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Complaint of Bellaire Vessel Management, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

March 13, 2019

COMPLAINT OF BELLAIRE VESSEL MANAGEMENT, LLC as Owner of the MOTOR VESSELL CAPT. ROBERT G. HARRISON and BELLAIRE HARBOR SERVICE, LLC, as Charterer of the MOTOR VESSEL CAPT. ROBERT G. HARRISON FOR EXONERATION FROM OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY, and IN THE MATTER OF CAMPBELL TRANSPORTATION CO., INC. as Owner of the M/V JAMES R. MOREHEAD, OFFICIAL NO. 1032410 FOR EXONERATION FROM OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY, and IN THE MATTER OF CAMPBELL TRANSPORTATION CO., INC. as Owner and INLAND MARINE SERVICE, INC. as Operator and Owner Pro Hac Vice of M/V LOUISE S., OFFICIAL NO. 513659 FOR EXONERATION FROM OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING PENDING MOTIONS

          FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Background

         This civil action arises out of an event which occurred on or about January 13, 2018 when a number of barges and/or other vessels broke away from a vessel fleeting facility located on the Ohio River on Boggs Island, Marshall County, West Virginia and those vessels then floated downriver and, among other things, became damaged and/or caused damage to the property of others. On July 13, 2018, Bellaire Vessel Management, LLC (“BVM”) and Bellaire Harbor Service, LLC (referred to herein as “BHS” or “Bellaire”) filed a complaint for exoneration from or limitation of liability under 46 U.S.C. §§ 30501-30512. ECF No. 1.[1] This admiralty action is brought pursuant to Rule F of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions, and jurisdiction is conferred by 28 U.S.C. § 1331 as the Complaint for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability (ECF No. 1) is instituted under the laws of the United States.

         On November 1, 2018, the parties in the above-styled civil actions filed a joint motion to consolidate (ECF No. 55) in Complaint of Bellaire Vessel Management, LLC as Owner of the Motor Vessel Capt. Robert G. Harrison and Bellaire Harbor Service, LLC, as Charterer of the Motor Vessel Capt. Robert G. Harrison for Exoneration From or Limitation of Liability, Civil Action No. 5:18CV115, with In the Matter of Campbell Transportation Co., Inc. as Owner of the M/V James R. Morehead, Official No. 1032410 for Exoneration From or Limitation of Liability, Civil Action No. 5:18CV137, and In the Matter of Campbell Transportation Co., Inc. as Owner and Inland Marine Service, Inc. as Operator and Owner of M/V Louise S., Official No. 513659 for Exoneration From or Limitation of Liability, Civil Action No. 5:18CV138. Subsequently, on November 14, 2018, United States District Judge John Preston Bailey entered an order transferring In the Matter of Campbell Transportation Co., Inc. as Owner and Inland Marine Service, Inc. as Operator and Owner of M/V Louise S., Official No. 513659 for Exoneration From or Limitation of Liability, Civil Action No. 5:18CV138 to the undersigned judge's docket.

         This Court then entered an order granting the parties' motion to consolidate the above-styled civil actions (ECF No. 58) for discovery and trial, and to proceed under Complaint of Bellaire Vessel Management, LLC as Owner of the Motor Vessel Capt. Robert G. Harrison and Bellaire Harbor Service, LLC, as Charterer of the Motor Vessel Capt. Robert G. Harrison for Exoneration From or Limitation of Liability, Civil Action No. 5:18CV115. This Court also entered an order approving the parties' joint stipulation for non-jury/bench trial and entered an amended scheduling order. ECF No. 70.

         The following motions are pending and have been fully briefed: (1) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim by Mon River Towing, Inc., and Murray American Transportation, Inc. (ECF No. 28); (2) motion to amend/correct order by Mon River Towing, Inc., Murray American River Towing, Inc., and Murray American Transportation, Inc. (ECF No. 30); (3) motion for entry of default by Bellaire Harbor Service, LLC and Bellaire Vessel Management, LLC (ECF No. 38); (4) motion for leave to file answer and claim out of time by The Ohio County Coal Company (ECF No. 40); (5) motion to strike the motion to dismiss by Bellaire Harbor Service, LLC and Bellaire Vessel Management, LLC (ECF No. 41); and (6) motion for leave to file answer and claim out of time by Mon River Towing, Inc., Murray American River Towing, Inc., and Murray American Transportation, Inc. (ECF No. 46).

