MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Roger W Titus on 2/12/2018. (jnls, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
IN THE MATTER OF THE
COMPLAINT OF ALISA MORROW
AS OWNER OF THE 1996 CRUISERS
36’ MOTORYACHT LOLA BABE
(HIN: CRSUSH01D696) FOR
EXONERATION FROM OR
LIMITATION OF LIABILITY
Case No. RWT 17-cv-1061
Before the Court are two motions filed by James Avery Fauntleroy and Shantel
Fauntleroy (the “Fauntleroys”), Interested Parties to Plaintiff’s Verified Complaint: (1) a Motion
to Vacate the Court’s Amended Restraining Order and Order for Issuance of Notice that Claims
Be Filed issued on July 5, 2017 [ECF No. 16], and (2) a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Verified
Complaint for a lack of jurisdiction [ECF No. 17]. For the reasons discussed below, the Court
will deny both Motions.
1. Background Facts
Plaintiff is the owner of the 1996 Cruisers 36’ Motoryacht Lola Babe (the “Lola Babe”),
a pleasure craft. ECF No. 1 at 1–2. On September 18, 2016, starting at about 7:00 p.m., Plaintiff
hosted approximately eight guests, including claimant Mr. Fauntleroy, for a party aboard the
Lola Babe. Id. at 2. The Lola Babe was moored to a dock at the Fort Washington Marina,
located on a tributary of the Potomac River, a navigable waterway of the United States in Fort
Washington, Maryland. Id. At approximately midnight, Plaintiff left the boat to dispose of
trash. Id. When she returned, she discovered that Mr. Fauntleroy had fallen overboard while
attempting to disembark the Lola Babe. Id. After several minutes, volunteers recovered an
unconscious Mr. Fauntleroy and administered CPR before paramedics arrived to transport him to
the hospital. Id. at 3. Mr. Fauntleroy recovered and was released after several days. Id.
2. Procedural History
Plaintiff commenced this action on April 18, 2017, claiming the right to exoneration from
or limitation of liability, pursuant to the Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 30501–30512,
for any loss, damage, or injuries caused by or resulting from the September 18–19, 2016
incident. ECF No. 1. On the same day, Plaintiff moved for an order accepting the ad interim
stipulation for value of the Lola Babe, the entry of a restraining order, and an order for issuance
of notice that the proceeding has commenced. ECF No. 2. The Court held a hearing on the
pending motions on June 29, 2017. ECF No. 6.
On July 5, 2017, the Court issued an Amended Restraining Order and Order for Issuance
of Notice that Claims Be Filed. ECF No. 8. The Court ordered that: (1) any claims alleging
damages arising from the September 18–19, 2016 incident, including any claims alleged by
Mr. Fauntleroy, be filed on or before August 16, 2017 at 5:00 p.m.; (2) notice to Mr. Fauntleroy
be served on or before August 16, 2017 at 5:00 p.m.; (3) notice be given by publication in The
Daily Record newspaper once a week for four successive weeks prior to August 16, 2017;
(4) notice be mailed to Mr. Fauntleroy, his attorneys, and to any other known claimant; and
(5) any and all suits, actions, or proceedings arising out of the incident other than the action
pursued by Mr. Fauntleroy be stayed and restrained. Id. at 2–3. On August 4, 2017, Plaintiff
filed a Return of Service affidavit for service on Mr. Fauntleroy. ECF Nos. 10, 11. On
September 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed an Affidavit of Donald J. Walsh, who attested to the
compliant publication of Notice of Plaintiff’s Complaint in The Daily Record. ECF No. 21.
On July 18, 2017, the Court issued an Order Allowing Filing of Ad Interim Stipulation
for Value by Plaintiff, including $49,900.00 as the post-incident value of the Lola Babe, and
security for costs in the amount of $1,000.00 plus estimated interest for the pendency of this
action at the rate of 6% per annum ($5,988.00), for a total Ad Interim Stipulation in the amount
of $56,888.00, pursuant to U.S. District Court of Maryland Local Admiralty Rule (f).
ECF No. 9.
On August 17, 2017, the Fauntleroys filed their Answer to Plaintiff’s Verified Complaint
[ECF No. 13] as well as (1) a Motion to Accept Pleadings [ECF No. 15]; (2) a Motion to Vacate
the July 5, 2017 Order [ECF No. 16]; and (3) a Motion to Dismiss the Verified Complaint for
lack of jurisdiction [ECF No. 17]. Plaintiff timely filed her Responses to the Motion to Vacate
and Motion to Dismiss. ECF Nos. 19, 20. The Court now addresses those two Motions. The
Motion to Accept Pleadings will be disposed of in a separate order.
