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Thomas Warner v. Sun Ship

April 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rufe, J.


Plaintiff Thomas Warner brings this action pro se against Defendants Sun Ship, LLC and Sunoco, Inc. (R&M), asserting a claim for seaman's wages pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 10313, for vacation wages accrued during his employment by Sun Transport, Inc. between September 1972 and February 1974. Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the Complaint is barred as a matter of law by the equitable doctrine of laches. For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted.


Between September 1972 and February 1974, Plaintiff worked as a seaman for Sun Transport, Inc., a predecessor company of Sun Ship. As a crew member on Sun Transport's oil tankers, Plaintiff worked as a messman, ordinary seaman, and able seaman. Plaintiff alleges that during his employment, his earnings comprised base wages (which were calculated monthly and varied depending on whether Plaintiff was working as a messman, ordinary seaman or able seaman), overtime, penalty time, and vacation wages. As with Plaintiff's base wages, his vacation wages were calculated based on the position he held on the ship and in 1974 were, according to Plaintiff, approximately $500 per month.

Plaintiff voluntarily left employment with Sun Transport in February 1974. He alleges that, at the time of his departure, he had accrued vacation wages at a rate of $500 per month for each of the 18 months he was employed with Sun Transport. Upon leaving Sun Transport's employ, Plaintiff did not make a request for vacation wages, but Plaintiff now alleges he was nevertheless entitled to them under 46 U.S.C. § 10313.

More than two decades after leaving Sun Transport's employ, on November 12, 1997, Plaintiff sent a letter to the human resources department of Sun Transport, requesting the vacation wages he claimed he accrued between September 1972 and February 1974. By letter dated April 27, 1998, a representative of Sunoco notified Plaintiff that it had no record of Plaintiff's employment with Sun Transport and requested documentation verifying his employment. Although not specifically alleged in the Complaint, it appears from Exhibit C to the Complaint that Plaintiff responded to Sunoco's letter on January 20, 1999, *fn1 by providing a document from the Social Security Administration Office of Central Records Operations which contains a record of Plaintiff's work from January 1972 through December 1974. Sunoco responded by letter dated February 16, 1999; Sunoco stated that the information provided was insufficient to validate his claim that he was due vacation wages.

Six-and-a-half years passed before Plaintiff again contacted Sunoco. Plaintiff alleges that he reiterated his claim of unpaid vacation wages by letter dated September 12, 2005. He attached several documents to this letter including copies of his U.S. Coast Guard-issued certificates of discharge. He received no response to the letter. Another five years passed and Plaintiff contacted Sunoco regarding his unpaid vacation wages and the documents he submitted in support of his claims. A Sunoco human resources representative informed Plaintiff that the documents no longer existed.

Plaintiff filed this action on December 23, 2011, seeking $30,000 in "inflation-adjusted vacation wages . . . along with any interest or penalties which may be applicable." *fn2


Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is appropriate where a plaintiff's "plain statement" lacks enough substance to show that she is entitled to relief. *fn3 In determining whether a motion to dismiss should be granted, the court must consider only those facts alleged in the complaint, accepting the allegations as true and drawing all logical inferences in favor of the non-moving party. *fn4 Courts are not, however, bound to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. *fn5 Something more than a mere possibility of a claim must be alleged; the plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." *fn6
The complaint must set forth "direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory." *fn7 The court has no duty to "conjure up unpleaded facts that might turn a frivolous . . . action into a substantial one." Because Plaintiff here proceeds pro se , the Court liberally construes his Complaint. *fn8

While some courts have cautioned against dismissing claims as barred by the doctrine of laches on a motion to dismiss, *fn9 the Third Circuit has held that laches may serve as the basis for dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if applicability of the doctrine is apparent from the face of the Complaint. *fn10


Plaintiff asserts his claim for unpaid vacation wages pursuant to the Merchant Seamen Protection and Relief Act, *fn11 ...

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