Bellaire Harbor Service, LLC
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER Granting 24 Claimant's First Amended Motion to Stay This Action and Lift Injunction Against State Court Proceedings; parties directed to file appropriate motion within 30 days of conclusion or appeal from the state proceedings, whichever is later. Signed by Senior Judge Frederick P. Stamp, Jr on 8/20/13. (soa)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA
BELLAIRE HARBOR SERVICE, LLC
as owner of the M/V WHITE HOUSE
Civil Action No. 5:12CV47
For Exoneration or Limitation
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
GRANTING CLAIMANT’S FIRST AMENDED MOTION
TO STAY THIS ACTION AND LIFT INJUNCTION
AGAINST STATE COURT PROCEEDING
The plaintiff filed this civil action in this Court seeking
exoneration of liability pursuant to the Vessel Owners’ Limitation
of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30501, et seq. (“VOLLA”), and Rule F
of the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims
plaintiff’s complaint arises from a civil action filed in the
Circuit Court of Marshall County, West Virginia by claimant William
E. Wheat (“claimant” or “Wheat”), wherein the claimant asserts
liability on the part of the plaintiff for personal injuries the
claimant allegedly suffered onboard Motor Vessel White House (“M/V
White House”) on October 10, 2010.
After the claimant entered his appearance in this action, he
filed a motion to stay this action and lift the injunction against
the prosecution of his state court case, which included written
stipulations in support of the motion.
The plaintiff opposed the
motion and stipulations and on March 27, 2013, this Court entered
a memorandum opinion and order denying the claimant’s motion
In that memorandum opinion and order, this
Court indicated that the initial proposed stipulations failed to
adequately protect the rights of the plaintiff to assert limitation
of liability in this Court under VOLLA and Rule F in a number of
ways which were explained in the memorandum opinion and order.
The claimant has now filed a first amended motion to stay this
action and lift injunction against prosecution of his state court
suit, which motion is accompanied by amended stipulations.
claimant’s first amended stipulations in support of his first
amended motion to stay this action and lift the injunction against
prosecutions of his state court suit are as follows:
Wheat stipulates and agrees that Bellaire is
entitled to litigate all issues relating to limitation of
liability pursuant to the provisions of the Act [46
U.S.C. § 30501, et seq.] in this Court.
Wheat waives any claim of res judicata relevant to
the issue of limitation of liability pursuant to the
provisions of the Act based on any jury or non-jury trial
decision or judgment he may obtain in state court.
Wheat neither stipulates nor agrees that Bellaire is
entitled to litigate the issue of exoneration from
liability in this Court, as he is not required to under
this Court’s March 27, 2013, Memorandum Opinion and Order
(CM/ECF Doc. No. 23), and applicable law.
While not stipulating or agreeing that the value of
the limitation fund in this action is, as alleged by
Bellaire, not in excess of $600,000.00, and specifically
reserving his right to file at a later time a motion
under Rule F(7) of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty
or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions seeking
an appraisement of the value of Bellaire’s interest, if
any, in the vessel and pending freight, Wheat stipulates
and agrees that in the event there is a judgment or
recovery on any jury or non-jury trial decision or
judgment in state court in excess of $600,000.00 against
Bellaire, and to the extent such state court decision or
judgment is not based on Wheat’s above-described
maintenance and cure claim, Wheat will not seek to
enforce such excess judgment or recovery to the extent
same may expose Bellaire to liability in excess of the
sum of $600,000.00 until adjudication of the Complaint
for limitation of liability in this Court.
Wheat stipulates and agrees that this Court has the
exclusive right under the Act to determine the proper
value of the limitation fund, under the procedures
outlined in Rule F(7).
Wheat expressly reserves for later determination by
this Court, if necessary, the issue of whether Bellaire
is entitled to the protections of the Act in this Court
as to this general maritime law maintenance and cure
Wheat stipulates and agrees this Court will retain
continuing jurisdiction while this case is stayed pending
the completion of the state court suit he has filed
against Bellaire in the Circuit Court of Marshall County,
West Virginia, and any appeal(s) which may lie therefrom.
ECF No. 25 (emphasis in original).
The plaintiff has again opposed this first amended motion to
stay this action and lift injunction against prosecution of Wheat’s
state court suit and the accompanying stipulations.
with regard to the above stipulations, the plaintiff argues that
its rights are insufficiently protected because: (1) this Court is
not required to lift the injunction; such action is merely within
the Court’s discretion; (2) Wheat fails to agree to limit his
recovery to the value of the vessel and its attending freight; and
(3) Wheat has failed to stipulate that Bellaire Harbor Service, LLC
(“Bellaire”) is entitled to litigate the issue of exoneration from
incorporated its memorandum in opposition to the claimant’s initial
The claimant filed a reply to these contentions
which points out that this Court has already passed on each of
For the reasons that follow, this Court
grants Wheat’s motion to stay proceedings and lift the injunction
against the prosecution of his state court suit.