3. Motion to Vacate
The Fauntleroys’ Motion to Vacate argues that the July 5, 2017 Order “appears to
impermissibly shorten the time” for Counsel to file counterclaims arising from the incident.
ECF No. 16. In essence, they are asking the Court to enlarge the time within which claims had
to be filed. Id. The Fauntleroys, however, do not provide any authority to support an argument
that the Court’s July 5, 2017 Order contravened applicable law. Petitioner complied with the
specific process outlined by the Limitation of Liability Act and the Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Marine Claims F. The Fauntleroys have not
asserted any allegations of noncompliance or impropriety with the applicable law or with the
Court’s Order. Without a showing of good cause for an enlargement of time or any authority
undermining the Court’s Order, the Court must deny the Motion to Vacate.
4. Motion to Dismiss
The Fauntleroys assert that the Court should dismiss Plaintiff’s Verified Complaint for
lack of federal admiralty or maritime jurisdiction. ECF No. 17. Because the Limitation of
Liability Act alone is likely not sufficient to confer federal question jurisdiction on federal
courts, exercise of jurisdiction over limitation actions requires that an owner bringing the action
make a showing of Article III admiralty or maritime jurisdiction. See, e.g., Seven Resorts, Inc. v.
Cantlen, 57 F.3d 771, 773 (9th Cir. 1995) (finding that the Limitation of Liability Act did not
create federal question jurisdiction when asserted “clearly in the nature of a defense” to an
incident that occurred outside of admiralty jurisdiction); Three Buoys Houseboat Vacations
U.S.A. Ltd. v. Morts, 921 F.2d 775, 779–80 (8th Cir. 1990) (“Federal question jurisdiction is not
created by the existence of the Act. The Act is really in the nature of a defense, it did not create
Appellees’ causes of action for personal injury and wrongful death against Appellant.”).
United States District Courts have original, exclusive jurisdiction over all “civil case[s] of
admiralty or maritime jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1333. For a court to have jurisdiction over a
tort claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1333, a party must satisfy two tests: (1) the location test, and
(2) the connection with maritime activity test.
Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes
Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527, 534 (1995); Sisson v. Ruby, 497 U.S. 358, 361–64 (1990).
Under the location test, a court “must determine whether the tort occurred on navigable water or
whether injury suffered on land was caused by a vessel on navigable water.” Id. Under the
connection with maritime activity test, there are two steps: First, a court “must ‘assess the
general features of the type of incident involved,’ to determine whether the incident has ‘a
potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce.’” Id. (quoting Sisson, 497 U.S. at 363–64
n.2). Second, a court “must determine whether ‘the general character’ of the ‘activity giving rise
to the incident’ shows a ‘substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.’” Id. (quoting
Sisson, 497 U.S. at 365–67).
Here, there is no dispute that the location test is met because the Lola Babe was docked at
the Fort Washington Marina, on a tributary of the Potomac River, a navigable waterway.
ECF No. 1 at 2. The dispute, then, centers on the connection with maritime activity test. The
Fauntleroys argue that the circumstances here do not “suggest a sufficient relationship to
traditional maritime activity” because the accident occurred in shallow waters in close proximity
to a docked vessel and the Lola Babe is a noncommercial, pleasure craft. ECF No.17 at 2–4. In
support of this contention, the Fauntleroys cite to two cases from the Court of Appeals for the
Id. at 3 (citing Tandon v. Captain’s Cove Marina of Bridgeport, Inc.,
752 F.3d 239 (2d Cir. 2014); In re Petition of Bruce Germain, 824 F.3d 258 (2d Cir. 2014)).
The U.S. Supreme Court long ago established that maritime jurisdiction is not limited to
commercial vessels. Foremost Ins. Co. v. Richardson, 457 U.S. 668, 674 (1982). Moreover, due
to the potential impact noncommercial vessels could have on maritime commerce when docked
at marinas on navigable waterways, admiralty jurisdiction extends to such docked vessels. See
Sisson v. Ruby, 497 U.S. 358, 362–63 (1990) (finding fire erupted on docked pleasure vessel
“[c]ertainly . . . has a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce”). Accordingly, the
Court moves on to apply the connection test to the circumstances here.
To do so, Sisson directs the Court first to characterize the “general features” of the
incident. The general features of the incident at issue in this case can be described as a passenger
attempting to disembark from or falling off of a vessel into navigable waters. Described as such,
applicable caselaw supports a finding that the egress from a vessel, especially one that results in
rescue efforts, has the potential to disrupt commercial maritime activity.
