Waffensmith v. Mora et al

Filing 46

ORDER granting in part and denying in part 42 Motion for Summary JudgmentDENIED,in part,with respect to Plaintiffs declaratory judgment claim (Count 4) and Plaintiffs request for attorneys fees. Because Plaintiff has conceded theslander of title claim (Count 5), summary judgment is GRANTED,in part,withrespect to that claim. Signed by Senior Judge Charles R. Butler, Jr on 4/8/2013. (adk)

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IN  THE  UNITED  STATES  DISTRICT  COURT  FOR  THE   SOUTHERN  DISTRICT  OF  ALABAMA   SOUTHERN  DIVISION     WALTER  WAFFENSMITH,   Trustee  of  the  WALTER   WAFFENSMITH   REVOCABLE  TRUST,   12/31/2002,     Plaintiff,     v.     DAVID  NATHAN  MORA,   individually  and  d/b/a   ELITE  YACHT  COATINGS,   INC.  and  GLEN  GARDEN,   individually  and  d/b/a   ELITE  YACHT  COATINGS,   INC.,  and  ELITE  YACHT   COATINGS,  INC.     Defendants,         )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )   )           CIVIL  ACTION  NO.   12-­‐00055-­‐CB-­‐B        ORDER   This  matter  is  before  the  Court  on  a  motion  for  partial  summary  judgment   filed  by  defendant  David  Nathan  Mora  d/b/a  Elite  Yacht  Coatings,  Inc.1    (Doc.  42.)     Defendant  seeks  summary  judgment  on  two  of  the  five  counts  asserted  in  the   Amended  Complaint  (declaratory  judgment  and  slander  of  title)  and  on  Plaintiff’s   demand  for  attorney’s  fees.    In  response  (Doc.  44),  Plaintiff  does  not  oppose  the   motion  on  the  slander  of  title  claim,  but  he  argues  that  there  are  genuine  issues  of                                                                                                                   1  Whether  Elite  Yacht  Coatings,  Inc.  exists  as  a  separate  legal  entity  is  unclear.     According  to  the  Amended  Complaint,  “it  is  not  known  if  such  entity  has  any  legal   existence.”    (Doc.  24  ¶  6.)    The  Answer  to  the  Amended  Complaint    identifies  “the   Defendant  David  Nathan  Mora,  individually  and  d/b/a  Elite  Yacht  Coatings”  and  is   signed  by  counsel  on  behalf  of  David  Nathan  Mora  only.  (Doc.  41.)  For  the  most  part,   the  summary  judgment  briefs  refer  to  the  two  as  one  defendant.    The  Court  will  do   the  same.   material  fact  that  preclude  summary  judgment  as  to  the  declaratory  judgment  claim   and  the  demand  for  attorney’s  fee.    After  due  consideration  of  the  evidence   presented  and  the  applicable  law,  the  Court  finds  summary  judgment  is  not   appropriate  as  to  those  claims.   Facts2     In  2009,  Walter  Waffensmith,  as  Trustee  of  Walter  Waffensmith  Revocable   Trust  12/31/2002  (hereinafter  “Waffensmith”  or  “Plaintiff”),  obtained  a  bid  from     Nathan  Mora  and  Elite  Yacht  Coatings,  Inc.  (hereinafter  “Mora”  or  “Defendant”)  of   Bayou  La  Batre,  Alabama  to  perform  work  on  Plaintiff’s  vessel  the  SUMMER  OF  ’42,   including  sandblasting,  fairing  and  painting.  The  SUMMER  OF  ’42  was  located  in   Jacksonville,  Florida.  Waffensmith  resided  in  Minnesota.    Mora  had  been  a   professional  boat  painter  for  20  years  and  started  his  own  business,  Elite  Yacht   Coatings,  Inc.  in  2005.    (Mora  Aff.  ¶  2,  Def.’s  Ex.  1,  Doc.  42-­‐1.)    Mora  learned  from  his   then  son-­‐in-­‐law,  Glen  Garden,  that  the  SUMMER  OF  ‘42’s  owner  was  looking  for   someone  to  perform  a  paint  job.  (Id.  ¶  3.)  Garden  was  not  an  employee  or  owner  of   Elite  but  was  paid  as  a  consultant  to  promote  the  business  and  to  maintain  the   company’s  website.    (Id.  ¶  4.)     Mora  never  saw  the  SUMMER  OF  ’42  before  submitting  a  bid.    (Mora  Dep.  63,   Pl.’s  Ex  C.,  Doc.  44-­‐1.)    He  prepared  his  bid  based  on  photographs  and  statements   made  by  others  regarding  the  vessel’s  condition.  (Mora  Aff.  ¶¶  3-­‐4.)    When  Garden                                                                                                                   2  As  the  law  requires,  the  facts,  and  all  inferences  arising  from  them,  are   viewed  forth  in  the  light  most  favorable  to  the  non-­‐moving  party.  Merritt  v.  Dillard   Paper  Co.,  120  F.3d  1181,  1182  (11th  Cir.  1997).    Moreover,  only  those  facts  relevant   to  the  summary  judgment  issues  are  set  out  in  this  order.    These,  of  course,  may  not   be  the  actual  facts  adduced  at  trial.    Id.     2   told  Mora  about  the  job,  he  said  that  the  vessel  was  in  good  structural  condition  and   needed  a  routine  paint  job.    (Id.  ¶3.)    Waffensmith  told  Mora  that  the  vessel  was  in   good  condition  and  described  it  as  “My  Pristine”.  (Id.  ¶  4.)    Even  though  Mora  “never   laid  eyes  on  the  vessel”  until  after  the  bid  was  accepted,  Garden  told  Waffensmith  in   an  email  that  Mora  had  gone  to  Jacksonville,  Florida,  to  look  at  the  vessel.    (Id.  ¶  7;   Mora  Dep.  62-­‐63.)     Defendant’s  initial  bid,  submitted  May  28,  2009,  was  $49,000.    (Pl.’s  Ex.  B.)  In   June  2009,  Waffensmith  came  to  Bayou  La  Batre  to  discuss  the  work  and  the  cost.     Waffensmith  did  not  tell  Mora  about  any  problems  with  the  vessel.    (Mora  Aff.  ¶  5.)   In  a  June  29,  2009,  email  to  Defendant,  Waffensmith  questioned  whether  the  bid   included  all  of  the  necessary  work.3    (Pl.’s  Ex.  B.)    On  that  same  date,  Defendant   emailed  Waffensmith  a  revised  bid  of  $51,000,  with  an  estimated  12-­‐week   timeframe  for  completion.    (Id.)    Waffensmith  accepted  the  bid,  the  vessel  was   moved  from  Jacksonville  to  Bayou  La  Batre,  and  work  commenced  in  July  2009.     (Mora  Aff.  ¶  7.)     The  work  did  not  go  as  expected  because  the  vessel  had  problems  that   Defendant  had  not  anticipated.    These  problems  required  additional  work  that   Defendant  believed  was  outside  the  scope  of  the  contract.    (Id.  ¶¶  9,  13-­‐15,  27.)     Defendant  worked  on  the  vessel  for  approximately  6  months,  at  which  point  Plaintiff   hired  other  contractors  to  finish  the  job.    (Id.  31-­‐32.)    Defendant  asserts  that  Plaintiff                                                                                                                   3  Specifically,  Waffensmith    was  “concerned  that  we  are  not  all  talking  about   the  same  project”  and  pointed  out  that  other  bidders  “were  concerned  about  rust   along  vertical  walls  that  might  go  below  the  deck  line.”    He  did  not  know  if   “[p]erhaps  the  others  were  jerking  [him]  .  .  .  or  perhaps  they  know  of  think   something  needs  to  be  done  and  you  don’t  agree.”    (Pl.’s  Ex.  B,  Doc.  44-­‐1.)     3   authorized  the  additional  work,  but  Plaintiff  disputes  this  assertion.4    Mora   estimates  that  Defendant  is  owed  approximately  $101,826  for  additional  work  on   Plaintiff’s  vessel.  (Mora  Aff.,  Doc.  42-­‐1,  ¶  42.)    In  June  2011,  Defendant  filed  a  Notice   of  Claim  of  Lien  against  the  SUMMER  OF  ’42  in  the  amount  of  $95,697.36.5  (Pl.’s  Ex.   