United States District Court, D. Maine
RULINGS ON SEAMAN STATUS AND IDENTITY OF
Torresen, United States District Judge.
Maritime Academy (“MMA”)
initiated this action seeking a declaratory judgment that it
was not obligated to pay Janis Fitch maintenance and
for injuries Ms. Fitch sustained while working in the galley
of the Training Ship State of Maine (“Training
Ship”). Ms. Fitch brought counterclaims
against MMA, the operator of the Training Ship, and cross
claims against Sodexo Operations LLC
(“Sodexo”), the company which
provides food services for MMA, for Jones Act negligence,
unseaworthiness,  and maintenance and cure. First Amended
Counterclaim and Crossclaim (ECF No. 51).
19–20, 2019, I held a bench trial to decide: (1)
whether Ms. Fitch was a seaman under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C.
§ 30104; (2) whether MMA or Sodexo was Ms. Fitch’s
Jones Act employer; and (3) whether 46 C.F.R. § 310.9
bars all of Ms. Fitch’s claims against Sodexo. The
parties completed post-trial briefing on July 19,
2019. For the reasons set forth below, I find
that Ms. Fitch is a seaman under the Jones Act and that
Sodexo was her Jones Act employer.
Seaman Status under the Jones Act
General Legal Background
Jones Act allows recovery by “[a] seaman injured in the
course of employment . . . against the employer.” 46
U.S.C. § 30104. Under the Jones Act,
the essential requirements for seaman status are twofold.
First, “an employee’s duties must
‘contribute to the function of the vessel or to the
accomplishment of its mission.’ ” Second, a
seaman must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or
to an identifiable group of such vessels) that is substantial
in terms of both its duration and its nature.
Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 368 (1995)
(quoting McDermott Int’l, Inc. v. Wilander,
498 U.S. 337, 355 (1991)) (alterations and ellipses omitted).
The general guideline is that a maritime worker is a seaman
if she works 30 percent of her time in service of a vessel or
an identifiable group of vessels. Chandris, 515 U.S.
Fitch argues that she is a seaman entitled to recover under
the Jones Act. MMA and Sodexo argue that Ms. Fitch was a
land-based employee who did not spend enough time working on
the Training Ship to qualify as a seaman. The focal point of
the dispute is whether Ms. Fitch’s connection to the
Training Ship meets the substantial duration requirement of
the Chandris test. Sodexo Post-Trial Br. 29 (ECF No.
167); MMA Post-Trial Br. 12 n.8 (ECF No. 168).
Findings of Fact
Fitch was hired in 2008 as a cold prep cook by Omar Char,
then Sodexo’s general manager at MMA. Although she was
hired primarily to cook at the MMA cafeteria on campus
(“the Hill”), she was told by Mr. Char that she
may be required to serve on board the Training Ship during
summer cruises. Before she could serve on a cruise aboard the
Training Ship, MMA required her to obtain a merchant mariner
credential and a transportation worker identification
credential and to undergo drug testing and a fitness
evaluation. Ms. Fitch was unable to complete the necessary
prerequisites in time to participate in the Training
Ship’s 2008 summer cruise, but she did complete them in
time to join the 2009 summer cruise. She liked the Training
Ship experience so much that she volunteered to go on every
training cruise after that up through July of 2016 when she
was injured. In addition to the training cruises, Ms. Fitch
went on incidental cruises taken by the Training Ship for
refueling and repairs.
Time in Service of the Training Ship’s Cruises
parties have stipulated that Ms. Fitch participated in the
• 2009 summer cruise, which lasted 60 days.
• 2010 summer cruise, which lasted 60 days.
• 2011 summer cruise, which lasted 61 days.
• 2012 summer cruise, which lasted 60 days.
• 2013 summer cruise, which lasted 62 days.
• 2014 summer cruise, which lasted 69 days.
• 2015 winter cruise, which lasted 15 days.
• 2015 summer cruise, which lasted 90 days.
• 2015/2016 winter cruise, which lasted 24 days.
• 2016 summer cruise, which lasted 90 days. Ms. Fitch
was injured and evacuated from the Training Ship on the 72nd
day of the cruise.
parties agree that the total hours that Ms. Fitch clocked
while at sea on these cruises is 4, 628.56 hours. Sodexo
Post-Trial Br. 15; MMA Post-Trial Br. 10; Fitch Post-Trial
Br. 18 (ECF No. 169).
