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In re Complaint of CR Bronco

September 27, 2010

IN THE MATTER OF THE COMPLAINT OF CR BRONCO, LLC, D/B/A CAPTAIN ROBBINS FISHING CENTER AND JOHN SULLIVAN III AS OWNER AND ALLEGED OWNER RESPECTIVELY, OF THE VESSEL CAPTAIN ROBBINS, FOR EXONERATION FROM OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irenas, Senior District Judge

OPINION

This case arises out of injuries sustained by Thomas Elliott ("Elliott") when he fell off a stairway on a pier after disembarking the fishing vessel, Captain Robbins (the "Vessel"). CR Bronco, LLC, and John Sullivan III, as the Vessel owner and alleged Vessel owner respectively, filed the instant Complaint for Exoneration From or Limitation of Liability ("Complaint for Exoneration"). Elliott filed a Motion to Remand for lack of subject matter jurisdiction; however, since the Complaint for Exoneration was initially filed in federal court and never removed from state court, Elliott's Motion will be construed as a Motion to Dismiss under 12(b)(1).

I.

On July 11, 2007, Elliott was a passenger on the Vessel. Upon the Vessel's return from its chartered fishing trip, Elliott was injured when he fell off a stairway on the pier. The wooden stairway rose approximately five feet above the fixed pier onto which it was bolted and stood eight inches from the side of the Vessel. (See Response of CR Bronco, Exs 1-A, 1-E) Elliott was walking backwards on the platform of the stairway when he fell off the landing to the pier below, sustaining injuries to his back, shoulder and elbow.

Elliott filed a complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cape May County, on May 22, 2008, naming John Sullivan III and Captain Robbins Fishing Center as defendants.*fn1 Elliott filed an Amended Complaint on May 12, 2009, adding CR Bronco, LLC, the owner of the Vessel, and Neil Robbins, the owner of the pier,*fn2 as defendants. On June 22, 2009, CR Bronco and John Sullivan III filed a Complaint for Exoneration From or Limitation of Liability pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 30501 et seq in this Court. This Court then issued the requisite order restraining suits, see Fed. R. Civ. P. Supp. R. F(3), and stayed Elliott's state court suit.

On July 16, 2010, Elliott filed a Motion to Remand, asserting that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Since the Complaint for Exoneration was initially filed in this Court and never removed from state court, the Court will construe Elliott's Motion as a Motion to Dismiss under 12(b)(1).

II.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides that a court may dismiss a complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Rule 12(b)(1) motions may be based upon a complaint's face or its underlying facts. Mortensen v. First Federal Savings & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). "A facial attack questions the sufficiency of the pleading, and in reviewing a facial attack, a trial court accepts the allegations in the complaint as true." Pittman v. Metuchen Police Dept., No. 08-2373, 2009 WL 3207854, *1 (D.N.J. Sept. 29, 2009). A factual attack permits the court to consider conflicting evidence that may bear on its jurisdiction. Id. "No presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's allegations, and the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims." Carpet Group Int'l v. Oriental Rug Importers Ass'n Inc., 227 F.3d 62, 69 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Mortensen v. First Fed. Savings & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). When resolving the factual challenge, the court may consider materials beyond the pleadings, and plaintiff bears the ultimate burden of proving jurisdiction. Med. Soc'y of N.J. v. Herr, 191 F.Supp. 2d 574, 578 (D.N.J. 2002)(citing Gould Electronics Inc. v. U.S., 220 F.3d 169, 176, 178 (3d Cir. 2000)).

III.

Elliott argues that because the two-part location and connection test for admiralty jurisdiction cannot be satisfied, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the instant action.

A federal court's authority to hear cases in admiralty is embodied in the Constitution. See U.S. Const. Art III § 2. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1333, federal district courts are granted "original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of...any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction...." 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1). Traditionally, admiralty tort jurisdiction existed only when the tort occurred on navigable waters. Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527, 531 (1995). Seeking to end confusion over the unclear line between land and water, Congress passed the Extension of Admiralty Jurisdiction Act, Id. at 532, which extended admiralty jurisdiction over "all cases of damage or injury, to person or property, caused by a vessel on navigable water, notwithstanding that such damage or injury be done or consummated on land." 46 U.S.C. § 30101.

A party seeking to invoke admiralty jurisdiction in tort must satisfy a two-part test of location and connection with maritime activity. Grubart, 513 U.S. at 534. The location test examines "whether the tort occurred on navigable water or whether the injury suffered on land was caused by a vessel on navigable water." Id. (citing 46 U.S.C. § 30101). The connection test examines whether the incident has a "potentially disruptive effect on maritime commerce" and whether the general character of the activity giving rise to the incident bears a "substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity." Id. (quoting Sisson v. Ruby, 497 U.S. 358, 363 (1990)).

A.

It is well established that maritime law encompasses injuries that occur on the gangway,*fn3 which is considered an extension of the vessel. See The Admiral Peoples, 295 U.S. 649, 652 (1935); White v. U.S., 53 F.3d 43, 46 (4th Cir. 1995); Reyes v. Marine Enterprises, Inc., 494 F.2d 866, 870 (1st Cir. 1974). However, admiralty jurisdiction does not extend to accidents occurring on piers or ramps running into the sea, which are considered extensions of land. Victory ...


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