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In the Matter of the Complaint of Charles Tourtellotte

December 9, 2010

IN THE MATTER OF THE COMPLAINT OF CHARLES TOURTELLOTTE, ET AL., PETITIONERS.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mary L. Cooper United States District Judge

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

COOPER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The petitioners, William Tourtellotte ("William"), Barbara Tourtellotte ("Barbara"), and Charles Tourtellotte ("Charles") (collectively "petitioners") brought this action seeking exoneration from or limitation of liability pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 30501 ("the Limitation Act"). (Dkt. entry no. 1, Compl.) After this Court's Order denying summary judgment as to Barbara and dismissing the Complaint insofar as it concerned William (dkt. entry no. 30, 7-8-10 Order), and with the Court's permission, the petitioners filed an Amended Complaint including further assertions as to William's status as owner pro hac vice of the KINGFISHER ("vessel"). (Dkt. entry no. 34, Am. Compl.)

The claimant Teleflex Canada L.P. ("Teleflex") moves to dismiss the Amended Complaint insofar as it is asserted on behalf of William effectively pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 12(b)(6) and for summary judgment in its favor as to Barbara's claim. (Dkt. entry no. 38, Cl. Mot.) The petitioners oppose the motion. (Dkt. entry no. 42, Pet. Br.) The Court determines the motion on the briefs without oral hearing pursuant to Rule 78(b). For the reasons stated herein, the Court will deny the motion insofar as it seeks to dismiss William's claims and deny the motion without prejudice insofar as it seeks summary judgment against Barbara's claims.

BACKGROUND

William was involved in a collision with a boat owned by Michael Cucinotta ("Cucinotta") on August 23, 2008, while operating a vessel owned by his parents, Barbara and Charles. (Cl. Br. at 3.) Cucinotta commenced an action in New Jersey Superior Court alleging that William and Barbara's negligence caused the collision and subsequent damages and injury. (Id. at 4.) He specifically alleged that they "negligently inspected, maintained and serviced the boat," and that William operated the boat in a negligent manner. (Id.) The petitioners subsequently filed a petition in this Court seeking exoneration from or limitation of liability pursuant to the Limitation Act. (Id.)

DISCUSSION

I. 12 (b)(6) Standard

In addressing a motion to dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine, whether under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008).

At this stage, a "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not 'show[n]'-that the 'pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950 (quoting Rule 8(a)(2)).

II. Limitation Act

The Limitation Act permits an owner of a vessel to "limit its liability for damages arising from an accident involving the vessel." In re Martell, 742 F.Supp. 1147, 1152 (S.D. Fla. 1990); 46 U.S.C. § 30505. It provides limitation of liability for loss or damage if that "loss occurred without the owner's privity or knowledge." In re Cirigliano, 708 F.Supp. 101, 103 (D.N.J. 1989). "To invoke the benefits of the Limitation [Act] . . . an entity must be either an actual owner or owner pro hac vice of the vessel at issue." Norfolk Dredging Co. v. Kastner, 264 F.Supp.2d 265, 267 (D. Md. 2003). The party seeking limitation of liability under the Limitation Act "bears the burden of pleading facts establishing entitlement to do so." Id.

"The word 'owner' in the Limitation Act is accorded a liberal, common sense interpretation in order to effectuate the intent of the act." Hammersley v. Branigar Org. Inc., 762 F.Supp. 950, 956 (S.D. Ga. 1991) (citations omitted). Title ownership is not dispositive of the issue of who is an "owner" for purposes of the Act: "whether or not one is to be deemed an 'owner' depends largely upon the possibility that he may be subjected to a liability which ordinarily is assertable against one having, or claiming to have, proprietorship or dominion over the subject of the proceeding." In re Pet. of United States, 259 F.2d 608, 610 (3d. Cir. 1958) (internal citations omitted). "Factors such as who pays for storage of the vessel and who skippers the vessel, as well who has possession and control of the vessel, must be taken into account in determining who is an owner for purposes of the Act." In re Nobles, 842 ...


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