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SPM Management, LLC v. Ayre

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Newport News Division

January 29, 2018

SPM MANAGEMENT, LLC t/a SALT PONDS MARINA RESORT and NORTH 37 MANAGEMENT, LLC, Plaintiffs,
v.
Motor Yacht SEA AYRE V, Official No. 923838, a/k/a SEA AYRE IV, her engines, tackle, equipment, etc., in rem, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

         This case came before the admiralty court as a non-jury trial on December 6, 2017. Plaintiffs SPM Management, LLC t/a Salt Ponds Marina Resort and North 37 Management, LLC ("Plaintiffs") sued Defendant Motor Yacht Sea Ayre V, Official No. 923838, a/k/a Sea Ayre IV, her engines, tackle, equipment, etc. (the "Sea Ayre"), in rem, claiming that Plaintiff had a maritime lien on the Sea Ayre for unpaid wharfage. On November 29, 2016, Dororkes K. Ayers and Elizabeth Ayers Kerr ("Claimants") filed a verified claim of ownership over the Sea Ayer. ECF No. 10. Claimants argued Plaintiffs did not have a right to charge the Sea Ayre for wharfage because Plaintiffs did not own the slip where the Sea Ayre was docked.

         The Court FINDS that Plaintiffs had a right to charge the Sea Ayre for wharfage and that Plaintiffs have a maritime lien on the Sea Ayre in the amount of $10, 124.80.

         I. FINDINGS OF FACT

         The Court makes the following findings of fact.

         A. Salt Ponds Condominium Community and Marina

         In the late 1980s to early 1990s, a group of investors formed to purchase what is now Salt Ponds Marina Resort from its initial owner and developer. The marina ultimately included condominium apartments, common areas, and several floating piers that contained boat slips. Most, but not all, of the boat slips were made condominiums pursuant to the Virginia Condominium Act and sold to private owners.

         At issue in this case is a floating pier called "E Dock." E Dock contains eleven boat slips, eight of which are condominium units. The floating pier is attached to land by a ramp, and extends West from that land. It has four "fingers" perpendicular to the main pier that run North and South, two fingers extending North and two fingers extending South. At the end of the pier, there is a "T-head" that runs North and South for the width of the pier, plus the length of the fingers. An excerpt of the recorded plat[1] shows E Dock as follows:

         (Image Omitted)

         The condominium boat slip units on E Dock are labeled E-l through E-8 on the plat. Those units include "the fixture which is that portion of the floating pier lying within the boundaries of the above described Unit[s]." Deed, JE19 at 4.[2] The boat slips that were not made into condominium units are designated on the plat as the areas labeled A.L. 14, Additional Land 15, and A.L. 16.

         B. The Ayres Purchased All Condominium Units on E Dock

         Dr. Stephen M. Ayres and Mrs. Dolores K. Ayres, husband and wife, purchased a condominium apartment in Salt Ponds Marina Resort in 1987 or 1989, and were among the first people to purchase condominium unit boat slips, which they purchased in 1994. Specifically, Dr. and Mrs. Ayres purchased all eight condominium unit slips on E Dock.[3] According to Mrs. Ayres, she and her late husband made the purchase because they believed purchasing all of the condominium units on E Dock would allow only them to use the T-head slip at the end of E Dock (the "T-head Berth"). One of the early investors in Salt Ponds Marina testified that the sellers told potential purchasers that if a person bought all of the condominium units on a pier, the purchaser would also be able to use the T-head at the end of that pier. However, no party ever produced a deed or other writing conveying rights to the T-head Berth.

         The Ayres used all slips on E Dock including the T-head Berth free of charge from the time they purchased their condominium units in 1994 until approximately May 2015 when the instant dispute arose. This use was not hostile or adverse, but with permission. Indeed, Claimants do not assert a right to the T-head Berth by adverse possession. See JE7; ECF No. 78.

         In or about 2004, Dr. Ayres, Mrs. Ayres, and their daughter Elizabeth Ayres Kerr, purchased the Sea Ayre-a 75-foot Hatteras motor yacht-and began keeping it at the T-head ...


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