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In re Complaint of Alisa Morrow as Owner of The 1996 Cruisers 36

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 12, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF THE COMPLAINT OF ALISA MORROW AS OWNER OF THE 1996 CRUISERS 36' MOTORYACHT LOLA BABE HIN CRSUSH01D696 FOR EXONERATION FROM OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROGER W. TITUS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are two motions filed by James Avery Fauntleroy and Shantel Fauntleroy (the “Fauntleroys”), Interested Parties to Plaintiff's Verified Complaint: (1) a Motion to Vacate the Court's Amended Restraining Order and Order for Issuance of Notice that Claims Be Filed issued on July 5, 2017 [ECF No. 16], and (2) a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Verified Complaint for a lack of jurisdiction [ECF No. 17]. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will deny both Motions.

         1. Background Facts

         Plaintiff is the owner of the 1996 Cruisers 36' Motoryacht Lola Babe (the “Lola Babe”), a pleasure craft. ECF No. 1 at 1-2. On September 18, 2016, starting at about 7:00 p.m., Plaintiff hosted approximately eight guests, including claimant Mr. Fauntleroy, for a party aboard the Lola Babe. Id. at 2. The Lola Babe was moored to a dock at the Fort Washington Marina, located on a tributary of the Potomac River, a navigable waterway of the United States in Fort Washington, Maryland. Id. At approximately midnight, Plaintiff left the boat to dispose of trash. Id. When she returned, she discovered that Mr. Fauntleroy had fallen overboard while attempting to disembark the Lola Babe. Id. After several minutes, volunteers recovered an unconscious Mr. Fauntleroy and administered CPR before paramedics arrived to transport him to the hospital. Id. at 3. Mr. Fauntleroy recovered and was released after several days. Id.

         2. Procedural History

         Plaintiff commenced this action on April 18, 2017, claiming the right to exoneration from or limitation of liability, pursuant to the Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 30501-30512, for any loss, damage, or injuries caused by or resulting from the September 18-19, 2016 incident. ECF No. 1. On the same day, Plaintiff moved for an order accepting the ad interim stipulation for value of the Lola Babe, the entry of a restraining order, and an order for issuance of notice that the proceeding has commenced. ECF No. 2. The Court held a hearing on the pending motions on June 29, 2017. ECF No. 6.

         On July 5, 2017, the Court issued an Amended Restraining Order and Order for Issuance of Notice that Claims Be Filed. ECF No. 8. The Court ordered that: (1) any claims alleging damages arising from the September 18-19, 2016 incident, including any claims alleged by Mr. Fauntleroy, be filed on or before August 16, 2017 at 5:00 p.m.; (2) notice to Mr. Fauntleroy be served on or before August 16, 2017 at 5:00 p.m.; (3) notice be given by publication in The Daily Record newspaper once a week for four successive weeks prior to August 16, 2017; (4) notice be mailed to Mr. Fauntleroy, his attorneys, and to any other known claimant; and (5) any and all suits, actions, or proceedings arising out of the incident other than the action pursued by Mr. Fauntleroy be stayed and restrained. Id. at 2-3. On August 4, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Return of Service affidavit for service on Mr. Fauntleroy. ECF Nos. 10, 11. On September 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed an Affidavit of Donald J. Walsh, who attested to the compliant publication of Notice of Plaintiff's Complaint in The Daily Record. ECF No. 21.

         On July 18, 2017, the Court issued an Order Allowing Filing of Ad Interim Stipulation for Value by Plaintiff, including $49, 900.00 as the post-incident value of the Lola Babe, and security for costs in the amount of $1, 000.00 plus estimated interest for the pendency of this action at the rate of 6% per annum ($5, 988.00), for a total Ad Interim Stipulation in the amount of $56, 888.00, pursuant to U.S. District Court of Maryland Local Admiralty Rule (f). ECF No. 9.

         On August 17, 2017, the Fauntleroys filed their Answer to Plaintiff's Verified Complaint [ECF No. 13] as well as (1) a Motion to Accept Pleadings [ECF No. 15]; (2) a Motion to Vacate the July 5, 2017 Order [ECF No. 16]; and (3) a Motion to Dismiss the Verified Complaint for lack of jurisdiction [ECF No. 17]. Plaintiff timely filed her Responses to the Motion to Vacate and Motion to Dismiss. ECF Nos. 19, 20. The Court now addresses those two Motions. The Motion to Accept Pleadings will be disposed of in a separate order.

         3. Motion to Vacate

         The Fauntleroys' Motion to Vacate argues that the July 5, 2017 Order “appears to impermissibly shorten the time” for Counsel to file counterclaims arising from the incident. ECF No. 16. In essence, they are asking the Court to enlarge the time within which claims had to be filed. Id. The Fauntleroys, however, do not provide any authority to support an argument that the Court's July 5, 2017 Order contravened applicable law. Petitioner complied with the specific process outlined by the Limitation of Liability Act and the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Marine Claims F. The Fauntleroys have not asserted any allegations of noncompliance or impropriety with the applicable law or with the Court's Order. Without a showing of good cause for an enlargement of time or any authority undermining the Court's Order, the Court must deny the Motion to Vacate.

         4. Motion to Dismiss

         The Fauntleroys assert that the Court should dismiss Plaintiff's Verified Complaint for lack of federal admiralty or maritime jurisdiction. ECF No. 17. Because the Limitation of Liability Act alone is likely not sufficient to confer federal question jurisdiction on federal courts, exercise of jurisdiction over limitation actions requires that an owner bringing the action make a showing of Article III admiralty or maritime jurisdiction. See, e.g., Seven Resorts, Inc. v. Cantlen, 57 F.3d 771, 773 (9th Cir. 1995) (finding that the Limitation of Liability Act did not create federal question jurisdiction when asserted “clearly in the nature of a defense” to an incident that occurred outside of admiralty jurisdiction); Three Buoys Houseboat Vacations U.S.A. Ltd. v. Morts, 921 F.2d 775, 779-80 (8th Cir. 1990) (“Federal question jurisdiction is not created by the existence of the Act. The Act is really in the nature of a defense, it did not create Appellees' causes of action for personal injury and wrongful death against Appellant.”).

         United States District Courts have original, exclusive jurisdiction over all “civil case[s] of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1333. For a court to have jurisdiction over a tort claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1333, a party must satisfy two tests: (1) the location test, and (2) the connection with maritime activity test. Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527, 534 (1995); Sisson v. Ruby, 497 U.S. 358, 361-64 (1990). Under the location test, a court “must determine whether the tort occurred on navigable water or whether injury suffered on land was caused by a vessel on navigable water.” Id. Under the connection with maritime activity test, there are two steps: First, a court “must ‘assess the general features of the type of incident involved, ' to determine whether the incident has ‘a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce.'” Id. (quoting Sisson, 497 U.S. at 363-64 n.2). ...


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