E,  Doc.  44-­‐1.)         On  January  30,  2012,  Waffensmith  filed  the  instant  action  in  admiralty  and  in   personam  against  David  N.  Mora,  Elite  Yacht  Coatings,  Inc.  and  Glen  Garden.6    The   complaint  was  subsequently  amended  to  substitute  “Walter  Waffensmith,  as   Trustee  of  Walter  Waffensmith  Revocable  Trust  12/31/2002”  as  plaintiff  in  place  of   Walter  Waffensmith,  individually.    The  Amended  Complaint  asserts  claims  for   breach  of  contract,  negligence,  breach  of  warranty  (Counts  1-­‐  3)  and  slander  of  title   (Count  5).    Plaintiff  also  seeks  a  declaratory  judgment  (Count  4)  that  the  maritime   lien  filed  by  Defendants  “against  the  M/V  SUMMER  OF  ’42  was  filed  in  bad  faith,  is   void,  invalid  and  of  no  effect”  and  that  the  lien  be  removed.    Finally,  Plaintiff  seeks   recovery  of  attorney’s  fees  pursuant  to  46  U.S.C.  §  31343(c)(2).    Defendant  has  filed   a  counterclaim  against  Plaintiff  to  recover  payment  for  work  performed  on  the   vessel.                                                                                                                   4  Plaintiff  cites  Waffensmith’s  deposition  testimony  as  evidence  that  Plaintiff   did  not  authorize  anything  beyond  the  agreement  (Pl.’s  Ex.  H,  Doc.  44-­‐1),  but   Defendants  argue  that  the  cited  testimony  is  insufficient.    The  Court,  for  reasons   discussed  infra  at  7,  finds  this  evidence  is  sufficient  for  summary  judgment   purposes.   5  It  is  not  clear  to  the  Court  why  lien  amount  is  different  from  the  amount   Mora  claims  he  is  owed.    Furthermore,  the  figures  provided  in  Mora’s  affidavit  do   not  appear  to  take  into  account  payments  made  by  the  Plaintiff.    These  apparent   inconsistencies  are  simply  a  matter  of  curiosity  and  have  no  impact  on  the  outcome   of  the  summary  judgment  motion.   6  It  appears  that  Garden  has  never  been  served.     4   Summary  Judgment  Standard     Summary  judgment  should  be  granted  only  if  "there  is  no  issue  as  to  any   material  fact  and  the  moving  party  is  entitled  to  a  judgment  as  a  matter  of  law."       Fed.  R.  Civ.  P.  56(c).    The  party  seeking  summary  judgment  bears  "the  initial  burden   to  show  the  district  court,  by  reference  to  materials  on  file,  that  there  are  no  genuine   issues  of  material  fact  that  should  be  decided  at  trial."    Clark  v.  Coats  &  Clark,  Inc.,   929  F.2d  604,  608  (11th  Cir.  1991).    Once  the  moving  party  has  satisfied  his   responsibility,  the  burden  shifts  to  the  nonmoving  party  to  show  the  existence  of  a   genuine  issue  of  material  fact.    Id.    On  summary  judgment  review,  “the  facts-­‐-­‐as   supported  by  the  evidence  in  the  record-­‐-­‐and  reasonable  inferences  from  those   facts”  must  be  viewed  in  the  light  most  favorable  to  the  nonmoving  party.    Young  v.   City  of  Palm  Bay,  Florida,  358  F.3d  859,  860  (11th  Cir.  2004).   Legal  Analysis     Declaratory  Judgment/Maritime  Lien     In  his  summary  judgment  motion,  Defendant  asserts  that  Plaintiff  cannot   maintain  a  declaratory  judgment  claim  because  “[a]s  a  contractor  who  provided   repair  services  to  the  MV  Summer  of  42,  and  was  not  fully  paid  for  his  services,   Defendant  has  a  maritime  lien  against  the  vessel.”    (Def.’s  Brf.,  Doc.  42-­‐7,  3.)    