all claims” arising out of the incident which caused his injury and the Department of Labor entered a formal award approving the settlement releasing defendants from future liability.

Cooper, however, filed a complaint against International Offshore and International Marine (defendants), and the unnamed owner and operator of the passing vessel which caused the gangway to shift thus injuring Cooper. Cooper asserted jurisdiction under Rule 9(h) and designated his claim as one in admiralty and maritime law alleging violations of the Jones Act, general maritime law, LHWCA, and Louisiana law. Cooper alleged that the* defendants were negligent and vessel was unseaworthy.

Cooper also claims defendants owed him maintenance and cure and that he is entitled to compensatory damages for failure to timely pay maintenance and cure.

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that Cooper’s claims are barred because he had settled his claims under LHWCA and the Dept. of Labor confirmed the settlement. Moreover defendants argued that Cooper’s claims are barred by res judicata under the terms of the formal award.

[/B]Did this Court find that Cooper’s claims were precluded because of the settlement agreement entered into by Cooper and defendants?

[/B]Defendants argued that Cooper’s complaint should be dismissed because Coopr settled his claim under §908(i) under the LHWCA. Cooper, however contended that there are issues of fact as to whether he bargained to release “any and all claims” he contended that all that he bargained for was the settlement of his claims for benefits under the LHWCA.

Defendants further asserted that this Court did not have jurisdiction over an appeal from the District Director’s compensation order because it must be appealed to the Benefits Review Board, then directly to circuit court.

This Court noted that merely accepting a voluntary payment under the LHWCA without a formal award did not bar a worker from filing a Jones Act suit. However, permitting a Jones Act proceeding after a formal compensation award would defeat the purpose of the LHWCA and would work unfairness.

Because Cooper sought a review of the issues of fact in the District Director’s order, and not the enforcement of the order, this Court found it did not have jurisdiction over his challenge to the compensation order.

Cooper contended that notwithstanding a bar of Jones Act and general maritime claims, his negligence claim under §905(b) of the LHWCA is still allowed. The defendants countered arguing that Cooper’s claims are barred by the doctrine of [I]res judicata[/I], and argue that a plain reading of the terms of the settlement agreement indicate that the settlement encompasses [I]any and all [/I]compensation to which Cooper may have been entitled.

The Court found that the four elements of[I] res judicata [/I]were met. Cooper agreed to a settlement of his claims through an administrative procedure, his employer and insurance carrier were parties to the action, there was a formal compensation order based on the settlement, and Cooper did not exercise his right to appeal the order. Accordingly, this Court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

Under [I]res judicata[/I], a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action. [/B]

[B]Four elements must be met for a claim to be barred by [I]res judicata[/I]: (1) The parties must be identical in the two actions (2) The prior judgment must have been rendered by the Court of competent jurisdiction (3) There must be a final judgment on the merits and (4) The same claim or cause of action must be involved in both cases. [/B]

[B]Steve Gordon [/B]