In re Liquid Waste Tech., 3:18-cv-1306 (JAM)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
Docket Number3:18-cv-1306 (JAM)
Decision Date12 September 2022


No. 3:18-cv-1306 (JAM)

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 12, 2022


Jeffrey Alker Meyer, United States District Judge

This admiralty action arises from a tragic and fatal accident involving the capsizing of a boat in the Long Island Sound off Guilford, Connecticut. The Guilford Yacht Club needed to dredge its harbor. So it leased a dredge from a company named Liquid Waste Technology, LLC, d/b/a Ellicott Dredge Technologies (EDT) and then hired another company named Poolscape Pool & Spa, LLC (Poolscape) to operate the dredge.

Because Poolscape had never operated a dredge before, EDT sent two of its employees to train Poolscape's owner and employees about how to use the dredge. It was during the first day of training on March 3, 2018 that the dredge suddenly capsized, killing one of Poolscape's employees and injuring another Poolscape employee.

In the midst of claims seeking recovery for the death of and injury to the Poolscape employees, EDT has filed counterclaims against Poolscape for contribution and indemnification. Poolscape has moved for summary judgment to dismiss these two counterclaims. I will grant the motion.


The following facts are drawn from the parties' summary judgment statements and the documents they reference. Where there is a factual dispute, I present the facts in the light most favorable to EDT as the non-moving party.


The Guilford Yacht Club Association, Inc. (GYC) operates a yacht club on the shoreline in Guilford, Connecticut.[1] GYC must regularly dredge the water around its marina for the safety of boats accessing the marina.[2]

EDT is a dredge manufacturer.[3] In October 2017, GYC decided to lease a Mud Cat MFD dredge from EDT and to hire a company to operate the dredge for the 2018 season.[4] Between November 2017 and January 2018, GYC contacted several potential dredge operators, including professional dredging companies recommended by EDT, but none of these companies agreed to do the work.[5]

Poolscape is a company owned by Michael Martocci that installs, maintains, and services swimming pools within the Connecticut shoreline region.[6] Poolscape began servicing GYC's pool in 2016.[7] Unable to find an experienced dredge operator, GYC hired Poolscape to operate the dredge.[8] Poolscape did not have any experience doing such dredging work, but it agreed to perform the project to generate additional income during its winter offseason.[9] GYC agreed to pay Poolscape for each day of labor and to provide fuel for the dredge as well as other work materials for the job site.[10]

In February 2018, EDT and GYC signed a contract for the lease of the dredge.[11] The parties agreed that the lease term would begin when EDT shipped the dredge to Guilford and


would last for a minimum of a month.[12] GYC expressly agreed to indemnify EDT from any liability for tort claims arising or resulting out of its use of the dredge.[13] The contract specified that the dredge would “remain the sole property of EDT” and that GYC could not assign the contract or sublease to anyone else without EDT's prior written consent.[14] The lease did not mention Poolscape, although it did generally require GYC to maintain liability insurance for any “independent contractors.”[15]

EDT also agreed to provide “initial set-up, startup, and training supervision” by sending “personnel for assistance in Equipment setup and training at a rate of $6,500.00 for a minimum of three days.”[16] On March 1, 2018, the dredge arrived in Guilford along with two EDT field service technicians-Robert Carufel and Donald Syring-to set up the dredge and orient Poolscape's principal Martocci and his employees on how to operate it.[17]

Part of Carufel's job was “[t]o teach clients how to operate a dredge.”[18] Carufel learned when he arrived that the Poolscape operators were not experienced in dredge operations and had never done a dredge operation before.[19]

EDT sent GYC a copy of the operator's manual it had written for the Mud Cat MFD dredge, but Poolscape did not request or review the manual from GYC, and GYC never shared it


with Poolscape.[20] Carufel did not ask the Poolscape operators to read the manual before training commenced and did not know if they had read it.[21]

Carufel initially set the dredge up in the basin of the GYC marina, drove it into a slip in the marina basin, and tied it off.[22] The dredge had two sets of stabilizing devices: sponsons and spuds. Sponsons are arm-like structures that give lateral stability against rolling, while spuds are pole-like structures that secure the dredge when lowered to the seabed.[23]