         The motions are ripe for disposition and are discussed, in turn, below.

         II. Contentions of the Parties

         Respondents, Murray American River Towing, Inc. (“MART”), Murray American Transportation, Inc. (“MATI”), and Mon River Towing, Inc. (“MRT”), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and Local Rules of Civil Procedure 7.02 and 12.02, filed a motion to dismiss complainants' complaint for exoneration from or limitation of liability for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. ECF No. 28. In support, the respondents state that complainants fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted against respondents MART, MATI, and MRT because complainants' allegations do not meet the requirements of 46 U.S.C. §§ 30501 through 30512 in that there are no allegations regarding the M/V Capt. Robert G. Harrison's involvement in causing the incident at issue. ECF No. 29.

         Respondents also filed a motion to amend/correct (ECF No. 30) and requested that the Court amend its order dated July 17, 2018 (ECF No. 6) so that it does not stay and enjoin all claims arising out of or connected with the subject breakaway, but rather stays and enjoins only those claims (not already included in the limitation action) arising out of or connected with BVM's ownership of the M/V Capt. Robert G. Harrison. Alternatively, respondents request the Court amend its order to except any actions against BHS and BVM arising out of their role as fleeter of barges. ECF No. 30.

         Complainants, Bellaire Vessel Management, LLC (“BVM”) and Bellaire Harbor Service, LLC (“BHS”), filed a motion for entry of order of court noting default of any and all potential or possible claimants who have failed to assert claims or answers in this action within the permitted time under Rule 55(a) as made applicable by Rule A of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims. ECF No. 38.

         Respondents then filed a response in opposition to complainants' motion for entry of default and state that, given MART, MATI, and MRT's pending motions, the motion for entry of order of court noting default of claimants is contrary to the Rules. ECF No. 39. Respondents argue that under Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, if the Court were to deny MART, MATI, and MRT's pending motions, MART, MATI, and MRT would have 14 days after such denial to file a responsive pleading.

         The Ohio County Coal Company (“OCC”), by counsel, then filed a motion for leave to file a claim out of time, asserting that counsel was aware of the Court's order setting a limit for claims to be filed by August 31, 2018, but from information obtained, counsel understood that the parties involved in this breakaway of January 13, 2018 were Mon River Towing, Inc., Murray American River Towing, Inc., and Murray American Transportation, Inc., and accordingly entered an appearance on behalf of those parties and filed motions attacking the limitation complaint. Counsel represents that, “[t]his week I learned for the first time that in addition to the damages incurred by Mon River Towing, Inc., Murray American River Towing, Inc., and Murray American Transportation, Inc., The Ohio County Coal Company also sustained some minor damage to its coal loading facility in West Virginia estimated to be approximately $35, 000.00.” ECF No. 40 at 1-2. Thus, The Ohio County Coal Company requests leave of Court to file its answer and claim out of time. ECF No. 40.

         Complainants then filed a motion to strike respondents' motion to dismiss (ECF No. 28) and motion to amend the Court's order dated July 17, 2018 regarding the issuance of an injunction (ECF No. 30). ECF No. 41. In support, complainants state that on July 17, 2018, this Court granted BVM and BHS's motion for approval and issued an order directing any claimant to file claims and answer the complaint by August 31, 2018 (ECF No. 6). Respondents failed to file an answer or a claim by August 31, 2018 and, instead, on August 31, 2018, respondents filed a motion to dismiss (ECF No. 28), a memorandum of law in support of motion to dismiss (ECF No. 29), and a motion to amend the Court's order dated July 17, 2018 regarding the issuance of an injunction (“motion to amend”) (ECF No. 30). Complainants argue that the Court should strike respondents' motion to dismiss and motion to amend because they impermissibly seek to bypass the procedural requirements of the Limitation of Liability Act as the monition period expired on August 31, 2018, and respondents failed to comply with the procedural requirements of Rule F(5) by filing a claim and answer. Accordingly, complainants argue that respondents lack standing to file their motions, and their motions should be stricken and/or dismissed. In the alternative, complainants argue that even if respondents had standing, their ...


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