Maryland Appellate Court Declines to Deviate From Chandris’ Durational Requirement for Determining Seaman Status

In May 2008, William Dize (“plaintiff”) filed a Jones Act claim against his employer, the Association of Maryland Pilots (“Association”), claiming that it negligently caused him to contract silicosis by failing to provide adequate protection during a sandblasting project.  The Association answered the lawsuit and challenged the court’s jurisdiction, arguing that plaintiff was not a seaman under the Jones Act but, rather, was a shoreside worker covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act or the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act.

The Association sought summary judgment on the issue of plaintiff’s seaman status.  It argued that plaintiff did not spend 30% of his time working onboard a vessel.  In opposition, plaintiff maintained that there were genuine factual issues as to whether he was a Jones Act seaman.  He asserted that, in addition to the time he spent on a vessel, he also performed general maintenance on the Association’s pilot launches and otherwise spent all of his time in the service of a fleet of pilot launches.

During the summary judgment hearing, the Association argued that the court could only consider plaintiff’s time spent on the water in its status determination.  Further, the Association argued that even if the court considered time on land spent in service of the vessel, plaintiff still failed to meet the 30% threshold adopted by the United States Supreme Court in Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347 (1995).  Plaintiff’s counsel countered that Chandris’ 30% rule was merely a “rule of thumb” that can be departed from in appropriate cases.

The trial court agreed with the Association and granted its motion for summary judgment.  The court identified the dispositive question as “whether the 30% requirement . . . applie[d] only to time spent on the water or [whether] it should include other time spent in the performance of duties that might be viewed as seamen’s duties or that contributed to the operation of vessels.”  The court observed that the durational requirement in Chandris was to ensure that the seaman’s service “regularly exposes him to the perils of the sea.”  Further, the plaintiff did not offer any justification for departure from the 30% rule of thumb or any reason why that threshold was not an appropriate tool under the facts of the case.  On appeal, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland agreed with the trial court that the plaintiff was not a seaman under the Jones Act and affirmed the entry of summary judgment in favor of the Association.

Dize v. Assoc. of Maryland Pilots, 2012 WL 1959300 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2012).