Shell Offshore Inc. v. Tesla Offshore, L.L.C. et al
ORDER - IT IS ORDERED that Tesla's Rule 60 361 motion is GRANTED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Tesla's motion for summary judgment on its contribution claim is GRANTED. The judgment will be amended to reflect that International owes Tesla $1,948,060.76 in contribution. Signed by Judge Lance M Africk. (bwn)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
SHELL OFFSHORE, INC.
TESLA OFFSHORE, LLC ET AL.
A party does not have an entitlement to a contribution remedy until it pays
more than its fair share to satisfy the judgment. See 1 Thomas J. Schoenbaum,
Admiralty & Maritime Law § 5-19 (5th ed. 2016). Therefore, the judgment in this
case did not memorialize that any of the defendants had an entitlement to
contribution. No defendant did when judgment was entered.
That all changed while this case was pending on appeal. There, defendant
Tesla Offshore (“Tesla”) paid more than its fair share of the judgment to obtain a full
release of plaintiff Shell Offshore’s claims. Because that post-judgment payment
gives Tesla the right to obtain contribution from its co-defendants, this Court (1)
grants the motion 1 to reopen the judgment, (2) grants summary judgment on the
contribution claim, and (3) issues an amended judgment.
This case arises out of a maritime accident. Tesla hired International Offshore
Services and International Marine, LLC (collectively “International”) to conduct an
R. Doc. No. 361.
offshore survey. Part of the terrain to be surveyed lay near an offshore drilling rig
leased by Shell. During the survey, the towline dragging the sonar towfish behind
International’s vessel struck a mooring line on the offshore rig. As a result, drilling
ceased for almost two weeks while the damaged mooring line was replaced.
Litigation ensued. The jury found both Tesla’s and International’s negligence
to be a proximate cause of the accident and attributed 75% of the fault to Tesla and
25% of the fault to International. The jury further found that Shell was entitled to $
9,041,552 in damages. So under the “well-established” rule of joint and several
liability in maritime law, McDermott, Inc. v. AmClyde, 511 U.S. 202, 220 (1994), this
Court entered a final judgment making Tesla and International jointly and severally
liable to Shell for the full amount of the judgment, see Edmonds v. Compagnie
Generale Transatlantique, 443 U.S. 256, 271 n.30 (1979) (“[T]he plaintiff may recover
from one of the colliding vessels the damage concurrently caused by the negligence of
Notices of appeal followed.
Tesla posted a bond to stay execution of the
judgment. International took a different tack. Instead of posting an appeal bond,
International reached a side deal with Shell. Under that deal, International paid
Shell $244,918.99 in partial satisfaction of the judgment. The payment was “without
prejudice” to International’s ability to challenge any part of the judgment on appeal.
R. Doc. No. 364-1, at 15. Shell agreed to delay either (1) pursuing a judgment debtor
examination against International or (2) pursing a subrogation claim against
International’s underwriters. R. Doc. No. 364-1, at 15. Shell also agreed to first try
to execute the judgment against Tesla’s bond rather than International or its
underwriters. R. Doc. No. 364-1, at 15.
With the issue of security settled, the parties went on their way to the Fifth
Circuit. Tesla and Shell reached an agreement to satisfy the judgment while the
parties were briefing the appeal. Tesla agreed to pay $8,527,000 in new money to
Shell. In exchange for Tesla’s new money and the $244,918.99 that Shell had already
received from International, Shell agreed to release the judgment. 2
assigned Tesla all of Shell’s possible claims against International and International’s
underwriters. See R. Doc. No. 361-2 (settlement agreement).
The net-net of that settlement was that Tesla had paid more than its 75% share
of the judgment. But in return Tesla received more than just a release of Shell’s
claims. Instead, Tesla is now purportedly armed with any claims that Shell had
against International or International’s insurers.
Tesla and International disagreed about the implications of the settlement on
the pending appeal. As a result, the Fifth Circuit remanded the matter back to this
Court for consideration of Tesla’s claims against International. R. Doc. No. 360.
Tesla now moves for this Court to reopen the judgment and grant summary judgment
on its contribution claim.
Because the International payment was contingent on the appeal being affirmed, R.
Doc. No. 361-2, at 2, Tesla agreed to reimburse Shell for any repayments that Shell
had to pay to International, R. Doc. No. 361-2, at 8.
The first step in evaluating Tesla’s motion is to determine whether this Court
may reopen its previously final judgment. Tesla moves for relief from judgment under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60.
