United States District Court, D. Maryland
In the Matter of the Complaint of Spirit Cruises, LLC as Owner of the M/V SPIRIT OF BALTIMORE for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability
LIPTON HOLLANDER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
December 29, 2016, Spirit Cruises, LLC
(“Spirit”), the owner of the M/V SPIRIT OF
BALTIMORE (the “Vessel”), filed its
“Verified Complaint For Exoneration From Or Limitation
Of Liability”, pursuant to the Limitation of Liability
Act of 1851, as amended, 46 U.S.C. §§
30501, et seq. ECF 1. The M/V SPIRIT OF BALTIMORE is a
119-foot passenger vessel (id. ¶ 3), which
plaintiff estimates to have a current value of $1.85 million.
Id. ¶ 15; see ECF 1-2 (Condition and
Valuation Survey) at 13.
Complaint arises out of the events during the early morning
hours of August 28, 2016, when the Vessel was under charter
and “allided with a floating dock located at
Henderson's Wharf in the Fells Point area of Baltimore
City.” Id. ¶¶ 5-6. According to the
Complaint, the Vessel was traveling at approximately three
knots at the time of the incident. Id. ¶ 7.
Spirit filed suit, the Court issued an Order enjoining the
commencement or further prosecution of actions and
proceedings against plaintiff in connection with the voyage
of the Vessel on August 28, 2016. ECF 3, ¶ 6. The Court
set the limitation fund at $1, 850, 000. Id., ¶
1. Furthermore, the Court instructed the Clerk to issue a
notice to potential claimants, consistent with Fed.R.Civ.P.
Supp. R. F(4) (id. ¶ 5; see ECF 4
(notice)), and directed that the notice be published in the
Baltimore Sun, a daily newspaper, once per week for four
weeks. ECF 3, ¶ 7. The notice provided information to
potential claimants concerning the filing of claims, and set
a deadline of February 15, 2017, for the filing of claims.
See ECF 4.
twenty-eight people filed claims (collectively,
“Claimants”) with the Court, seeking an aggregate
of more than $2.8 million. See docket; ECF 49;
see also ECF 43-1 at 2. Seventeen Claimants filed a
demand for jury trial or otherwise pleaded such a request.
See, e.g., ECF 8; see also ECF 43-1 at 3,
n. 2 (collecting jury demands). Some of the Claimants also
counterclaimed. See, e.g., ECF 11.
then filed a motion to strike the Claimants' jury demands
(ECF 43), along with a memorandum of law. ECF 43-1
(collectively, “Motion”). Spirit argues that the
Claimants “do not have the ability to request a jury
trial in this proceeding . . . .” ECF 43 at 2. The
Claimants filed a consolidated opposition to the Motion (ECF
59) (“Opposition”) and Spirit replied. ECF 65
hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See
Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall grant
the Motion and strike Claimants' jury demands.
The Limitation of Liability Act
Limitation of Liability Act finds its origin in a 1734 act of
the Parliament of Great Britain, which “relieved
shipowners from liability for acts of their master and crew
done without the ‘privity or knowledge' of the
owner, to the extent of the value of the ship, its equipment,
and the freight to be earned on its particular voyage.”
Thomas J. Schoenbaum, Admiralty and Maritime
Law, § 15-1 (5th ed.) (“Schoenbaum”).
As observed by Chief Justice Taft in Hartford
Acc. & Indem. Co. of Hartford v. Southern Pac.
Co., 273 U.S. 207, 214 (1927):
[T]he great object of the statute was to encourage
shipbuilding and to induce the investment of money in this
branch of industry by limiting the venture of those who build
the ships to the loss of the ship itself or her freight then
pending, in cases of damage or wrong happening, without the
privity, or knowledge of the shipowner, and by the fault or
neglect of the master or other persons on board . . . .
stated more recently by the Fourth Circuit in Norfolk
Dredging Co v. Wiley, 439 F.3d 205, 209 (4th Cir. 2006):
“Congress passed the Limitation of Liability Act
‘to assist shipowners by placing them in parity with
European (and particularly English) shipowners who had long
enjoyed the benefits of limiting their liability for marine
disasters.'” (Quoting Pickle v. Char Lee
Seafood, Inc., 174 F.3d 444, 448 (4th Cir. 1999)).
30505 of Tile 46 of the U.S. Code is titled “General
limit of liability.” It provides:
(a) In general.-Except as provided in
section 30506 of this title, the liability of the owner of a
vessel for any claim, debt, or liability described in
subsection (b) shall not exceed the value of the vessel and
pending freight. If the vessel has more than one owner, the
proportionate share of the liability of any one owner shall
not exceed that owner's proportionate interest in the
vessel and pending freight.
(b) Claims subject to limitation.-Unless
otherwise excluded by law, claims, debts, and liabilities
subject to limitation under subsection (a) are those arising
from any embezzlement, loss, or destruction of any property,
goods, or merchandise shipped or put on board the vessel, any
loss, damage, or injury by collision, or any act, matter, or
thing, loss, damage, or ...