HOUSTON – On Aug. 14, the Court of Appeals for the 1st District of Texas reversed a ruling of the 295th District Court of Harris County in a Jones Act case.
"We reverse the trial court’s order granting summary judgment on (Vincent) Partin’s claims and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion," the court wrote.
Vincent Partin, who sued Superior Energy Services Inc. in 2014 after being injured on the vessel Arctic Challenger in 2013, filed the appeal after the 295th District Court in Harris County sided with Superior and granted its motion for summary judgment.
Partin said the lower court made the wrong decision because the issue with his seaman status had already been decided in a federal district court that heard the case in a previous suit between Partin and Superior. Partin also said Superior didn’t provide enough evidence that he wasn’t a protected seaman under the Jones Act, and that there is still an issue of whether Partin is actually a seaman based on the Jones Act.
The appeals court sided with Partin and remanded the case back to the lower court. It pointed out the portion of the Jones Act that is of concern states, “a seaman injured in the course of employment…may elect to bring a civil action at law, with the right of trial by jury, against the employer,” the ruling states.
Still, the Jones Act fails to define who is considered a seaman.
When determining the evidence against Partin’s seaman status, the appeals court decided the proof Superior submitted for its summary judgment motion is untimely because it was filed less than 21 days before the summary judgment hearing. Still, it decided to evaluate the evidence in Partin’s appeal.
When it comes to Partin’s seaman status, the appeals court pointed out he and others sued Superior in a federal court for overtime wages via the Fair Labor Standards Act. While Superior labeled Partin as a seaman for that case, the appeals court said it wasn’t enough to consider Partin a seaman in his Jones Act case considering FLSA and the Act have varying methods in determining who is a seaman.
However, the appeals court added Superior never established Partin isn’t a seaman under the Jones Act. While Superior made the motion for summary judgment under the argument Partin wasn’t a Jones Act seaman considering the Arctic Challenger wasn’t “in navigation” at the time he was hurt, the appeals court challenged that idea.
“We conclude that reasonable people could disagree as to whether or not the Arctic Challenger was capable of transportation by sea when the accident occurred,” the appeals court said.
Considering Partin’s Jones Act seaman status was weighed so heavily on whether the vessel was in navigation, a notion that can easily be challenged, the appeals court said the lower court erred in granting summary judgment, especially because Partin’s work added to the Arctic Challenger’s mission. The appeals court reversed and remanded the case.
Justice Russell Lloyd authored the opinion. Chief Justice Sherry Radack and Justice Terry Jennings concurred.