80 Memo & Order on MBY’s MTD (Denied)

On September 5, 2023, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts entered an Order denying a marina’s motion to dismiss a limitation action for lack of jurisdiction because the marina’s alleges that the vessel in question was unseaworthy.

In early August 2022, Petitioner James Silver had trouble starting his boat, the M/V SEA-RENITY NOW (“Vessel”). A week later, Silver had the Vessel towed to the Mattapoisett Boatyard to have the fuel tank replaced. On August 19, 2022, a Boatyard employee worked to remove the fuel tank using a power tool. During this process, the Vessel exploded, destroying the Vessel and much of the Mattapoisett Boatyard.

On October 27, 2022, Silver filed a Verified Complaint [Doc. No. 1] asserting admiralty jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1333 and seeking exoneration or limitation of liability pursuant to the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 (the “Act”), 46 U.S.C. § 30501, et seq., and Supplemental Rule F of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The Boatyard contends that the damage for which they submitted a claim was a result of Silver’s acts or omissions, and not the acts or omissions of the Boatyard or any other claimant, and that Silver may not limit his liability under the Act.

In examining whether the court has admiralty jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1333 over the Boatyard’s claims, the court had to determine (1) “whether the tort occurred on navigable water or whether injury suffered on land was caused by a vessel on navigable water” (the locality test), and (2) whether the incident involved has a “potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce,” or “shows a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity” (the nexus test).

As relevant here, where the injury occurred on land, the court examined whether the underlying tort nonetheless occurred on navigable water. Both parties concede, the causation of the Vessel’s explosion is presently unknown. However, in its Claim and Answer, the Boatyard alleges the explosion was the result of the Vessel’s “unseaworthy” condition. Unseaworthiness is a maritime tort where a ship, or some aspect thereof, is not reasonably fit for the thing for which it is to be used. Here, the Boatyard’s allegation that Silver failed to maintain the Vessel in a seaworthy condition plausibly involves a tort occurring on navigable waters. Therefore, so long as the Boatyard is alleging tortious conduct of a maritime nature, the pleadings are sufficient at this stage to satisfy the locality test. 

See the filing of the Court’s decision, 09/05/2023.

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