Definitive Marine Surveys Inc. v. Tran

Citation339 F.Supp.3d 1292
Decision Date20 August 2018
Docket NumberCase No. 3:17-cv-887-J-32PDB
Parties DEFINITIVE MARINE SURVEYS INC. dba Welaka Charters and Mark Holz dba Welaka Charters, Petitioners, v. Son TRAN, Son Tran, Individually and as parent and natural guardian of A.T., a minor child and Lisa Tran, Lisa Tran, individually and as parent and natural guardian of A.T., a minor child, Respondents.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida

Bianca G. Liston, Karen L. Middlekauff, M. Gary Toole, McDonald Toole Wiggins, PA, Orlando, FL, for

Cameron M. Kennedy, Carter W. Scott, Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley, PA, Tallahassee, FL, for Respondent


TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN, United States District Judge

Is the timeliness of an admiralty limitation action a jurisdictional or nonjurisdictional issue? This case is before the Court on the Respondents['] Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction (Doc. 11). On August 20, 2018, the assigned United States Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (Doc. 37) recommending that the Court deny Respondents' motion. No party has filed an objection to the Report and Recommendation, and the time in which to do so has passed. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) ; Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b) ; M.D. Fla. R. 6.02(a).

The Magistrate Judge determined that the timeliness of an action under the Limitation Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30501 -12, is a nonjurisdictional issue. Upon de novo review, the Court has considered the contrary authority from outside the Eleventh Circuit, but concludes that the Magistrate Judge's reasoning is correct. Thus, the issue of whether the six month deadline to file a limitation action has been met does not implicate the Court's subject matter jurisdiction, but instead can be raised as an affirmative defense and litigated as such.1

It is hereby ORDERED:

1. The Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge (Doc. 37) is ADOPTED as the opinion of the Court. A copy of the Report and Recommendation is attached to this Order.

2. Respondents['] Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction (Doc. 11) is DENIED without prejudice .

3. The parties shall file an amended case management report by October 5, 2018 .

4. Respondents shall file an amended answer which asserts untimeliness as an affirmative defense by October 5, 2018 .2

5. Petitioners' Motion to Strike Affirmative Defenses (Doc. 18) remains pending and will stand over to the amended answer.

DONE AND ORDERED in Jacksonville, Florida the 7th day of September, 2018.

Report and Recommendation

Patricia D. Barksdale, United States Magistrate Judge

A boy lost his finger in a boating accident. Through this action under 28 U.S.C. § 1333 and the Limitation Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 30501 –12, the boat owners—Definitive Marine Surveys, Inc., and Mark Holz—seek to limit their liability to not exceed the value of the boat.1 The boy's parents, Linda and Son Tran, have appeared to contest limitation of liability. They contend the boat owners failed to timely file the complaint, timeliness is jurisdictional, and dismissal therefore is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). The owners contend they timely filed the complaint; timeliness is not jurisdictional; this Court therefore may consider nothing outside the pleadings to decide timeliness; if untimely, the Court should equitably toll the deadline based on unresponsiveness by the Trans' counsel; and the owners should be allowed to conduct discovery before a dispositive ruling.

The parties' contentions were expressed at oral argument on the motion to dismiss, Doc. 31, and are contained in these filings: (1) the Trans' motion to dismiss and eight exhibits, Docs. 11, 11-1–11-8; (2) the Trans' notice of supplemental authority, Doc. 30; (3) the boat owners' memorandum in opposition to the motion to dismiss and one exhibit, Docs. 17, 17-1; (4) the boat owners' supplemental brief and four exhibits, Docs. 32, 32-1–32-4; (5) the Trans' supplemental brief and fifteen exhibits, Docs. 33, 33-1; (6) the boat owners' response to the Trans' supplemental brief, Doc. 35; and (7) the Trans' response to the boat owners' supplemental brief, Doc. 36.2

The motion to dismiss was referred to the undersigned under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)and Local Rule 6.01(b) for a report and recommendation on a resolution. Doc. 19.

I. Background

The boat is a 20-foot pontoon boat. Doc. 1 ¶ 8. The Trans allege that, on July 2, 2016, Mrs. Tran rented the boat from Definitive Marine (doing business as Welaka Charters), and the family boated to Salt Springs. Doc. 1 ¶¶ 9, 10. They allege that, as the boy jumped into the water, one of his fingers became lodged in a gate on the boat and was partially amputated. Doc. 1 ¶ 10.

The Trans sued the boat owners in state court on June 8, 2017, alleging strict liability and negligence. Son Tran & Lisa Tran, individually and as parents and natural guardians of A.T., a minor child , 2017-215-CA-53 (Circuit Court of the Seventh Judicial Circuit, in and for Putnam County, Florida). Doc. 32-1.

The boat owners filed this action on August 2, 2017. Doc. 1. With the complaint, they filed an affidavit of a marine surveyor who opined the boat was worth $5,000 on July 3, 2016, and $6,500 on July 27, 2017 (following improvements). Doc. 1-1.

