In a decision handed down on November 8, 2017 by the Court of Appeal for the Third Circuit, State of Louisiana, they determined the trial court was incorrect and reversed and rendered summary judgment in favor of defendant, St. Charles Gaming Company.
In the decision of Carl Joseph Benoit and Patricia Faye Benoit v. St. Charles Gaming Company, the court found the casino, Grand Palais, was originally built to serve as a floating casino; however, it had not moved since 2001. It was permanently moored to the shore with all services provided via shore-side utility lines to supply electricity, water, telephone service, sewage, cable television and internet services. Additionally, the casino computer systems, including the slot machines, for the Grand Palais’ gaming activities were located on land. In sum, the Grand Palais’ primary purpose was – and is – dockside gambling.
The Court noted that for more than sixteen years, the casino had not engaged in any maritime activity and had been moored at the same location with all operations required for its gaming activities operated via land-based services. While finding it was possible for the Grand Palais to be returned to service as a vessel, the evidence established that it had been indefinitely moored to provide for and maintain its primary purpose of gaming. Thus, although designed to transport people over water, as a result of the changes to its physical characteristics, its purpose, and its actual function over the past sixteen years, it was and is no longer a vessel.
The appeal court therefore concluded that the plaintiff, Mr. Benoit, had not been subjected to “the special hazards and disadvantages” the Jones Act was enacted to remedy. To qualify as a Jones Act seaman, Mr. Benoit was required to prove that he worked on a vessel. Since the court determined that the Grand Palais was not a vessel, this precluded a finding of seaman status to allow plaintiff to pursue Jones Act remedies. Accordingly, the appeals court reversed the finding of the trial court and granted summary judgment in favor of St. Charles Gaming Company, dismissing Benoits’ claims.
The full decision can be found here.