Fig. 1: The Mud Cat MFD 1000T Dredge

(Image Omitted)

EDT required Carufel to follow the dredge manual's instructions.[24] But Carufel did not deploy the dredge's sponsons or spuds when he set up the dredge, even though the manual says


an operator should “[n]ever slue [i.e., swing] the excavator arm without the sponsors fully extended” because “[t]he dredge may become unstable and capsize.”[25] Carufel says that he could not deploy the sponsons given where the dredge was moored, and that the spuds did not reach the bottom of the marina.[26]

Training was scheduled to begin on March 2, but was postponed due to heavy winds.[27]Onboard orientation started the next day, March 3.[28] That afternoon, Carufel began orienting Poolscape personnel including its owner Martocci and its employees James Willard and David Goodrich on the instrumentation in the operator's cabin.[29]

Martocci first sat in the operator's seat as Carufel explained the dredge's controls.[30] Carufel was leaning into the cabin through the starboard-side window, and Willard was leaning in through the port-side door.[31] Carufel told Martocci that he could swing the boom arm “slightly.”[32]

After about five to ten minutes, Goodrich replaced Martocci in the operator's seat, while Martocci crouched in the cabin in front of Goodrich.[33] Goodrich had his “hands on both joysticks” and was “in control of the dredge.”[34]

About five minutes after he took the operator's seat, Goodrich caused the joystick that controlled the boom arm at the front of the dredge to swing the boom arm to the left, which resulted in capsizing the dredge and throwing all onboard into the water.[35] When the dredge


capsized, it crushed Willard to death against the dock and injured another Poolscape employee Richard Dziubinski.[36]

During the subsequent police investigation, Carufel told the police that he “was overseeing things” while Martocci showed Goodrich the dredge controls.[37] But he denied that he ever directed Goodrich to swing the boom arm.[38] Instead, he believes that Goodrich inadvertently hit the joystick when swiveling the operator's chair to the left as he was preparing to switch places with Willard.[39]

In a signed statement he gave police on the day of the accident, Martocci stated that he directed Goodrich to swing the boom arm.[40] Martocci reported that “Dave [Goodrich] had been moving the boom back and forth, and I told him to move it to the left. Dave moved the boom to the left and it stopped. As soon as the boom stopped, the dredge began to tip to the left.”[41]

By way of procedural background, this admiralty action commenced in August 2018 when EDT filed a complaint for exoneration from or limitation for liability under the Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30501 et seq.[42] Meanwhile, I stayed this action so that several claimants could pursue relief against EDT in Connecticut state court, with the stipulation that EDT's limitation of liability rights would ultimately be adjudicated back in federal court.[43] After this case was consolidated with a related action brought by GYC, the parties decided to resolve


their dispute entirely in this federal court action, first determining the limitation of liability issues and then-if either EDT or GYC faced liability-deciding those claims before a jury.[44]

I then granted leave to EDT to file counterclaims against Poolscape and Martocci for contribution and indemnification.[45] EDT's counterclaim complaint alleges that “[t]o the extent, (a) Poolscape (i) lacked relevant experience and abilities and (ii) failed to properly prepare itself to operate the Dredge; (b) Poolscape's employees were present in the operator's cabin and had sole control over the Dredge at the time the boom arm was slewed, allegedly causing the Dredge [to] capsize; and (c) Poolscape was an independent contractor and agent of GYC as lessee of the Dredge, Poolscape is liable for the incident at issue.”[46]

Poolscape and Martocci have moved for summary judgment on EDT's contribution and indemnity counterclaims. I held oral argument on the motion, and this ruling now follows.


The principles governing the Court's review of a motion for summary judgment are well established. Summary judgment may be granted only if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). I must view the facts in the light most favorable to the party who opposes the motion for summary judgment and then decide whether those facts would be enough-if eventually proved at trial-to allow a reasonable jury to decide the case in favor of the opposing party. My role at summary judgment is not to judge the credibility of witnesses or to resolve close contested issues but solely to decide whether there are enough facts that remain in dispute to warrant a trial. See generally Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 656-57 (2014) (per


curiam); Pollard v. N.Y. Methodist Hosp., 861 F.3d 374,...

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