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While a joint tortfeasor's obligation arises because of its injurious conduct, and its degree of liability is directly related to its share of the blame, a shipowner is liable to provide maintenance and cure--food, medical care, and lodging--to sick or injured seamen in the ship's employ, regardless of the cause of sickness or injury. The shipowner's obligation to pay maintenance and cure is not based on fault but results from the relationship of ship and seaman.
Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company ("Great Lakes") and Chevron Transport Corporation and Chevron Shipping Corporation (collectively "Chevron") operated ships which were involved in an accident that caused deaths and injuries. Individual actions were brought against Great Lakes for damages, and Great Lakes filed a third-party complaint against Chevron for indemnity, contribution, and damage to Great Lakes’s ship. All claims were resolved through settlement except Great Lakes’s contribution claims against Chevron, and Chevron settled with those injured in the accident as well. While the trial was pending, the Supreme Court decided McDermott, Inc. v. AmClyde, 511 U.S. 202, 114 S. Ct. 1461, 128 L. Ed. 2d 148 (1994), and Boca Grande Club, Inc. v. Florida Power & Light Co., 511 U.S. 222, 114 S. Ct. 1472, 128 L. Ed. 2d 165 (1994). In McDermott, the Court rejected the pro tanto approach espoused by this circuit and held that a proportionate share approach, which simply reduces an award against a nonsettling tortfeasor by the percentage of fault assigned to a settling joint tortfeasor, is superior to a pro tanto setoff and more consistent with Reliable Transfer, 511 U.S. at , 114 S. Ct. at 1470. Boca Grande involved the question of whether a plaintiff's settlement with one tortfeasor barred a contribution claim brought by a nonsettling joint tortfeasor. The Court relied on McDermott to vacate a panel opinion from this circuit, which had followed Great Lakes III in rejecting the settlement bar rule. The Court stated simply that because it had adopted the proportionate share rule, "actions for contribution against settling defendants are neither necessary nor permitted." After the Supreme Court decided McDermott and Boca Grande, Chevron moved to dismiss Great Lakes's contribution claims and moved in the alternative for summary judgment or judgment on the pleadings. Citing Harper v. Virginia Dept. of Taxation, 509 U.S. 86, 113 S. Ct. 2510, 125 L. Ed. 2d 74 (1993), Chevron argued that McDermott and Boca Grande effectively overruled Self and Great Lakes III and mandated a dismissal of Great Lakes's contribution claims. The district court agreed and dismissed Great Lakes's claims. (R. 2-62 at 2.) Great Lakes filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment, arguing that even if its general contribution claims were precluded, its claims for contribution based on maintenance and cure expenses survived McDermott and Boca Grande. The district court denied the motion to alter or amend, and this appeal followed.
Did the district court correctly conclude that McDermott and Boca Grande foreclose Great Lakes' claims for distribution? Yes (Great Lakes's general contribution claims); No (Great Lakes's claims for contribution based on maintenance and cure).
The court agreed with the district court's conclusion that Great Lakes's general contribution claims are precluded by McDermott and Boca Grande. Meanwhile, the court did not read McDermott and Boca Grande to require the same result with regard to Great Lakes's claims based on maintenance and cure; those decisions do not address whether a shipowner that is also a tortfeasor can recover maintenance and cure expenses based on the relative fault of other joint tortfeasors. Because McDermott and Boca Grande left intact binding precedent allowing contribution claims based on maintenance and cure expenses, the court was bound to hold that Great Lakes's claims based on maintenance and cure should have been allowed to proceed.