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
Spirit estimates to have a current value of $1.85 million.
Id. ¶ 15; see ECF 1-2 (Condition and
Valuation Survey) at 13. The Complaint arises out of events
that occurred 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.” ECF 1,
respect to the Limitation of Liability Act, jurisdiction is
founded on 28 U.S.C. § 1333. See ECF 1. Section
1333 provides, in relevant part: “The district courts
shall have original jurisdiction . . . of . . . Any civil
case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction, saving to
suitors in all cases all other remedies to which they are
otherwise entitled.” (Emphasis added).
January 4, 2017, 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. The injunction has
been in effect since that time.
October 20, 2017, several claimants in this matter filed a
Joint Motion to Modify Stay (ECF 92, “Motion”),
seeking to modify the injunction against bringing suits in
state court. Spirit opposed the Motion. ECF 97
(“Opposition”). Since the filing of the Motion,
all but one of the claimants in this action have dismissed
their claims. See Docket.
remaining claimant, Stephanie Jones, filed a status report
with the Court on January 24, 2018. ECF 102. In that status
report, Jones reiterated her desire to file a state court
action, and asserted that the fact that only one claimant
remains means that the Court should lift the stay as to
related suits. Id. Therefore, on January 24, 2018,
the Court directed Spirit to submit a status report,
indicating whether it continued to oppose the Motion in light
of the fact that only one claimant now remains. ECF 103.
Spirit responded on February 9, 2018, stating that it
continues to oppose the Motion. ECF 104.
support of its continued opposition, Spirit contends that
Jones “has pursued unrealistic settlement demands,
” and that Jones “was merely awaiting an
opportunity . . . to pursue a separate State Court
proceeding.” ECF 104 at 2. According to Spirit,
“a serious inequity” would result if Jones were
allowed to file a claim in state court. Id. But,
Spirit does not identify the inequity. Spirit concedes,
however, that there is only one remaining claimant and, as
such, “Spirit's concern about the relative priority
of [the] remaining claims and potential conflicts of interest
no longer exists.” Id.
Spirit observed in its Opposition, there are “two
exceptions to exclusive federal jurisdiction under which a
claimant is allowed to pursue an action before a jury.”
ECF 97. Those are: “‘(1) when the value of the
limitation funds exceeds the total value of all claims
asserted against the shipowner; or (2) when only one claim is
asserted against the shipowners and sufficient stipulations
are filed.'” In re Estate of Grandy, 432
F.Supp.2d 630, 633-34 (E.D. Va. 2006).
Lewis v. Lewis & Clark Marine, Inc., 531 U.S.
438 (2001), the Supreme Court discussed the jurisdictional
statute, and particularly the “saving to suitors”
clause, in great detail. In that case, the Court considered
whether a district court should have dissolved an injunction
against a claimant (like the one in this case) that prevented
the claimant from suing the vessel owner responsible for his
injury in state court. Id. at 442-43. There, the
Court emphasized that “to expand the scope of exclusive
jurisdiction to prevent the state court actions ‘would
transform the Act from a protective instrument to an
offensive weapon by which the shipowner could deprive suitors
of their common-law rights, even where the limitation fund is
known to be more than adequate to satisfy all demands upon
it.'” Id. at 450-51 (quoting Lake
Tankers Corp. v. Henn, 354 U.S. 147, 152 (1957)).
“Where the value of the vessel and the pending freight
exceed the claims . . . there is no necessity for the
maintenance of the action in federal court, ”
especially where the claimant has stipulated that the claim
would not exceed the value of the ship. Id. at 450
similar circumstance is presented here. Jones is the claimant
who remains. See Docket. And, claimant Jones has
previously stated that the value of the Limitation Fund is
“well in excess” of her claim. See ECF
98 at 5. Therefore, I am “satisfie[d] . . . that [the]
vessel owner's right to seek limitation will be
protected.” Lewis, 531 U.S. at 545.
Jones has previously stipulated, when other claims were still
pending, that her claim would not expose Spirit to liability
in excess of the value of the Vessel (see ECF 92-2),
Spirit has requested that she renew the stipulation as to her
claim. ECF 104 at 3. This request is reasonable.
I shall GRANT the motion to modify the stay, thereby allowing
Stephanie Jones to institute a proceeding in state court. The
stay shall remain in effect as against any entry of judgment
and consequent enforcement of any recovery achieved in state
court or related proceedings. And, by March 9, 2018, the
parties shall prepare and ...