In re Complaint of Martin

Decision Date09 February 2009
Docket NumberNo. 07-11079-RBC.,07-11079-RBC.
PartiesIn the Matter of the COMPLAINT OF Philip R. MARTIN, Petitioner, As Owner of the 42' 1989 Chris Craft, 427 Catalina Double Cabin, Pleasure Vessel, Tranquility, USCG Doc. No. 1109120, For Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts

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596 F.Supp.2d 142
In the Matter of the COMPLAINT OF Philip R. MARTIN, Petitioner, As Owner of the 42' 1989 Chris Craft, 427 Catalina Double Cabin, Pleasure Vessel, Tranquility, USCG Doc. No. 1109120, For Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability.
Civil Action No. 07-11079-RBC.
United States District Court, D. Massachusetts.
February 9, 2009.

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COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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John David Blaisdell, Robert E. Kiely, Regan & Kiely, LLP, Brian Keane, Kaplan/Bond Group, Boston, MA, for Philip R. Martin.

Thomas J. Conroy, Law Offices of Thomas J. Conroy & Associates, Cambridge, MA, for Anthony Arnone.

David J. Farrell, Jr., Law Office of David J. Farrell, Jr., Chatham, MA, for Metropolitan Yacht Club, Inc.

Steven E. Kramer, Wellesley Law Associates, Wellesley, MA, pro se.

Steven E. Kramer, Wellesley Law Associates, Wellesley, MA, for Donald Salvucci.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT METROPOLITAN YACHT CLUB, INC.'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (# 48)

COLLINGS, United States Magistrate Judge.


I. Introduction

On June 8, 2007, Philip R. Martin ("Mr. Martin") petitioned this Court for exoneration

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from or limitation of liability relating to a fire on November 17, 2006, at the Metropolitan Yacht Club ("MYC") that damaged Mr. Martin's pleasure vessel, TRANQUILITY, as well as other MYC members' vessels. (# 1 ¶¶ 2, 5) Mr. Martin's Petition, pursuant to the Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 30501 et seq., spawned a landslide of claims, counterclaims, and crossclaims involving MYC, the boat owners whose vessels were damaged as a result of the fire, and the subrogees of the boat owners (collectively, all parties arguing on behalf of the boat owners will be herein identified as "the boat owners"). (## 9, 10, 12-14)

In partial chronological order, the pleadings were filed as follows: Donald Salvucci ("Mr. Salvucci") filed a claim and answer on September 25, 2007, alleging that the fire occurred as a result of Mr. Martin's negligence and denying that Mr. Martin is entitled either to exoneration or limitation of liability.1 (# 9) On September 27, 2007, MYC filed its answer denying that Mr. Martin had no knowledge or privity of the fire and denying that Mr. Martin is entitled to exoneration from or limitation of liability; affirmative defenses alleging that the fire was caused by parties other than MYC, specifically Mr. Martin's negligence; and a claim for relief attributing liability for the fire to Mr. Martin and seeking indemnification and/or contribution from him for losses incurred by MYC.2 (# 12)

On September 28, 2007, Anthony and Dianne Arnone ("Mr. or Mrs. Arnone") filed a claim and answer alleging that the fire occurred as a result of the negligence of Mr. Martin and/or Mr. Salvucci and/or MYC and denying that Mr. Martin, or others, are entitled either to exoneration or limitation of liability. (# 14) On October 16, 2007, Mr. Martin answered MYC's claims and set forth affirmative defenses alleging that the fire was caused by MYC's negligence and/or breach of contract. (# 16)3

On October 31, 2007, Travelers Insurance Company ("TIC") filed a motion to intervene as subrogee of Mr. Martin as owner of the vessel, TRANQUILITY, and Mr. Salvucci as owner of the vessel, OMNI, along with a memorandum of law in support thereof and a complaint against MYC.4 (# 22) MYC answered TIC's complaint and interposed affirmative defenses on December 17, 2007.(# 33) On the same date MYC also answered Mr. Salvucci's complaint, raised affirmative defenses, and alleged a counterclaim against him. (# 34) Four days later on December 21, 2007, Mr. Salvucci answered MYC's counterclaim and raised affirmative defenses to it. (# 37) On January 10, 2008, MYC filed an answer and affirmative defenses to Mr. and Mrs. Arnone's claim. (# 38)

On January 24, 2008, International Marine Underwriters ("IMU") filed a motion to intervene as subrogee of Frances Maloney ("Mr. Maloney") as owner of the vessel, NON CENTS, and Margaret and Richard Young ("Mr. or Mrs. Young") as owners of the vessel, TEACHER'S PET,

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(# 39) along with a memorandum of law in support and a complaint against MYC.5 (# 40) On January 29, 2008, MYC answered IMU's petition and asserted affirmative defenses. (# 42)

On January 30, 2008, Mr. and Mrs. Arnone filed an amended crossclaim against MYC. (# 43) MYC filed an answer and affirmative defenses to Mr. and Mrs. Arnone's amended crossclaim on March 6, 2008.(# 46)

On April 29, 2008, MYC filed a motion for summary judgment (# 48) with twenty-two exhibits6, an affidavit (# 49) and a memorandum of law in support. (# 50) The summary judgment motion seeks disposition of the claims asserted against MYC by TIC, Mr. Salvucci, Mr. and Mrs. Arnone and IMU. On May 20, 21, and 22, 2008, Mr. Salvucci, Mr. and Mrs. Arnone, and TIC/IMU respectively filed oppositions to MYC's motion for summary judgment with supporting statements of material fact and memoranda of law. (## 53-59) At this juncture, the record is complete and the motion for summary judgment stands ready to be decided.

