The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nickerson, District Judge.
On June 2, 1989 Judge McLaughlin, to whom the case had been
assigned, denied Automatic Comfort's motion to dismiss the
third-party complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction.
Plaintiff then filed an amended complaint seeking damages from
both Poling and Automatic Comfort and asserting diversity of
citizenship between plaintiff and Automatic Comfort.
On December 21, 1989 Poling moved for an order pursuant to
Rules 12(b)(6) and 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
dismissing the action against Poling. Plaintiff cross-moved for
summary judgment against Poling. All the motion papers were
filed by April 25, 1990, and the motion was marked on Judge
McLaughlin's calendar as submitted.
In November of 1990 the case was assigned to this judge.
On December 21, 1986, the Poling's vessel was docked in East
Hartford, Connecticut, and was delivering petroleum products to
Automatic Comfort. Plaintiff, the cook on the Vessel, had given
the crew their supper and left the vessel at about 6:15 P.M. to
go shopping for groceries. He proceeded across the dock for
about 300 feet and started to climb the only exit from the
dock, that is, the stairway leading up to the shore. He says
that it was dark and that when he was about three or four feet
above ground level he slipped and fell, sustaining injuries.
Automatic Comfort owns, occupies, and maintains the dock
facility including the stairway, built more than twenty years
before and located entirely on land.
Poling contends that plaintiff may not recover under the
theory of negligence under the Jones Act or under the doctrine
of unseaworthiness because the stairway was not part of the
vessel's equipment and because Poling neither owned nor
exercised control over the stairway.
Plaintiff says that the only way he could get from the vessel
to go shopping was to go up the stairway. He claims the steps
on the stairway were uneven and worn down, with sharp edges. He
says that after his injury he found oil on his clothes. The
vessel's searchlight, which in the past had been used to light
docks to enable the vessel to secure lines, was not lit.
Plaintiff says: "There is no doubt in my mind that said
searchlight could have been used to light up the stairway which
was to be used by me to get ashore."
Plaintiff does not claim that the searchlight was broken or
that, on the numerous occasions he had used the stairway on
previous dockings, the searchlight had been used to light up
A ship owner's duty with respect to seaworthiness is a duty
to furnish a vessel reasonably fit for its intended use, fitted
out with proper equipment in good order, and carrying a
qualified crew and officers. The Osceola, 189 U.S. 158, 175, 23
S.Ct. 483, 487, 47 L.Ed. 760 (1903).
In Gutierrez v. Waterman Steamship Corp., 373 U.S. 206, 213,
83 S.Ct. 1185, 1190, 10 L.Ed.2d 297 (1963), the Supreme Court
described the "essence" of the seaworthiness doctrine to be
"that things about a ship, whether the hull, the decks, the
machinery, the tools furnished, the stowage, or the ...