Under Supplemental Rule F of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions and Local Admiralty Rule 7.06, this Court enjoined the state action and ordered the boat owners to notify anyone claiming damages related to the accident to file claims with this Court by October 2, 2017. Docs. 3, 4. An insurance company timely filed a claim for $105,110.32 for the boy's treatment. Doc. 8. The Trans timely filed the current motion to dismiss and exhibits and an answer and counterclaims for strict liability and negligence. Docs. 11, 12, 13. The Court entered a case management and scheduling order, Doc. 22, but, upon request of the boat owners and the Trans, vacated the order and stayed discovery pending a decision on the motion to dismiss, Docs. 27, 28. The Court informed the parties that, if the motion to dismiss is denied, the Court would direct them to file an amended case management report.3 Doc. 28.

The boat owners and the Trans reached an impasse at a mediation on January 19, 2018. Doc. 26.

II. Arguments

The Trans' motion to dismiss is based on 46 U.S.C. § 30511(a), which provides, "The owner of a vessel may bring a civil action in a district court of the United States for limitation of liability.... The action must be brought within 6 months after a claimant gives the owner written notice of a claim." Accord Supp. Rule F(1) ("Not later than six months after receipt of a claim in writing, any vessel owner may file a complaint in the district court ... for limitation of liability[.]").

The Trans contend the boat owners received written notice of their claims through letters from their counsel on July 14, 2016, and July 26, 2016, making their August 2, 2017, complaint in this action untimely. Doc. 11 at 5–11. The Trans provide eight exhibits: (1) the July 14, 2016, letter, Doc. 11-1; (2) a certified receipt for that letter, Doc. 11-2; (3) a July 22, 2016, letter from Definitive Marine's insurance carrier, Doc. 11-3; (4) a July 25, 2016, letter from the insurance carrier's adjuster, Doc. 11-4; (5) the July 26, 2016, letter, Doc. 11-5; (6) a certified receipt and UPS tracking information for that letter, Doc. 11-6; (7) an August 2, 2016, letter from the insurance carrier, Doc. 11-7; and (8) an affidavit from Daron Murrell concerning asserted incriminating statements a manager of Welaka Charters made the day after the accident, Doc. 11-8.4 The Trans contend that the deadline in § 30511(a) and Supplemental Rule F(1) is jurisdictional and, therefore, the Court may consider the exhibits to decide the motion. Doc. 11 at 5.

In the memorandum in opposition to the motion to dismiss, the boat owners did not contest that the deadline in § 30511(a) is jurisdictional. See generally Doc. 17. Rather, they contended they timely filed the complaint because the first sufficient written notice of the claims was a February 3, 2017, letter from the Trans' counsel to the boat owners' counsel and the insurance adjustor. Doc. 17 at 3–12. They provide that letter as their only exhibit. Doc. 17-1. They argue the Court should not consider Murrell's affidavit because he omits that it is based on personal knowledge and discusses only an asserted conversation, which is not written notice. Doc. 17 at 8 n.1.

At oral argument to discuss whether the deadline in § 30511(a) is jurisdictional, the boat owners for the first time contended it is not.5 Asked if there was any objection to converting the motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment to allow the Court to consider evidence outside the pleadings in the event § 30511(a) is not jurisdictional, both sides objected. The Trans objected because they did not want the Court to view the evidence and inferences in the light most favorable to the boat owners under the standard for summary judgment in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. The boat owners objected because they wanted discovery before any summary-judgment ruling, including to depose Murrell and ask him about his statements in the affidavit.

In the Trans' supplemental brief, they reassert that § 30511(a) is jurisdictional, Doc. 33 at 4–8, reassert that the complaint is untimely, Doc. 33 at 8–20, and provide four exhibits not previously in the record: (1) an August 2, 2016, letter from the Trans' counsel to the insurance adjuster, Doc. 33-1 at 11; (2) a second August 2, 2016, letter from the Trans' counsel to the insurance adjuster, Doc. 33-1 at 12–13; (3) an August 25, 2016, letter from the Trans' counsel to the insurance adjuster, Doc. 33-1 at 14; and (4) an October 18, 2016, letter and email from the boat owners' counsel to the Trans' counsel, Doc. 33-1 at 15–16. To distinguish an adverse case, they also provide...

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2 cases
  • S.D.S. Lumber Co. v. Gregory
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Washington
    • 7 Mayo 2021
    ...the six-month period in § 30511(a) is a claims processing rule, not a jurisdictional requirement."); Definitive Marine Survs. Inc. v. Tran, 339 F. Supp. 3d 1292, 1305 (M.D. Fla. 2018) ("[T]he law is nonjurisdictional."). These courts have noted that the time-bar is within the procedural sec......
  • Owens v. Easy Store-It, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida
    • 9 Diciembre 2020
    ...a similar requirement under Title VII is not jurisdictional, compels that holding. See generally Definitive Marine Surveys Inc. v. Tran, 339 F. Supp. 3d 1292, 1298-1301 (M.D. Fla. 2018) (surveying Supreme Court precedent on distinction between jurisdictional limitations and claims-processin......

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