Sea Lane Bahamas Limited v. Europa Cruises

Decision Date17 September 1999
Docket NumberNo. 98-5034,98-5034
Parties(11th Cir. 1999) SEA LANE BAHAMAS LIMITED, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. EUROPA CRUISES CORPORATION, Europa Cruise Line, Ltd., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. (No. 94-10004-CV-JCP), James C. Paine, Judge.

Before BIRCH and DUBINA, Circuit Judges, and SMITH*, District Judge.

SMITH, District Judge:

Appellant Sea Lane Bahamas Limited ("Sea Lane") appeals the district court's order denying its motions to reopen the case and to amend the complaint and thereby join a party. Finding jurisdiction wanting, we dismiss the appeal.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises out of an agreement between Sea Lane and appellee Europa Cruise Line, Ltd., whereby Sea Lane chartered the commercial vessel M/V "Europa Jet" to Europa Cruise Line, Ltd. The parties executed such agreement during August of 1989. Ultimately, following repeated defaults and an intervening contract renewal on June 25, 1993, Europa Cruise Line returned the Europa Jet to Sea Lane during November of 1993.

Sea Lane commenced this action on January 31, 1994, alleging that Europa Cruise Line's redelivery of the Europa Jet was in breach of the charter agreement. Before an answer was filed, however, Sea Lane and defendants, Europa Cruise Line, Ltd. and Europa Cruises Corporation ("Europa"1), entered into a settlement agreement dated February 4, 1994. The parties resolved all claims at issue in the case below, save one for damages arising out of the condition of the Europa Jet upon its return.

Pursuant to the settlement agreement, Europa made a voluntary appearance before the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, but neither party took action advancing the litigation. Sea Lane moved the court to compel arbitration pursuant to the settlement agreement. By order entered April 24, 1995, the court compelled the parties to submit to arbitration and closed the case.

Defendants filed a written submission for arbitration on November 20, 1997. In that submission, defendants raised the defense that Sea Lane was not the real party in interest. Defendants base this defense on the fact that Sea Lane sold the Europa Jet to Marne (Delaware), Inc. ("Marne") during the Spring of 1990. Sea Lane maintains that it is the registered owner of the vessel and that it retained legal title to the vessel while transferring only "beneficial ownership" to Marne.

The parties quarrel over who was tardy in raising this issue. Defendants say Rule 17(a) places the burden on Sea Lane, which sold the vessel four years prior to commencing this action and eight years prior to filing the motion to amend, to bring the action in the name of the real party in interest. Notwithstanding these facts, Sea Lane--which maintains it is the real party in interest--argues it had no reason to believe defendants would raise the real-party-in-interest defense at this late stage of the proceedings, and particularly after entering the settlement agreement, because defendants had been aware of the relationship between Sea Lane and Marne from its outset, that is, prior to execution of the settlement agreement.

In any event, an arbitration hearing was held on December 9, 1997. In that hearing, the panel of three arbitrators sought to determine exactly what issues were before it. The panel determined that it should not decide whether a party must be or could be added. The following excerpts from the transcript of the hearing explicate the arbitrators' decision:

MR. MANK: ... I think we can consider the matters to be arbitrated. I don't think the real party [in] interest issue--we think it should be worked out. We think some sort of relief should be gotten, but we don't think that we are the proper panel to decide that.

...

MR. FITZGERALD: Let's leave it this way. The ruling party will make the application to [U.S. District Court] Judge Payne. If he decides that this is an issue to be decided by the panel, he will send it back. When it comes back, then we will decide. At this juncture, the panel feels that it is beyond the scope of our instructions under that agreement.

(Transcript of December 9, 1997 Arbitration Hearing, at 76-77.)

Thus the panel directed Sea Lane to seek leave to amend its complaint, so the district court could either resolve the real-party-in-interest issue or send the case back to the panel for resolution. After further time-consuming, and ultimately fruitless settlement negotiations, Sea Lane finally filed motions on March 20, 1998, seeking to reopen the case and to amend the complaint so as to join Marne as a party plaintiff. By order entered June 9, the district court denied both motions. The court then denied Sea Lane's motion to reconsider that order, via an order entered on June 25, 1998. Sea Lane filed a timely notice of appeal.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Whether the District Court's Order is Appealable Under 28 U.S.C. 1292(a)(3).

