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IN RE COMPLAINT OF WEEKS MARINE

September 19, 2005.

IN RE: COMPLAINT OF WEEKS MARINE, INC., AS OWNER OF THE WEEKS 263 LOADLINE DECK BARGE, WEEKS 272 CARFLOAT AND WEEKS 254 GANTRY CRANE, FOR EXONERATION FROM OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: FREDA WOLFSON, Magistrate Judge

OPINION

Presently before the Court are Weeks Marine Inc.'s ("Weeks Marine") Motion to Dismiss the strict liability claim asserted by claimant South Jersey Port Corporation ("SJPC"); SJPC's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment; and W.H. Streit's ("Streit") Motion for Summary Judgment. Claimants Hill International, Inc. ("Hill") and Hudson Engineers, Inc. ("Hudson"), and Third Party Defendant Streit have joined in Weeks Marine's Motion. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1333. For the reasons set forth below, Weeks Marine's Motion is granted; SJPC's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment is denied; and Streit's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part, without prejudice.

  I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

  Weeks Marine was awarded the contract for the construction of the Battleship New Jersey Memorial Pier ("Memorial Pier"), which is located adjacent to the Beckett Street Terminal along the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey. Claim of SJPC at ¶¶ 15, 18. Beckett Street Terminal is owned by SJPC. Id. at ¶ 4. The construction of Memorial Pier included a substantial amount of pile driving, for which Weeks Marine was responsible. It conducted the pile driving operations from April 27, 2001 through July 9, 2001 and from August 4, 2001 through August 23, 2001. Id. at ¶ 21.

  On the morning of August 22, 2001, SJPC observed a depression beneath a crane at one of the four berths of the Beckett Street Terminal. Id. at ¶ 35. Efforts were made to move the crane without success, and at approximately 4:20 p.m., a 125 foot fissure appeared, a loud crack was heard, and the crane collapsed over the sea wall. Id. Following the collapse, two of the Beckett Street Terminal berths were no longer serviceable and could no longer be used to dock vessels, or to load or unload cargo. Id. at ¶¶ 36-37. SJPC asserts that the collapse resulted from Weeks Marine's pile driving activities. On August 8, 2003, SJPC filed suit in New Jersey Superior Court against (i) Weeks Marine; (ii) S.T. Hudson Engineers, Inc., the engineers for the Memorial Pier Project; and (iii) Hill International, Inc., the construction manager on the project, to recover damages for the collapse of the two berths of the pier at Beckett Street Marine Terminal. South Jersey Port Corporation v. S.T. Hudson Engineers, Inc., Camden County Superior Court, Docket No. L-004508-03. Subsequently, Weeks Marine filed the instant Complaint for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability, pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 181 et seq., and SJPC's suit filed in New Jersey Superior Court was stayed by this Court's Order dated February 6, 2004. In re Weeks Marine, Inc., No. 04-494 (D.N.J. Feb. 6, 2004) (order directing issuance of notice and restraining suits). In the instant action, SJPC has filed a claim for the damage sustained to its pier, and cross and counter claims have been filed by and against Hudson, Hill, the Home Port Alliance ("HPA"), which is the owner of Memorial Pier, and Streit, the contractor hired by SJPC to make repairs to the Beckett Street Marine Terminal in early 2001.

  On June 23, 2004, Weeks Marine filed a Motion to Dismiss Count I of SJPC's claim. Count I asserts that Weeks Marine should be strictly liable for its pile driving activity. The Court held oral argument on the Motion on July 16, 2004. Based on issues raised at argument, the Court denied Weeks Marine's Motion to Dismiss without prejudice, and ordered that if Weeks Marine re-filed its Motion, counsel should brief: (1) at what stage in the proceedings the Court is able to decide this motion and upon what record; (2) whether the Court can make a determination if pile-driving is abnormally dangerous in general, or whether the Court must evaluate if the pile-driving in this case was an abnormally dangerous activity; and (3) the application of the six factors listed in the Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 520 (1977), as adopted by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Dep't of Env't Prot v. Ventron Corp. 94 N.J. 473, 491-92 (1983), to the facts of this case. In re Weeks Marine, Inc., No. 04-494 (D.N.J. July 16, 2004) (order denying Motion to Dismiss). Weeks Marine refiled its Motion on December 29, 2004. In response to this renewed motion, SJPC filed a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment.

  On July 9, 2004, Weeks Marine filed a Third Party Complaint against Streit, asserting that if it is determined that Weeks' pile driving activities caused damage to the Beckett Street Marine Terminal, Streit is partially or wholly liable for such damage based upon Streit's pile driving in the course of performing repairs to the Beckett Street Terminal at the direction of SJPC and under the supervision of Hudson. Weeks Marine Third Party Complaint at ¶¶ 8-12. Streit filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on June 16, 2005.

  III. DISCUSSION

  A. Applicable Standard

  Weeks Marine's Motion is before the Court as a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). SJPC and Streit have filed Motions for Summary Judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Because SJPC filed an Answer on April 2, 2004, Weeks Marine's Motion is in fact a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(2). See also Doe v. Div. of Youth and Family Servs., 148 F. Supp. 2d 462, 497 (D.N.J. 2001). The standard for analyzing a Rule 12(c) motion is the same as the standard for a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Id. (citations omitted). In evaluating a Rule 12(c) motion, the Court is to "view the facts presented in the pleadings and the inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Soc'y Hill Civic Ass'n v. Harris, 632 F.2d 1045, 1054 (3d Cir. 1980). A claim should be dismissed only if "no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved." Turbe v. Gov't of the Virgin Islands, 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991) (citing Unger v. Nat'l Residents Matching Program, 928 F.2d 1392, 1394-95 (3d Cir. 1991)). If, however, on a motion made pursuant to Rule 12(c), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion is to be treated as one for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). See also Citisteel USA, Inc. v. General Elec. Co., 78 Fed. Appx. 832, 834-35 (3d Cir. 2003) (unpublished decision).

  Upon consideration of matters outside the pleadings, summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact is one that will permit a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). To show that a genuine issue of material fact exists, the nonmoving party may not rest upon mere allegations, but must present actual evidence in support thereof. Id. at 249 (citing First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Svc. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 290 (1968)). In evaluating the evidence, the Court must "view the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the [nonmoving] party." Curley v. Klem, 298 F.3d 271, 276-77 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Bartnicki v. Vopper, 200 F.3d 109, 114 (3d Cir. 1999)). As discussed herein, the Court will consider matters outside the pleadings, and will therefore conduct the analysis herein pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.

  B. Existence of a Strict Liability Cause of Action

  1. Admiralty Jurisdiction

  District courts have exclusive jurisdiction over tort claims arising out of pile driving activities in navigable waters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1333. Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lake Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527, 529 (1995). "With admiralty jurisdiction comes the application of substantive admiralty law." East River S.S. Corp. v. Transamerica Delaval, Inc., 476 U.S. 858, 864 (1986) (citing Executive Jet Aviation, Inc. v. Cleveland, 409 U.S. 249, 255 (1972)). ...


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