Rule 60(b)(5) permits relief from a judgment when “the judgment has been
satisfied, released or discharged; it is based on an earlier judgment that has been
reversed or vacated; or applying it prospectively is no longer equitable.” The “[u]se
of the disjunctive ‘or’” in Rule 60(b)(5) “makes it clear that each of the provision’s
three grounds for relief is independently sufficient and therefore that relief may be
warranted.” Horne v. Flores, 557 U.S. 433, 454 (2009).
Primarily relevant here is the little-used first clause of Rule 60(b)(5). 3 That
clause allows reopening a judgment when “the judgment has been satisfied, released
Unsurprisingly then, Rule 60(b)(5) motions can be “used by a
judgment-debtor to relieve itself of an already-final judgment that has been satisfied,
released, or discharged.” Bryan v. Erie Cnty. Office of Children & Youth, 752 F.3d
Tesla’s original motion indicates that it is filed under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 60(b)(6). However, Tesla has since clarified that it is asking for relief under
Rule 60(b)(5) as well. R. Doc. No. 369. And, in any case, this Court has the discretion
to consider a Rule 60(b)(6) motion under Rule 60(b)(5). See Hess v. Cockrell, 281 F.3d
212, 215 (5th Cir. 2002) (holding that it was not an abuse of discretion for a district
court to construe a Rule 60(b)(5) motion as a Rule 60(b)(6) motion); see also
Sunderland v. City of Phila., 575 F.2d 1089, 1090 (3d Cir. 1978) (“But the only reason
he suggests for not granting the defendants relief under Rule 60(b)(5) is that they
failed to specify that rule in their post-judgment motion. Since a Rule 60(b)(5) motion
is not subject to a specific time limitation, such a motion could be made even now.
There is no reason, therefore, why we should not treat the inartful motion which was
filed as a motion under that rule.”).
316, 321 (3d Cir. 2014). A Rule 60(b)(5) motion must be made “within a reasonable
time.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(c)(1).
Shell acknowledged payment and satisfaction of the judgment after settling
with Tesla. R. Doc No. 354. Thus, the first requirement for obtaining relief under
Rule 60(b)(5) is met: the judgment in this case was satisfied.
The remaining question, then, is whether Tesla filed its motion within a
reasonable time. Shell acknowledged satisfaction of the judgment on December 28,
2016. Tesla moved on February 14, 2017—the deadline set by this Court’s postremand briefing schedule—to reopen the judgment. R. Doc. No. 361. Thus, Tesla’s
filing was made within a reasonable time. The Court will not engage in the judicial
equivalent of a bait-and-switch by setting a briefing schedule and then punishing a
party for complying with it.
The prerequisites for obtaining relief under Rule 60(b)(5) are met. The Court
turns to the question of whether Tesla may assert a contribution claim.
Maritime law makes joint tortfeasors jointly and severally liable to the
plaintiff. See AmClyde, 511 U.S. at 220. The tortfeasors’ respective liability for the
amount of the judgment between each other, however, is set by the law of
proportionate fault. See United States v. Reliable Transfer Co., 421 U.S. 397 (1975).
In order to reconcile the two regimes and lessen the chance that a single
defendant has to pay more than its respective share of the judgment, maritime law
also recognizes rights of contribution between joint tortfeasors. Rights of contribution
allow a defendant that pays more than its respective portion of the judgment to
discharge a judgment to “collect from others responsible for the same tort.” Combo
Maritime, Inc. v. U.S. United Bulk Terminal, LLC, 615 F.3d 599, 602 (5th Cir. 2010)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
Rights of contribution do not give rise to a universal right of recovery,
particularly where there are settling parties. As a general rule, a settling defendant
has neither a contribution claim, see AmClyde, 511 U.S. at 209; Murphy v. Fla. Keys
Elec. Co-op. Ass’n, Inc., 329 F.3d 1311, 1313 (11th Cir. 2003), nor contribution
liability, see Boca Grande Club, Inc. v. Fla. Power & Light Co., 511 U.S. 222 (1994).
However, Combo Maritime recognized one limited exception to that rule: a settling
tortfeasor has a contribution claim under maritime law when it “obtains, as part of
its settlement agreement with the plaintiff, a full release for all parties.” 615 F.3d at
603. Such a claim only exits when the settling tortfeasor “(1) paid more than [it] owes
to the plaintiff,” and (2) . . . .discharged the plaintiff’s entire claim.” Id.
The parties dispute the applicability of the Combo Maritime exception to this
matter. Tesla argues that the exception applies because Tesla contributed more than
its 75% percent share of the judgment and obtained a release of the judgment from
Shell. International counters that Tesla waived its right to contribution by not
having it memorialized in the original judgment. International further suggests that
Combo Maritime is inapplicable because International’s payment in lieu of the appeal
bond also contributed to the settlement and therefore International is a settling party
with no contribution liability.
