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In re Walsh Construction Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

August 13, 2014

IN THE MATTER OF: WALSH CONSTRUCTION CO., Plaintiff/Petitioner

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

HENRY EDWARD AUTREY, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Claimants' Motion to Dismiss Limitation of Liability Complaint and to Dissolve Stay Order, [Doc. No. 12], Claimants' Motions to Increase Limitation Fund, [Doc. No. 13], and Claimants' Motion to Dissolve Stay and Injunction with Stipulations, [Doc. No. 15]. Plaintiff opposes the Motions. For the reasons set forth below, the Motions are denied, without prejudice.

Facts and Background

This matter was commenced on December 19, 2013, by the filing of a Complaint for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability pursuant to the Limitation of Liability Act ("Limitation Act" or "Act"), 46 U.S.C. §§30501-30512, by Plaintiff Walsh Construction Company. Plaintiff owns the L.L. #27 barge, which was at the relevant time, barged on the Missouri River.

On June 10, 2013, a Walsh employee, Patrick Bray, was standing on the deck of the L.L. #27 barge underneath a hoisted barrel. Bray was killed when the barrel fell and struck him.

Plaintiff alleges that the incident and any resulting damage occurred either as a result of factors for which Plaintiff is not responsible or were caused by or were contributed to be caused by acts or omissions of which Plaintiff lacked any privity or knowledge.

Plaintiff claims, supported by affidavits, that the value of the barge involved in the incident is, $300, 000.00. Plaintiff has provided security in this amount in the form of a letter of undertaking provided by Plaintiff's insurer.

On the same date, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Approval of Stipulation for Costs and Security for Value and Directing Issuance of Notice and Restraining Suits. An Amended Motion was filed on January 2, 2014. On January 8, 2014, the Court granted the motion, consistent with the dictates of the Limitation Act, enjoining the commencement or further prosecution of any action or proceeding against Plaintiff in connection with the incident. The Court, further, issued a notice of the injunction on that date, publication of which was undertaken by attorneys for Plaintiff.

On February 14, 2014, Claimants Kayla and Kellie Bray, ("Claimants") filed a Motion to Dismiss Limitation of Liability Complaint, a Motion to Increase the Limitation Fund and a Motion to Lift the Stay and Injunction Order. Claimants are the surviving children of the decedent.

Discussion

"While 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1) does grant to the federal district courts exclusive jurisdiction over suits brought pursuant to the Limitation Act, see Ex Parte Green, 286 U.S. 437, 439-40 (1932), the same statute also sav[es] to suits in all cases all other remedies to which they are entitled.'" Riverway Harbor Serv., St. Louis, Inc. v. Bridge & Crane Inspection, Inc., 263 F.3d 786, 791 (8th Cir. 2001) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1)). Hence, "two jurisdictional possibilities" are presented: "shipowners desire exclusive federal jurisdiction to limit their liability and avoid encountering a jury trial, and claimants seek other remedies' such as jury trials in state court." Id. (citing cases).

"Normally, the federal court will resolve this conflict by recognizing an exception in which a claimant acknowledges, through certain stipulations, the shipowner's right to limit the amount of its liability in federal court while preserving the claimant's right to have a jury determine in state court whether the shipowner is liable." Id. (citing cases). "Upon the claimant's filing sufficient stipulations, the admiralty court should allow the claimant to proceed even when the claim exceeds the limitation fund." MagnoliaMarine Transp. Co., Inc. v. Laplace Towing Corp., 964 F.2d 1571, 1575 (5th Cir. 1992) (citing cases); see also Langnes v. Green 282 U.S. 531, 541 (1931) ("To retain the cause would be to preserve the right of the shipowner, but to destroy the right of the suitor in the state court to a commonlaw remedy; to remit the cause to the state court would be to preserve the rights of both parties. The mere statement of these diverse results is sufficient to demonstrate the justice of the latter course....").

This Court has issued an injunction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp.Rule F(3), which provides:

"Upon compliance by the owner with the requirements of subdivision (1) of this rule all claims and proceedings against the owner or the owner's property with respect to the matter in question shall cease. On application of the plaintiff the court shall enjoin the further prosecution of any action or proceeding against the plaintiff or ...

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