On May 24, 2016, a federal court in Seattle rejected American Seafoods Company’s attempts to limit the maintenance rate to the $30 per day set forth in the employment contract. American Seafoods took the position that it would not pay our client more than the $30 per day set forth in the contract even though our client’s actual room-and-board expenses exceeded the contracted rate. As a result of the decision, American Seafoods can no longer limit its workers to the $30 a day set forth in its contracts and each worker is entitled to present evidence of their actual room-and-board expenses to establish their maintenance rate. This is a significant victory for American Seafoods seafood processors and other shipboard workers.
In finding in favor of our client and rejecting the rate set forth in the company’s contract in Sabow v. American Seafoods Company, USDC W.D. Wa. Case No. C16-0111-JCC, the Honorable John C. Coughenour adopted a burden-shifting test articulated by the Second Circuit in Incandela v. Am. Dredging Co., 659 F.2d 11, 14 (2d Cir. 1981). Under the Incandela burden-shifting test, a “seaman makes out a prima facie case on the maintenance rate question when he proves the actual living expenditures which he found it necessary to incur during his convalescence.” Incadela, 659 F.2d at 14. Once the seaman makes the proper showing, the burden shifts to the vessel owner to produce rebuttal evidence. Incandela, 659 F.2d at 14. In order to rebut the prima facie evidence presented by a seaman, the company must make a showing that the seaman’s expenses are unreasonable: “. . . Sabow need not find the cheapest accommodations – his accommodations need simply be reasonable.” Because American Seafoods failed to show that Sabow’s expenses were unreasonable, he was entitled to all of his living expenses under the doctrine of maintenance.
American Seafoods Company had further argued that the seaman’s living expenses should be prorated to take into account the fact that other family members lived in the apartment. Rejecting American Seafoods argument once again, the Court held that the amount of the seaman’s living expenses should not be prorated or otherwise reduced if he lives with other family members. In reaching this conclusion the Court reasoned that a seaman who pays for the rent or mortgage of a home he shares with his family actually spends out-of-pocket the entire amount. He cannot pay any less without losing his home. If a seaman would incur the lodging expenses of the home even if living alone, then the entire lodging expense represents the seaman’s actual expenses. Sabow v. American Seafoods Company, USDC W.D. Wa. Case No. C16-0111-JCC, Docket #30 at 12, citing Hall v. Noble Drilling, 242 F.3d 582, 589 (5th Cir. 2001).