The Court first addresses waiver. International argues that Tesla should have
had its right to contribution memorialized in the judgement. And because Tesla did
not take that step at the time judgment was entered, International suggests that
Tesla waived any claim to contribution. The Court disagrees.
Tesla had not paid more than its fair share to obtain a release of the judgment
at the time the judgment was entered. Thus, Tesla did not have a contribution claim.
See Schoenbaum, supra, § 5-19.
So International’s claim of waiver is really a
suggestion that Tesla should have moved for the inclusion of a hypothetical future
contribution claim against International in the judgment.
But there is no justification for including such a throwaway line—e.g., “Tesla
may or may not have a right to some amount of contribution from International at
some point in the future”—in the judgment. The line would either be (1) meaningless
and serve no real function, or (2) if it did mean something, it would be little more than
an impermissible advisory opinion on a hypothetical claim.
Accordingly, the Court rejects the waiver argument. Tesla was not obligated
to have this Court render judgment on a wholly hypothetical claim based on
“contingent future events that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur
at all.” Camsoft Data Sys., Inc. v. So. Elecs. Supply, Inc., 756 F.3d 327, 336 (5th Cir.
2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). 4
In the alternative, reopening the judgment under Rule 60(b)(5) renders
International’s claim of waiver moot.
International argues that its prior payment of the judgment to Shell in lieu of
posting an appeal bond constituted a settlement of Shell’s claims against
International. Accordingly, International suggests that it is a settling defendant and
therefore immune to a contribution claim. See, e.g., Boca Grande Club, Inc., 511 U.S.
at 222. The Court again disagrees.
International’s “settlement” is not actually a settlement. To be sure, it may
very well have decreased the practical odds that Shell would ever collect any
additional damages from International. But it neither mooted any of Shell’s claims
nor eliminated any of International’s ultimate legal responsibility for the judgment.
Thus, it cannot be the sort of deal that immunizes a tortfeasor from contribution
In addition, determining that International’s partial payment (which was
made without prejudice to its pending appeal) grants International immunity from
contribution claims would “lead to inequitable apportionments of liability, contrary
to Reliable Transfer.” AmClyde, 511 U.S. at 214. The mere fact that another jointly
and severally liable defendant has paid less than its fair share of the judgment does
not somehow extinguish a contribution claim against that defendant. After all, the
hallmark of a contribution is paying more than one owes to discharge a judgment—
not necessarily every single penny.
The Court holds that International’s partial payment of judgment did not
immunize it from contribution liability. 5 The Court turns to the question of what
constitutes International’s contribution liability.
Both parties agree that this Court may resolve the contribution claim on
summary judgment because there are no material facts in dispute. See Fed. R. Civ.
They dispute, however, the proper method of calculating International’s
contribution liability. Tesla argues that International owes Tesla 25% of the new
money that Tesla paid to satisfy Shell’s judgment. International counters that Tesla
is only entitled to amounts that Tesla paid to settle the claims in excess of Tesla’s
original 75% share of the judgment.
The Court disagrees with both parties. Tesla’s “new money” methodology is
flawed insofar as it takes no account of the money that International has already paid
to Shell in partial satisfaction of the judgment. International’s “original judgment”
methodology is flawed insofar as it ignores that the settlement ($8,771,918.99) was
for less than the original judgment ($9,041,552) and therefore awards International
the unearned benefit of the settlement agreement.
International also challenges the assignment (to Tesla) of Shell’s claims against
International. The viability of the causes of action assigned by Shell—as opposed to
Tesla’s own contribution claim—is not before the Court. Tesla only moved for
summary judgment on its contribution claim. The Court does not render an advisory
opinion regarding the viability of the assigned claims. Cf. Combo Maritime, 615 F.3d
at 604 (treating the viability of assigned claims differently from the viability of the
The total value of the amount paid to release the judgment is the fairest
baseline for calculating the parties’ respective shares. That way the parties share in
any discount Shell was willing to provide on account of appellate risk. Shell released
the entire judgment in exchange for $8,771,918.99. R. Doc. No. 361-2, at 3. 25% of
that amount—i.e., International’s share under the division of fault found by the
jury—is $2,192,979.75. International has already paid Shell $244,918.99. Therefore,
at present, Tesla has paid Shell $1,948,060.76 of International’s share. This Court
will enter summary judgment on Tesla’s contribution claim against International in
IT IS ORDERED that Tesla’s Rule 60 motion is GRANTED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Tesla’s motion for summary judgment
on its contribution claim is GRANTED. The judgment will be amended to reflect
that International owes Tesla $1,948,060.76 in contribution.
New Orleans, Louisiana, March 24, 2017.
LANCE M. AFRICK
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?