Wallace v. Cooke Aquaculture USA, Inc.
Great Falls Insurance Co.
October 2, 2019
Jones Act Jurisdicition
Summary from the Troubh Heisler Attorneys
The Appellate Division vacated Judge Pelletier's decision granting Mr. Wallace's petitions and remanded the case back to Judge Pelletier for further proceedings to determine whether Mr. Wallace's claims are governed exclusively by the Jones Act and must be filed in federal court. Although Judge Pelletier had ruled that Cooke waived the Jones Act issue because it was not "timely raised" or adequately presented, the Appellate Division panel concluded that the issue involves the Board’s subject matter jurisdiction and therefore could not be waived.
Mr. Wallace slipped and fell working on a barge at Cooke's salmon farm, injuring his left knee and low back, and incurring lost time and medical expenses, including disc surgeries that left him partially paraplegic and chronic pain. At first Cooke voluntarily paid benefits, but it then disputed the causal relationship of the injury to his later condition. Cooke filed petitions which, after hearing, were set for position papers.
At that point, Cooke asked for a conference and moved to reopen the record on the issue of whether the case was covered by the Jones Act. Judge Pelletier denied the motion and decided the issue on the merits, awarding Mr. Wallace total incapacity benefits. Cooke filed for findings, and Judge Pelletier issued an amended decree stating that Cooke had forfeited consideration of the Jones Act issue because it failed to raise the issue in time.
Cooke appealed, and the Appellate Division agreed that Judge Pelletier erred, because the issue involved the Board’s subject matter jurisdiction and could not be waived. The Jones Act is a federal law that supersedes state law dealing with injuries by seamen in the course of employment, including sea-based maritime employees whose work exposes them to the special hazards of working on ships at sea. Although the panel agreed that Cooke had raised the Jones Act issue belatedly, it noted that Judge Pelletier had not yet issued a decision regarding Mr. Wallace's status as a seaman. Therefore, his decision denying the motion to reopen the evidence was "outside the bounds of his discretion."