Under   the  maritime  lien  statutes,  “a  person  providing  necessaries  to  a  vessel  on  the  order   of  the  owner  or  a  person  authorized  by  the  owner.  .  .  has  a  maritime  lien  on  the   vessel;  [  ]  may  bring  a  civil  action  in  rem  to  enforce  the  lien,  and  [  ]is  not  required  to   allege  or  prove  in  the  action  that  credit  was  given  to  the  vessel.”    42  U.S.C.  §  31342.         5   But  a  vessel  owner  has  the  right  to  seek  a  declaratory  judgment  that  the  vessel  is  not   subject  to  the  lien.      The  district  courts  of  the  United  States  shall  have  jurisdiction  over  a   civil  action  in  Admiralty  to  declare  that  a  vessel  is  not  subject  to  a  lien   claimed  under  subsection  (b)  of  this  section,  or  that  the  vessel  is  not   subject  to  the  notice  of  claim  of  lien,  or  both,  regardless  of  the  amount   in  controversy  or  the  citizenship  of  the  parties.     46  U.S.C.  §  31343(c)(2).    The  maritime  lien  statutes  create  a  presumption  in  favor  of   the  supplier  or  contractor,  so  that  the  owner  has  the  burden  to  show  the  services   were  not  authorized.    See  Belcher  Oil  Co.  v.  M/V  Gardenia,  766  F.2d  1508,  1513  (11th   Cir.  1985).     In  response  to  the  summary  judgment  motion,  Plaintiff  points  to  his  own   deposition  testimony  as  evidence  that  he  did  not  authorize  additional  work:   Q     A     Q     A     Q     A       Okay.    Looking  at  your  email  to  Vickie  on  the  26th.   (Witness  examines  the  document.)   The  one  at  the  top.    And  you  say  you  never  authorized  him  to   do  anything  beyond  that  agreement.    That’s  your  position.   Yeah.   Okay.    And  so  what  did  you  –  When  you  received  the  invoice   back  on  the  19th  or  the  20th,  this  is  six  days  later,  your  response   was  to  tell  him  that  you’d  never  authorized  any  additional   work?   Yeah.    Particularly  not  without  talking  about  it  ahead  of  time,   yeah.   (Waffensmith  Dep.  126,  Pl.’s  Ex.  H,  Doc.  44-­‐1.)         Defendant  contends  that  this  evidence  does  not  create  an  issue  of  fact,   though  it  is  not  clear  why.    The  argument  is  as  follows:     6     The  Plaintiff  has  not  contested  Defendant’s  statement  that  he  notified   the  Plaintiff  about  the  need  for  the  repairs  nor  has  he  denied  that   Plaintiff  responded  [by  telling  him  to  “fix  it”].    Instead  the  Plaintiff   merely  points  out  that,  in  his  own  deposition,  the  Plaintiff  answered   affirmatively  when  asked  whether  it  was  his  po[si]tion  that  he  never   authorized  the  Defendant  to  do  anything  beyond  the  contractual   allegation.    This  allegation  is  insufficient  to  defeat  summary  judgment.   (Def.’s  Reply  Brf.  9,  Doc.  45.)    Defendant  next  cites  several  cases  in  support  of  the   well-­‐established  summary  judgment  rule  that  once  the  moving  party  has  met  its   burden  on  summary  judgment  the  nonmoving  party  cannot  rely  on  mere  allegation   but  must  offer  evidence  to  support  its  claim.7    Here,  Plaintiff  has  met  this  burden.     Plaintiff  has  offered  deposition  testimony,  which  is  an  acceptable  method  of   supporting  a  factual  position  on  summary  judgment.    See  Fed.  R  Civ.  P.   56(c)(1)(A)(“party  asserting  that  a  fact  cannot  be  or  is  genuinely  disputed  must   support  the  assertion  by  .  .  .  citing  to  particular  parts  of  materials  in  the  record,   including  depositions…”).  