James McCuiston v. Coastal Catering, LLC

[B]Case Name: [/B]*James McCuiston v. Coastal Catering, LLC
[B]Date Decided: [/B]January 15, 2010
[B]Court: [/B]U.S.D.C. Eastern District of Louisiana
[B]Judge: [/B]Judge Vance
[B]Citation: [/B]2010 WL 235029 (E.D. La.)[B]Background:
[/B]Plaintiff, James McCuiston, was allegedly injured while working as a cook/galley hand while employed by Coastal Catering.

McCuiston entered into a seaman’s release of claims for $2,000. The agreement released any and all claims against Coastal, Tetra (charterer of vessel) and their principal contractor. The agreement acknowledged that McCuiston’s potential claims included, pain and suffering, compensation, wrongful termination, discrimination, medical expenses, maintenance, cure, and others.

In its plain language the agreement provided that McCuiston “will never again be able to recover money”. McCuiston also recognized, in the agreement, that he was willing to complete the agreement in order to avoid the uncertainties and expenses of litigation.

Notwithstanding his release of claims, McCuiston brought this action against Coastal. McCuiston elected to proceed [I]pro se[/I]. McCuiston has been absent since indicating he would represent himself.

McCuiston also failed to comply with discovery requests, provisions of the Court’s pretrial scheduling order as well.

McCuiston alleged Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness. Tetra and Southern have moved to dismiss for failure to prosecute and Coastal has moved for summary judgment.

Did this Court grant Coastal’s motion for summary judgment and other defendants’ motion for dismissal for failure to prosecute?

This Court found that Tetra and Southern demonstrated the validity of McCuiston’s release of claim. The record indicated that McCuiston entered into the settlement agreement freely and without deception or coercion. Moroever, McCuiston affirmed, under oath, that he was not under duress, and that nobody was making him settle his claims.

He also indicated that he was not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol and acknowledged he understood that he was free to hire independent counsel.

Moreover, even though $2,000 is a relatively small sum, the amount, according to this Court was not so low that this Court must conclude on the facts that he had lacked a [I]complete understanding [/I]of his rights.

Accordingly this Court found that the settlement agreement was valid and freely entered into, as such, granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

When settling, the amount of the settlement can be taken into consideration as a factor whether the plaintiff/injured seaman understood his rights under the agreement. [/B]

[B]Here, the plaintiff chose to proceed [I]pro se [/I]and missed many discovery and scheduling deadlines. Whenever an injured seaman chooses to pursue an action, by representing themselves, it involves an inherent risk. [/B]

[B]It’s important to at least consult an experienced attorney in Jones Act/maritime cases to determine whether it’s viable to settle sooner or take the action to trial if one is not reached. [/B]

[B]Steve Gordon [/B]