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In re Dann Ocean Towing, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 15, 2018

In re DANN OCEAN TOWING, INC. as Owners of the tug CAPTAIN DANN for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability

          GUERRIC S.D.L. RUSSELL NICOLETTI, HORNIG & SWEENEY, ESQS., JEFFREY S. MOLLER BLANK ROME, LLP, MICHAEL J. LORUSSO DUGAN BRINKMANN MAGINNIS & PACE, JAMES JOSEPH QUINLAN BLANK ROME LLP On behalf of Dann Ocean Towing, Inc., as Owners of the tug CAPTAIN DANN and Buckeye Pennsauken Terminal, LLC

          JAMES WILLIAM JOHNSON RICCI TYRRELL JOHNSON & GREY, PLLC, KELLY JEANNE CASTAFERO RICCI TYRRELL JOHNSON & GREY Vane Line Bunkering, Inc. as Titled Owner of the Barge DS-210

          RANDY C. GREENE DUGAN BRINKMANN MAGINNIS PACE On behalf of Certain Underwriters

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter concerns a collision of barge with a dock when a tugboat attempted to moor the barge. The present issues before the Court are whether the charterer of the tug can be held liable for the damages suffered by the dock owner, and whether the tugboat owner can be liable for the charterer's attorney's fees and costs incurred as a result of the tugboat's negligence.

         Pending before the Court is the motion of the charterer, Vane Line Bunkering, Inc. (“Vane”), for summary judgment on the claims against it by the dock owner, Buckeye Pennsauken Terminal, LLC (“Buckeye”). Also pending is Buckeye's motion for partial summary judgment on Vane's indemnification claim against the tugboat owner, Dann Ocean Towing, Inc. (“Dann Towing”). For the reasons expressed below, both motions will be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         On October 5, 2014, Vane contacted Dann Towing to charter its tug, the CAPTAIN DANN, to deliver one of Vane's unmanned tank barges, the DS-210, to the Buckeye Pennsauken Terminal on the Delaware River. At 7:50 pm (or 1950 hours), during a strong “flood tide, ”[1] the CAPTAIN DANN, with Captain Robert “Bobby” Hudnall at the helm and assisted by deckhand Daniel Williams, set out to retrieve the barge. Captain Hudnall rigged the barge to the CAPTAIN DANN in “pushing gear, ” which means that the tug was positioned with its bow to the stern of the barge and connected by cables.

         At 8:50 pm (or 2050 hours), Captain Hudnall attempted a fair tide[2] landing in order to moor the barge to Buckeye's Dock #1 facing upriver, starboard side to the dock, as instructed by Buckeye. Because of the tremendous current, the barge collided with Dock #1, causing significant damage to the dock and loss of business to Buckeye.

         Several actions were instituted arising out of the collision in this Court and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The two remaining actions, pending here and consolidated for all purposes, concern Vane's liability for the accident.[3] Vane has filed for summary judgment in its favor on Buckeye's claims that Vane is liable for the negligence of Dann Towing in causing the damage to Buckeye's dock and business, and it is independently liable for its own negligence arising out of its charter of the CAPTAIN DANN. Buckeye has moved for partial summary judgment on Vane's claim that it is entitled to its attorney's fees and costs relating to this action. Both parties have opposed each other's motions.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Subject matter jurisdiction

         This Court may exercise subject matter jurisdiction over the remaining tort and business loss claims because the injuries suffered on land were caused by a vessel on navigable water affecting maritime commerce. See 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1); Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527, 531 (1995); Matter of Christopher Columbus, LLC, 872 F.3d 130, 134 (3d Cir. 2017).

         B. Standard for Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that the materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, or interrogatory answers, demonstrate that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

         An issue is “genuine” if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is “material” if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence “is to be believed and all ...


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