United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
IN THE MATTER OF THE COMPLAINT OF GREAT LAKES DREDGE AND DOCK COMPANY, L.L.C. AS THE OWNER OF THE BOOSTER BARGE REGGIE, OFFICIAL No. 1151925, FOR EXONERATION FROM OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY, Limitation-Plaintiff/Petitioner.
OPINION & ORDER
COKE MORGAN, JR. SENIOR UNTIED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes to the Court on Claimant-William Scott
Taylor's ("Taylor") Motion to Stay the
Limitation Case and Dissolve the Court's Injunction.
Motion, Doc. 24. Taylor requests that this Court lift its
injunction against his state court personal injury action.
See generally Id. Because the relief sought
by Taylor runs against the majority position of federal
courts, including the Eastern District of Virginia, the Court
DENIES the Motion.
admiralty case arises out of personal injuries suffered by
Taylor while working aboard the booster barge Reggie (the
"Vessel"). In his state court complaint, Taylor
alleges that he was severely injured when electricity from a
land-based power supply arched into his body. Doc. 24-1
("State Compl.") (¶¶ 23-24. Taylor brings
his claims under the Longshore and Harbor Worker's
Compensation Act ("LHWCA"), specifically 33 U.S.C.
§ 905(b), against the owner of the Vessel and the owner
of the shipyard, Id. The owner of the Vessel was
Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company ("Great Lakes")
and the owner of the shipyard was Claimant-Colonna's
Shipyard, Inc ("Colonna's"). Taylor demands
fifteen-million dollars ($15, 000, 000) in damages.
Id. at 1, 8. On June 19, 2018, Taylor filed his
complaint in the Circuit Court for the City of Norfolk.
Id. at 1. He demanded a jury trial. Id. at
December 19, 2018, Great Lakes filed a Complaint for
Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability in this Court.
Limitation Complaint, Doc. 1. On January 22, 2019, this Court
entered an Order for Security, ordering Great Lakes to post
security in the amount of its stake in the Vessel - $6, 426,
000 and $1, 000 in costs. Order for Security, Doc. 9. On
January 22, 2019, the Court also entered an Injunction,
enjoining the state court proceedings. Injunction and Notice
Order, Doc. 10. Notice of the limitations proceedings was
posted that same day. Notice, Doc. 11.
entities have filed claims against the Vessel. Doc. 24-6.
Taylor filed his personal injury claims, and Colonna's
filed a contribution and indemnification claim. Id.
filed the instant Motion on April 8, 2019. Motion, Doc. 24.
Colonna's opposed the Motion on April 22, 2019.
Colonna's Shipyard, Inc.'s Brief in Opposition to
William Taylor's Motion for Stay, Doc. 27
("Colona's Opp."). Great Lakes opposed the
Motion on April 22 as well. Pl.-Pet.'s Brief in
Opposition to William Scott Taylor's Motion for a Stay of
the Limitation Case, Doc. ("Great Lakes's
Opp."). This Court held oral arguments on the instant
motion on May 30, 2019. The Court DENIED the
Motion from the bench. This Opinion and Order further
explains the Court's decision and the reasons given on
1333 of Title 28 of the United States Code grants federal
courts the maritime and admiralty jurisdiction described in
Article III, section 2 of the United States Constitution. 28
U.S.C. § 1333. However, that jurisdiction is qualified
because the grant of jurisdiction "sav[es] to suitors in
all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise
entitled." Id. § 1333(1). The "saving
to suitors" clause of 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1) is
understood to preserve, inter alia, a plaintiffs
choice to pursue his maritime claims in state court in front
of a jury, unless there is some other basis for federal
jurisdiction. See, e.g., Lewis v. Lewis & Clark
Marine. Inc., 531 U.S. 438, 445 (2001).
Limitation Act provides a method for the owner(s) of a vessel
to limit their liability to the value of the vessel and her
pending freight. 46 U.S.C. § 30505(a); Fed.R.Civ.P.
Supp. R. (F). In doing so, the Limitation Act seeks to
promote investment in maritime commerce. Lewis, 531
U.S. at 446 (''Congress passed the Limitation Act in
1851 to encourage ship-building and to induce capitalists to
invest money in this branch of industry."). When a
shipowner faces liability for certain accidents, he may
petition a federal court for limitation or exoneration of
liability. 46 U.S.C. § 30505(a). The federal court will
then order that all claimants against the vessel and her
freight file their claims with that court, creating a
concursus of claims, "to ensure the prompt and
economical disposition of controversies in which there are
multiple claimants." In Re: Lyon Shipyard, 91
F.Supp.3d 832, 834 n.1 (E.D. Va. 2015) (quoting Maryland
Cas. Co. v. Cushing, 347 U.S. 409, 415 (1954)). Once the
concursus is aggregated, the federal court should
proceed to determine the merits of the claims and the claim
for limitation. Beiswenger Enterprises Corp. v.
Carletta, 86 F.3d 1032, 1036 (11th Cir. 1996).
instant motion highlights the inherent tension between these
two (2) principles of admiralty and maritime law. When a
plaintiff is injured and brings a claim against a vessel and
her owner in state court, the saving to suitors clause
suggests that a federal court should not disturb the
plaintiffs chosen forum. However, the Limitation Act permits
the shipowner to invoke a federal court's jurisdiction
and enjoin the state court from proceeding and require that
the claims relevant to the limitation proceeding be litigated
in federal court. When navigating this tension, a court
should keep in mind, as Taylor concedes, that the
shipowner's right to limitation takes precedence over the
injured plaintiffs interest in his chosen state court forum.
Odeco Oil and Gas Co., Drilling Div. v. Bonnette, 74
F.3d 671, 675 (5th Cir. 1996).
attempt to ameliorate this tension, the Supreme Court has
identified two (2) circumstances under which a federal
district court may dissolve its limitation injunction and
permit the claims to be litigated in state court. The first
situation is when the value of the limitation fund exceeds
the sum of all claims on the vessel. Lewis, 531 U.S.
at 450. In such a situation, a shipowner's rights under
the Limitation Act are protected, because no matter how the
case is decided, his liability will not exceed the value of
the vessel and her pending freight. See id The second
situation is when there is only one (1) claimant in the
limitation proceeding and the parties can agree to certain
stipulations that adequately protect the shipowner's
limitation rights. Id. at 451. In that case, there
is no risk that the shipowner's liability will exceed the
value of the limitation fund, because only one (1) claim
exists and the parties have agreed that the claim will not
exceed the fund. In some cases, when there are more than one
(1) claim on the vessel and her pending freight, the
claimants can issue a set of stipulations which, if they
provide adequate protection to the shipowner, can convert a
multiple-claimant case into a single-claimant case,
Id. at 451 -52; Beisweneer, 86 F.3d