Sea Lane argues that the charter agreement at issue in the case below is maritime in nature and falls within the district court's admiralty jurisdiction. Here, Sea Lane invokes 28 U.S.C. 1292(a)(3), which bestows jurisdiction upon the courts of appeals for "[i]nterlocutory decrees of such district courts or the judges thereof determining the rights and liabilities of the parties to admiralty cases in which appeals from final decrees are allowed." 28 U.S.C. 1292(a)(3) (emphasis supplied).

Defendants contest jurisdiction. They first argue that the sole issue in this case arises out of the settlement agreement, not out of the maritime-related charter agreement. Defendants assert that 1292(a)(3), therefore, is inapposite to this appeal. Second, defendants contend that the orders appealed from did not determine the rights and liabilities of any party as contemplated by that statutory provision. They argue that the only legal person whose rights and liabilities may have been determined by the orders at issue was Marne, which is not a party to this suit.

1. Admiralty jurisdiction

The order appealed from denies Sea Lane's motions to reopen the case and amend the complaint. Sea Lane's allegations of defendants' breaches of the charter agreement compose the gravamen of the complaint. The complaint therefore falls within the district court's admiralty jurisdiction. See Kossick v. United Fruit Co., 365 U.S. 731, 735, 81 S.Ct. 886, 890, 6 L.Ed.2d 56 (1961) ("Without doubt a contract for hire either of a ship or of the sailors and officers to man her is within the admiralty jurisdiction."); Jack Neilson, Inc. v. Tug Peggy, 428 F.2d 54, 55 (5th Cir.1970)2 ("[T]he charter provisions of the contract are maritime in nature ... and within the admiralty jurisdiction of the district court."). Thus, the order denying the motion to amend that complaint also falls within the district court's admiralty jurisdiction.

The defendants' bare assertion that the issue on appeal relates only to the settlement agreement is fallacious. The settlement agreement per se was not at issue in those motions. Rather, it was a factor supporting the court's initial closure of the case. The motions did not challenge the settlement agreement. Moreover, that agreement was not mentioned in either the order denying the motions to reopen the case and amend the complaint, or in the order denying the motion to reconsider. To the contrary, Sea Lane moved to reopen its case, which was based on the charter agreement, and join a party, in order to win relief for the alleged breaches of the charter agreement.

2. Application of 28 U.S.C. 1292(a)(3)

A jurisdictional issue with greater merit is whether the orders appealed from "determin[ed] the rights and liabilities of the parties" to this admiralty case, 1292(a)(3), such that this court has jurisdiction over what Sea Lane concedes is an interlocutory decree.3 (Brief of Appellant, at vii.) Sea Lane argues that the order denying the motions to reopen and amend determines the rights and liabilities of the parties to this case because the arbitration panel allegedly will not proceed without a determination of whether Marne must be joined as a party plaintiff. Thus, Sea Lane says the order effectively determined the parties' rights by foreclosing all avenues of relief.

a. Eleventh Circuit precedent

No case is directly on point, but opinions of this circuit and its predecessor court provide sound guidance.4 The law is more clear with regard to what is appealable under 1292(a)(3) than what is not. As a general rule, a district court's order resolving one or more claims on the merits is appealable under 1292(a)(3), irrespective of any claims that remain pending.5 Similarly, this court has jurisdiction over the appeal of an order dismissing on the merits one or more parties from an action.6

Jurisdiction under 1292(a)(3) does not obtain, however, when the order appealed from "does not reach the merits of the claim and in no way determines, denies, or prejudices any substantive rights of the parties." Jensenius v. Texaco, Inc., 639 F.2d 1342, 1343 (5th Cir. Unit A March 1981). In State Establishment for Agricultural Product Trading v. M/V Wesermunde, 770 F.2d 987 (11th Cir.1985), a panel of this circuit found that an order staying trial pending arbitration did not determine the rights and liabilities of the parties but, instead, "merely settled how and where the rights and liabilities would be determined." 770 F.2d at 990. Thus, the court held the order was not appealable under 1292(a)(3).7 See id.

Other examples of where this circuit or the former Fifth Circuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction include appeals from the following orders: order granting a preliminary injunction;8 order dismissing one of four defendants for lack of personal jurisdiction;9 order dismissing some, but not all defendants for lack of admiralty jurisdiction;10 order denying motion to dismiss for lack...

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2 books & journal articles
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