In White v. United States, 53 F.3d 43, 47 (4th Cir. 1995), the Fourth Circuit stated clearly
that “[f]ederal admiralty jurisdiction extends to the means of ingress and egress, including but
not limited to the gangway of a vessel in navigable waters.”
There the court held that
jurisdiction existed where a person lost her balance at the end of the gangway while
disembarking and injuring herself on equipment stored on the pier. Id. at 46–47. The court
explained that “[g]iven the importance of safe means of ingress and egress for any vessel in port,
the general features of White’s gangway mishap have potentially disruptive impact on maritime
commerce.” Id. at 48. Although Mr. Fauntleroy fell overboard and not onto the pier, the same
potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce that unsafe ingress and egress onto any
vessel can have applies here.
Other jurisdictions have similarly held that an incident where a passenger falls or jumps
off a vessel on navigable waters gives rise to maritime jurisdiction, especially when rescue
efforts are required. See, e.g., Taghadomi v. United States, 401 F.3d 1080, 1087 (9th Cir. 2004)
(finding jurisdiction over incident caused by capsized kayak and failed rescue efforts by the
Coast Guard); Wright v. United States, 883 F. Supp. 60 (D.S.C. 1994) (finding jurisdiction over
incident where woman dove from pleasure boat in unauthorized place and injured her finger);
In re Bird, 794 F. Supp. 575, 580–81 (D.S.C. 1992) (finding jurisdiction over incident where one
passenger pushed another passenger overboard from an anchored boat in navigable waters).
Here, volunteers responded to Mr. Fauntleroy’s fall and rescue personnel were subsequently
called to the scene. Similar to the cases cited above, the search for him in the navigable waters
had the potential to disrupt the navigation of other vessels in the marina as well as to put the
volunteers and rescue personnel at risk.
The second step of the inquiry is easily met. To begin, the Court must define the
“general character” of the activity giving rise to the incident. The general character of the
activity here can be described as hosting passengers on a docked vessel. In Grubart, the U.S.
Supreme Court stated clearly that its precedent set out in Sisson provides that the “storing [of
boats] at a marina on navigable waters” “falls within the substantial relationship” with traditional
maritime activity. Grubart, 513 U.S. at 540. The fact that Mr. Fauntleroy fell overboard actually
adds to the substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity, just as incidents inviting
rescue have the potential to disrupt commercial maritime activity. In Matthews v. Howell,
359 Md. 152, 169, 753 A.2d 69, 78 (2000), the Court of Appeals of Maryland held that an
incident where a woman inexplicably dove into the water from an idling boat in the Chesapeake
Bay gave rise to maritime jurisdiction because (1) a vessel in navigable waters while a rescue
effort was underway has the potential to disrupt maritime activity, and (2) the search effort by
the Maryland Department of Nature Resources Police for a person gone overboard from a vessel
had a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.
The two cases cited by the Fauntleroys actually lend their support for the Court’s
jurisdiction over this case.
In Tandon v. Captain’s Cove Marina of Bridgeport, Inc.,
752 F.3d 239 (2d Cir. 2014), the court found that there was no maritime jurisdiction where a fist
fight took place on a dock fixed to the land because there was an insufficient hazard to maritime
activity. The court described the incident as “a physical altercation among recreational visitors
on and around a permanent dock surrounded by navigable waters.” Tandon, 752 F.3d at 249.
The court focused on the fact that the dock was permanently connected to the land underneath or
beside navigable waters and thus any incident on such a dock did not pose the same risks as an
incident on a vessel on navigable water. Id. at 250. This is starkly distinct from the case here,
which involved an incident originating from within the vessel on navigable waters and ended
with Mr. Fauntleroy in those same waters.
The Second Circuit proceeded to distinguish Tandon in the second case cited by the
Fauntleroys. In In re Petition of Germain, 824 F.3d 258, 274 (2d Cir. 2016), the court found
maritime jurisdiction where a person was injured after he jumped off of a boat in shallow water
on Lake Oneiada in New York. The fact that the injury occurred because of a passenger jumping
off of a vessel on navigable waters, as well as requiring subsequent rescue efforts, there was
sufficient potential to disrupt maritime activity, and the incident was substantially related to
traditional maritime activity. In re Petition of Germain, 824 F.3d at 271–74.
Based on the foregoing, it is clear that the incident involved here—a passenger
disembarking from the vessel and falling into the water—can potentially disrupt commercial
maritime activity and is substantially related to traditional maritime activity.
therefore, finds that it has jurisdiction over the case. Accordingly, it will deny the Motion to
Based on the foregoing, this Court will deny the Faunterloys’ Motion to Vacate and
Motion to Dismiss. An order to that effect will accompany this Opinion.
Date: February 12, 2018
ROGER W. TITUS
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?