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Dunn v. Hatch

United States District Court, D. Idaho

May 8, 2017

ELI DUNN and COLIN ALLEN, Plaintiffs
v.
BRYCE HATCH, an individual; HATCH MARINE ENTERPRISE, LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          B. Lynn Winmill Chief Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         The Court has before it a second motion to dismiss and strike filed by defendants, Bryce Hatch and Hatch Marine Enterprise, LLC. The motion is fully briefed and at issue. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant the motion to dismiss the fraud claim and strike any references to punitive damages and claims previously dismissed. Remaining are claims for breach of contract, and a potential claim for sanctions if a forged signature was submitted to the Court.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs were employed by defendants as deckhands aboard the F/V Silver Bullet for the 2013 Bristol Bay (Alaska) salmon season during the months of June and July. They allege that defendant Hatch verbally promised them a ten percent share of the catch.

         While the value of the catch is estimated at the time of the vessel's return, buyers typically pay more than the estimate, and the crew is entitled to have this upward “adjustment” added to the value of the catch for purposes of computing the ultimate share due each seaman. The plaintiffs' original complaint alleged that Hatch failed to pay them the full amount due by not including the adjustment in the valuation computation, by falsifying the value of the catch, and by not providing an accurate accounting as required by statute.

         Both plaintiffs allege that their agreements were oral in nature and never reduced to writing. This is important because maritime law penalizes ship owners for failing to enter into written contracts by awarding deck hands enhanced damages when they prove that they had only an oral contract, and that it was breached. See 46 U.S.C. § 10601; Seattle-First Nat. Bank v. Conway, 98 F.3d 1195, 1198 (9th Cir. 1996) (holding that maritime law “provides a penalty against vessel owners who employ seamen without written agreements in violation of § 10601”).

         Hatch originally claimed that both plaintiffs had written contracts, but later conceded that plaintiff Allen had only an oral agreement. Hatch continues to allege that plaintiff Dunn has a written agreement, and proffered a contract to plaintiffs' counsel with Dunn's signature affixed. Dunn counters that his signature was forged.

         To recover their full wages, plaintiffs originally brought claims for breach of contract and fraud, seeking recovery for (1) wages equal to the highest crew-share paid out of the port of engagement; (2) double wage penalties under state law; (3) punitive damages under the general maritime law; (4) the sale of the vessel Silver Bullet to satisfy the wages and penalties due to plaintiffs; and (5) attorney fees. See Complaint (Dkt. No. 1).

         In an earlier decision, the Court (1) dismissed all claims against Bryce Hatch individually; (2) dismissed claims for punitive damages under maritime law - and wage penalties under state law - sought under a breach of contract claim brought under § 10601, § 11107, and §§ 10602(a), (b) & (c); (3) required plaintiffs to amend their complaint to allege the fraud claim with particularity; and (4) granted plaintiffs time to conduct discovery on whether Hatch concealed the payment of an adjustment by the buyer and understated the amount the buyer paid for the catch. See Memorandum Decision (Dkt. No. 64).

         After conducting discovery, plaintiffs claim that (1) they found evidence that Hatch understated the amount the buyer paid for the catch; and (2) found no evidence that Hatch concealed the payment of an adjustment by the buyer. See Notice (Dkt. No. 66).

         Plaintiffs have now filed their Amended Complaint, and Hatch responded by filing a second motion to dismiss. Hatch seeks to dismiss (1) the fraud claim; and (2) the allegations in the amended complaint that continue to allege claims against Bryce Hatch personally and continue to seek punitive damages for violation of the statutory wage claims. The motions do not affect the breach of contract allegations.

         ANALYSIS

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