Defendant’s  argument  may  be  that  Plaintiff’s  deposition   testimony  does  not  actually  refute  Mora’s  affidavit  testimony  because  Plaintiff  did   not  specifically  deny  that  he  told  Mora  to  “fix  it”  when  Mora  told  him  about  the   needed  repairs.    If  so,  it  is  not  a  winning  argument.    Plaintiff’s  deposition  testimony   (i.e.,  his  position  that  he  never  authorized  the  any  work  beyond  the  contract)   certainly  can  be  interpreted  as  a  denial.    Therefore,  this  evidence  creates  a  genuine                                                                                                                   7  In  each  of  the  cases  cited  by  Defendant,  the  nonmoving  party  had  offered  no   evidence  to  refute  evidence  presented  in  support  of  the  summary  judgment  motion.     See,  e.g.  Westcap  Government  Securities,  Inc.  v.  Homestead  Air  Force  Base  Fed.  Credit   Union,  697  F.2d  911  (11th  Cir.  1983)  (only  evidence  on  point  was  moving  party’s   “uncontroverted  affidavit”);  In  re  Royal  Caribbean  Cruises  Ltd.,  403  F.  Supp.  2d  1168,   1173  (S.D.  Fla.  2008)  (nonmoving  party  “failed  to  put  forth  any  evidence”  to  refute   affidavit  submitted  by  moving  party);  Gantt  v.  Whirlpool  Fin.  Nat’l  Bank,  2000  WL   1375298  (S.D.  Ala.  Aug.  22,  2000)  (plaintiff  failed  to  come  forward  with  evidence  to   refute  defendant’s  affidavit).     7   issue  of  material  fact.    See  Hunt  v.  Cromartie,  526  U.S.  541  (1999)  (summary   judgment  inappropriate  where  evidence  is  susceptible  to  different  interpretations   or  inferences).     Attorney’s  Fees     Defendants  argue  that  Plaintiff  will  not  be  entitled  to  an  award  of  attorney’s   fees  even  if  Plaintiff  prevails  because  Defendant’s  position  in  this  action  is   “substantially  justified.”    In  an  action  to  declare  that  a  vessel  is  not  subject  to  a  lien,   [t]he  court  may  award  costs  and  attorneys  fees  to  the  prevailing  party,  unless  the   court  finds  that  the  position  of  the  other  party  was  substantially  justified  or  other   circumstances  make  an  award  of  costs  and  attorneys  fees  unjust.”    46  U.S.C.  §   31343(c)(2).    Defendant  is  not  entitled  to  summary  judgment  on  this  issue  because   the  factual  basis  for  this  argument  is  disputed.    Defendant  argues  that  “Defendant   provided  necessaries  to  the  Plaintiff’s  vessel  on  the  authority  of  the  Plaintiff  .  .  .     Therefore,  Defendant  had  a  reasonable  belief  in  law  and  fact  for  recording  the   maritime  lien.”    (Def.’s  Reply  Brf.  8,  Doc  45.)    As  discussed,  supra  at  7-­‐8,  it  is  disputed   whether  Plaintiff  gave  authority  to  provide  the  additional  work  on  which  the  lien  is   apparently  based.    Consequently,  the  Court  cannot  say,  based  upon  the  summary   judgment  record,  that  Defendant’s  position  was  substantially  justified.   Conclusion     For  the  reasons  discussed  above,  the  Defendant’s  motion  for  summary   judgment  is  DENIED,  in  part,  with  respect  to  Plaintiff’s  declaratory  judgment  claim   (Count  4)  and  Plaintiff’s  request  for  attorney’s  fees.    Because  Plaintiff  has  conceded     8   the  slander  of  title  claim  (Count  5),  summary  judgment  is  GRANTED,  in  part,  with   respect  to  that  claim.     DONE  and  ORDERED  this  the  8th  day  of  April,  2013.                                         s/Charles  R.  Butler,  Jr.       Senior  United  States  District  Judge     9  

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