II. Factual Background

On November 17, 2006 at approximately 4:52 a.m. there was an accidental fire at the MYC. (# 59, Exh. 22) The fire destroyed two yachts, TRANQUILITY and THE OMNI, causing them to sink. (# 59, Exh. 22) Eight other boats were damaged by the fire. (# 54, Exh. 22) Pertinent to this lawsuit, the following members' vessels sustained damage as a result of the November 17, 2006 fire while they were stored in the water for the winter at MYC: Mr. Martin's TRANQUILITY, Mr. Salvucci's THE OMNI, Mr. and Mrs. Arnone's LADY-DY, Mr. Maloney's NON-CENTS, and Mr. and Mrs. Young's TEACHER'S PET. (# 50 ¶ 10; # 59 ¶ 10)

The Massachusetts State Police Fire and Explosion Section conducted an investigation into the cause of the fire starting November 17, 2006 and ending approximately December 1, 2006, and then compiled a report from this investigation. (# 59, Exh. 22) The investigator opined that the most probable cause of the fire was "the result of electrical arcing in the wiring located beneath the surface of the finger dock." (# 59, Exh. 22)

Upon joining the MYC, a non-profit organization, all members—including the parties in this case—filled out and signed a membership application. (# 48, Exh. 2-6; # 50 ¶ 6; # 59 ¶ 6) Above the signature line, the membership application states that "I agree if accepted, to abide to (sic) the By-laws and Rules of the Club." (# 48, Exh. 2-6) The members pay an initiation fee and club dues according to the By-Laws. (# 48, Exh. 1, Art. XVII, XXI)

The members of MYC may apply to store their boats on the Club premises throughout the year. (# 48, Exh. 1, Dock and Float Rules) In 2006 "[w]inter storage season [ran] from November 1 to March 31. Summer season [ran] from April 1 to October 31...." (# 48, Exh. 1, Dock and Float Rules § 5) A summer slip costs $40 per linear foot according to the Slip Application. (# 48, Exh. 7-11B) Winter storage costs $24 per linear foot for dry storage and $14 per linear foot for wet storage according to the Winter Storage Application. (# 48, Exh. 12-16) Other fees and costs are associated with the storage but

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they are not material to this dispute. (# 48, Exh. 12-16) The Dock and Float Rules provide that "[b]oat owners assume all risks of any damage incurred during the storage period." (# 48, Exh. 1, Dock and Float Rules § 5) The members have free access to their boats while stored at MYC. (Young: # 48, Exh. 18 at 27:10-28:6, 30:12-31:8; Maloney: # 48, Exh. 19 at 15:13-16:11, 22:1-13, 37:18-21; Arnone: # 48, Exh. 20 at 33:1-21; Salvucci: # 48, Exh. 21 at 47:18-51:8; Martin: # 48, Exh. 22 at 9:7-10:3, 28:3-29:18)

On the 2006 Slip Application, a clause located directly above the signature line reads, "The owner/master further acknowledges that these provisions are in addition to the Dock & Float Rules and the Bylaws of Metropolitan Yacht Club, which the owner/master hereby ratifies and confirms." (# 48, Exh. 7-11B) There is no comparable clause on the Winter Storage Application. (# 48, Exh. 12-16)

Article XXIII of the By-Laws provides for MYC's limitation of liability. (# 48, Exh. 1, Art. XXIII) Specifically, Section 2 states that:

The Club expressly absolves itself and its servants, agents, and employees and each member agrees that the Club may absolve itself from any liability for damages to any boat, property, appurtenances and contents thereof, or for damages to any property of each member or anyone upon Club premises under right or privilege of each member. Club premises shall include but not [be] limited to docks, floats, storage, and lift facilities for said boats. Said absolution from liability shall include but not be limited to: (a) Fire; (b) Theft; (c) Vandalism; (d) Water damage; (e) Negligent acts or omissions.

Motion For Summary Judgment # 48, Exh. 1, Art. XXIII § 2.

The By-Laws and Club rules contain other liability-limiting language. For example, in the Dock and Float Rules, Section 5 states that "[b] oat owners assume all risks of any damage incurred during the storage period." (# 48, Exh. 1, Dock and Float Rules § 5) Further, the By-Laws also provide that

[t]he Club shall not be liable to the boat owner or those claiming by and through him for any loss or damage to his property or person, or to the property or person of his employees, agents and guests, and servants resulting from any breach of any contract, agreement, or work order.

Motion For Summary Judgment # 48, Exh. 1, Art. XXIII § 6.

The members are "supposed to" get a copy of the By-Laws "[w]hen you join the club." (# 48, Exh. 18 at 9:17-10:9) Although not everyone gets a copy immediately after they join, "if you have a boat there, you'd have an opportunity to go into the ... clubhouse and pick one up." (# 48, Exh. 18 at 10:4-9) Many members received a copy of the By-Laws by the time they attended their first member meeting,...

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