Ship Preparation Time
addition to the hours she spent at sea, Ms. Fitch spent time
preparing the ship to go to sea. For the summer cruises, the
Sodexo crew would be preparing to serve 900 meals per day for
between 60 and 90 days on the Training Ship. Between one and
two weeks ahead of each cruise, Sodexo employees were
assigned to prepare the ship. The work included: wiping and
cleaning counters, cleaning cupboards, wiping down walls,
cleaning coolers, washing and restocking all dishes, cleaning
the storerooms, doing laundry, deep-cleaning the eight
berthing rooms used by Sodexo employees, and receiving and
stowing the items necessary for the journey.
Fitch testified that she generally would spend all or part of
the week prior to each cruise preparing the ship. She
indicated that she would often move her belongings on board
and live on the ship in the days before departure because
there was so much to do. Ms. Fitch often worked long days to
complete all her duties particularly before the summer
cruises because there was also much work to be done for
graduation festivities. Ms. Fitch conceded that she spent
more time in some years than others to prepare for the
cruises. To estimate her preparation time, she indicated that
she averaged her time across the entire period of her
employment because she thought that it was a fair way to
account for the time.
general managers prepared for cruises differently. Mr. Char,
who was general manager during the 2009 and 2010 training
cruises, used fewer employees to prepare the ship than other
general managers. Mr. Char assigned Ms. Fitch, who was then
working in the capacity of a third cook, as one of the
employees he sent to prepare the ship.
Dahler became general manager in 2011 and participated in the
2011, 2012, and 2013 summer cruises. Ms. Dahler estimated
that it took 500 to 600 hours to prepare the ship for
departure. Ms. Dahler used Ms. Fitch as a supervisor/manager
in that process. Ms Dahler testified that Ms. Fitch spent 80
hours over a week and a half to prepare the ship for each
cruise and that she often worked long days to prepare the
ship and to complete her other assigned tasks during the busy
graduation week that preceded the summer cruise.
October of 2013, Phil Cotoni became the general manager, and
he continues in that role to this day. Mr. Cotoni oversaw the
2014, 2015, and 2016 summer cruises and the 2015 and 2016
winter cruises, but he was less involved in the Training Ship
than the other general managers. Mr. Cotoni never went on a
training cruise, and he relied on Mark Strang, an executive
chef hired in 2014, to oversee operations on the Training
Ship. Ms. Fitch said that both Mr. Cotoni and Mr. Strang
would assign her to do jobs to prepare the ship. Mr. Cotoni
acknowledged that Ms. Fitch did some preparation work before
each cruise, but he testified that Ms. Fitch did not spend
seven days preparing for a cruise under his watch. Mr.
Cotoni, who promoted Ms. Fitch to the position of first cook
in 2014 and then to the position of lead cook in 2016, felt
that Ms. Fitch’s time was better spent preparing and
cooking for graduation ceremonies than cleaning the ship.
Cotoni testified that it would take a maximum of 60 total
employee hours to prepare the ship for a cruise, and he
indicated that those hours would be reflected in color-coded
schedules that he kept. When shown the schedules, however,
Mr. Cotoni conceded that they did not accurately reflect
preparation time. Sodexo Ex. 7.
installed a timeclock on the Training Ship on the first day
of the 2014 summer cruise to keep employees accountable and
to provide data showing how much employee time was spent on
the ship as opposed to on the Hill. Sodexo introduced the
time cards into evidence in an attempt to prove that Ms.
Fitch did not spend as much time preparing the ship as she
claimed, but the timecards are of little value given the
testimony of Ms. Fitch and Ginny Bennett that employees who
started their day by punching in at the Hill did not
necessarily punch in again when they went down to work on the
ship. Joint Ex. 16.
Sodexo also offered the MMA quarterdeck logs and visitor
security logs in an attempt to show that Ms. Fitch was not on
the ship as much as she claimed during the preparation
period. Joint Exs. 21, 22; MMA Exs. 1–3. Ms. Fitch
testified that the students who were responsible for keeping
the logs often waived Sodexo employees aboard without
requiring them to sign in. Ms. Dahler confirmed that Sodexo
employees were often not tracked in the logs. There are dates
missing from the quarterdeck and visitor logs and known
inaccuracies. Given their unreliability, I assign no
weight to the logs.
Sodexo urge me to find that Ms. Fitch spent no more than 30
hours preparing for each cruise by extrapolating from Mr.
Cotoni’s testimony that it took no more than 60 total
employee hours to prepare the ship. Sodexo Post-Trial Br.
15-16; MMA Post-Trial Br. 10. I reject this proposed
finding for several reasons: First, Mr. Cotoni had
no first-hand knowledge of the time Ms. Fitch spent preparing
the ship before he became general manager. Even for the years
he served as general manager, Mr. Cotoni was not particularly
knowledgeable about ...