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Dunn v. Hatch

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 4, 2018

ELI DUNN and COLIN ALLEN, Plaintiffs,
v.
BRYCE HATCH and HATCH MARINE ENTERPRISE, LLC, in personam; the F/V SILVER BULLET, Official Number 991159, her engines, machinery, appurtenances and cargo, in rem; Defendants

          FINDINGS OF FACT & CONCLUSIONS OF LAW & ORDER

          B. Lynn Winmill Chief Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiffs Dunn and Allen brought this action to recover wages due to them for working as deckhands on a fishing boat operated by defendant Hatch. The Court held a bench trial on November 13, 2017, and requested further briefing that was received on December 7, 2017. The matter is now at issue. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will award plaintiff Dunn the sum of $1, 905.45 and sanctions as set forth below, and will dismiss the claims of plaintiff Allen.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         Plaintiff Dunn

         Plaintiff Dunn was employed by defendant Hatch as a deckhand aboard the F/V Silver Bullet for the 2013 Bristol Bay (Alaska) salmon season during the months of June and July. He was verbally promised a wage equal to 10% of the value of the catch minus certain expenses.

         The Silver Bullet completed its fishing operations in early July of 2013, and Hatch sold all those fish to Leader Creek Fisheries, receiving a payment of $184, 274.52 based on the market price for salmon at that time. To calculate Dunn's wage, Hatch started with a figure equal to 10% of $184, 274.52, and then deducted the agreed-upon expenses, ultimately paying Dunn $14, 946.73.

         At the end of each year, Leader Creek Fisheries calculates its profits and pays boat owners a share of those profits as an incentive to keep them as suppliers. The profit sharing sum is distributed by increasing the price-per-pound paid for the Red Salmon. For the 2013 season, Leader Creek Fisheries increased the price per pound paid to Hatch by 18 ½ cents, and made two profit-sharing payments to Hatch - one in late December 2013, and the other on April 1, 2014. Those two payments totaled $19, 054.53.

         This payment was described by plaintiffs as a “price adjustment” and by the defendants as “profit-sharing.” Actually, it was both: Profits were shared by adjusting the price. But the label is unimportant because the testimony was consistent that this money was often shared with deckhands, if they were returning for the next fishing season, making it part of the “highest wage in the port, ” a finding that will be explained in the Conclusions of Law section of this decision.

         For example, Dunn testified that he had been a deckhand on Bristol Bay fishing boats for one season prior to the 2013 season, and that it was commonly understood that the 10% wage due experienced deckhands like himself would include the final price-adjusted payments that were typically made in December and April, whether called price adjustments or profit sharing. Steve Kurian, a fishing boat owner who has operated for many years in Bristol Bay, testified that he paid his experienced deckhands a 10% wage, and that he shared Leader Creek's profit-sharing payment in 2013 with his crew members who agreed to return the next year.

         Therefore, the highest wage in the Bristol Bay port was equal to 10% of the value of the catch, including the profit-sharing/price adjustment payment received in December and April. The Leader Creek profit sharing/ price adjustment payment to Hatch for the fish sold from the Silver Bullet for the 2013 salmon season was $19, 054.53. Ten percent of $19, 054.53 is $1, 905.45.

         Plaintiff Allen

         Plaintiff Allen did not attend the trial, and no testimony was elicited from him either by video or through a trial deposition. Consequently, defendant Hatch had no opportunity to cross-examine Allen regarding the allegations he made in pre-trial submissions, such as the complaint and affidavits.

         Allen's counsel asks the Court to take judicial notice of Allen's pre-trial filings in this case that, he argues, establish Allen's right to a wage equal to 10% of the catch as an experienced deckhand. But throughout this case, Hatch has disputed Allen's claims, and argued that Allen was not experienced and worked only as a “bleeder, ” meaning that his wage would be lower than even ...


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