As the claimant correctly contends, this Court has already
considered and rejected the plaintiff’s renewed arguments in its
March 27, 2013 memorandum opinion and order.
As such, and as
explained in more depth below, this Court finds that the claimant’s
first amended stipulation adequately protects the plaintiff’s
rights under VOLLA and Rule F.
This Court’s discretion to lift the state court injunction
This Court has already recognized that the dissolution of the
See ECF No. 23 n.4 *8; Lewis v. Lewis & Clark
Marine, Inc., 531 U.S. 438, 449 (2001).
Further, while the
plaintiff again raises this as an objection to the claimant’s
motion and stipulations, it fails to present any argument as to why
this Court should not use its discretion to lift the injunction in
This Court will not engage in a sua sponte
inspection of the propriety of lifting the state court injunction
in this case specifically, when the plaintiff has failed to present
a single argument in this regard beyond simply raising the issue.
As such, this Court again recognizes that dissolution of the
injunction is not mandatory, but will, in its discretion, dissolve
the injunction in this case.
Whether the claimant must agree to limit his recovery to the
value of the vessel and its attending freight
In its previous memorandum opinion and order, this Court
pursuant to the binding precedent of Norfolk Dredging Co. v. Wiley,
439 F.3d 205, 208 (4th Cir. 2006), the claimant is not required to
stipulate to limit his recovery to the value of the vessel and its
The plaintiff has again failed to raise new
argument as to this point, and simply refers to its argument
contained in its initial memorandum in opposition to the claimant’s
Accordingly, this Court will not engage in a repeat
discussion of its opinion already stated at length in its March 27,
reference the explanation of the same contained therein (ECF No. 23
*9-*13) and again find that the claimant is not required to
stipulate to limit his recovery to the value of the vessel and its
Whether the claimant must stipulate that the plaintiff is
entitled to litigate the issue of exoneration in this Court
While the plaintiff did not make this argument in opposition
to the claimant’s initial stipulations,1 this Court specifically
found, in response to the claimant’s concerns, that no stipulation
as to exoneration was necessary under Norfolk Dredging Co., 439
F.3d at 210-211.
The plaintiff has failed to provide this Court
with a single argument as to why it believes, as of the time of the
first amended stipulation, that it is entitled to litigate the
issue of exoneration in this Court.
Nonetheless, this Court will
address the argument in explanation of why it finds that the
claimant is not required to make such a stipulation.
It does not appear that the United States Court of Appeals for
the Fourth Circuit has directly addressed whether or not a claimant
is required to stipulate to a vessel-owner’s right to litigate
exoneration in federal court.
However, the Fifth Circuit in In re
Tidewater provides the following explanation and analysis of why
the same cannot be required by district courts:
The Limitation Act [VOLLA] itself does not expressly
provide the shipowner with a right to exoneration.
However, The Federal Rules of Procedure [Rule F] provide
This Court notes that, despite the fact that the plaintiff
has never previously argued that it was entitled to litigate the
issue of exoneration in this Court, it curiously refers the Court
to its initial memorandum for briefing as to this point. As such,
the plaintiff has offered no argument whatsoever as to why it
believes that it is entitled to litigate the issue of exoneration
in this Court.
that a limitation claimant “may demand exoneration.” In
Falcon Inland, the court noted that Rule F uses the
permissive verb “may” and reasoned that the word “shall”
would have been used if the exoneration issue were
reserved exclusively to federal courts. In re Falcon
Inland, Inc., 2 F. Supp. 2d 835, 836 (E.D. La. 1998).
Further, the Fifth Circuit explained, supplemental
conferred on shipowners by the Limitation Act.” Id. at 347 (citing
stipulation prior to lifting the stay on a state proceeding, courts
abridg[ing] claimants’ rights under the savings to suitor clause.”
As a result, claimants cannot be required to stipulate to
grant the shipowner the right to litigate the issue of exoneration
in federal court in order to lift a state court injunction.
see In re Association of Maryland Pilots, 596 F. Supp. 2d 915, 92021 (D. Md. 2009) (applying the Fifth Circuit’s analysis in In re
Tidewater and finding a stipulation to exoneration of liability is
Thus, again this Court finds that the claimant need
not stipulate to the plaintiff’s right to litigate the exoneration
issue in this Court. The claimant’s stipulation to the plaintiff’s
sufficient for this Court to lift the injunction on the state court
action and grant the motion to stay this action.
For the above stated reasons, the claimant’s motion to stay
this action and lift the injunction against prosecution of his
state court suit is GRANTED.
Accordingly, this action is hereby
Further, the parties are DIRECTED to file the appropriate
proceedings under the Limitation Act in this Court or dismissal of
this action within 30 days of the conclusion or appeal from the
state proceedings, whichever is later.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
The Clerk is DIRECTED to transmit a copy of this memorandum
opinion and order to counsel of record herein.
August 20, 2013
/s/ Frederick P. Stamp, Jr.
FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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