Baldwin Haspel Burke & Mayer LLC

Maritime Update: Louisiana Supreme Court Grants Writ in Don Caldwell, et al. v. St. Charles Gaming Co.

Bill Schwartz - 

In our Maritime Update issued on July 31, 2019, we advised that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana found that the ISLE OF CAPRI CASINO-LAKE CHARLES, now called the GRAND PALAIS, was still a vessel for purposes of a lawsuit brought by an employee.

Most recently, on October 15, 2019, the Louisiana Supreme Court granted writ of certiorari in the matter of Don Caldwell, et al. v. St. Charles Gaming Co. The sole issue to be decided by the Supreme Court is whether St. Charles Gaming Co.’s GRAND PALAIS Casino in Lake Charles, LA is a vessel under federal maritime law, which gives the Plaintiff a viable Jones Act claim.

In the appeal filed by St. Charles Gaming Co. with the Third Circuit, the Defendant contended that the trial court failed to follow its own jurisprudence from Benoit v. St. Charles Gaming Co. In the Benoit case, the Plaintiff worked as a deckhand on the exact same boat of controversy here in the Caldwell case. Plaintiff Benoit was injured in the course of employment and he filed suit claiming seaman status; i.e. filed a Jones Act claim. The Third Circuit held in Benoit that the GRAND PALAIS was not a vessel and therefore the plaintiff did not have a right to sue.

Additionally, in Breaux v. St. Charles Gaming Co. and Lemelle v. St. Charles Gaming Co., the Third Circuit held that the identical casino riverboats were not vessels under maritime law.

As noted above in Don Caldwell, et al. v. St. Charles Gaming Co, the Third Circuit reversed itself en banc. In so finding, Judge Saunders wrote that the GRAND PALAIS was a vessel because it was never disabled nor stripped of navigable characteristics. Additionally, facts were introduced in the Caldwell case that were not introduced in the earlier cases, which showed St. Charles Gaming Co. kept the GRAND PALAIS fully operational. Even though it had been moored for over fifteen years, the court found the casino was still “capable of transportation,” thus qualifying it as a vessel.

We will keep you advised on the outcome.

If you have any questions regarding this maritime matter, please contact Bill Schwartz at (504) 569-2900 or wschwartz@bhbmlaw.com.


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