Minott v. Brunello

Citation891 F.3d 1277
Decision Date06 June 2018
Docket NumberNo. 18-10374,18-10374
Parties John MINOTT, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. M/Y BRUNELLO, Official No. 71147, her engines, tackle, and appurtenances, in rem, Brunello Yacht Charters, Ltd., a foreign corporation, as owner of the M/Y Brunello, Derecktor Florida, Inc., a Florida corporation, XYZ Corporation(s), marine contractors, John Doe, as captain of the M/Y Brunello, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)

Michael A. Winkleman, Adria G. Notari, Lipcon Margulies Alsina & Winkleman, PA, Miami, FL, for PlaintiffAppellant.

Before MARCUS, WILLIAM PRYOR, and ROSENBAUM, Circuit Judges.

WILLIAM PRYOR, Circuit Judge:

This appeal from the denial of a warrant in rem for the arrest of a vessel requires us to decide whether we have interlocutory jurisdiction, and if so, whether John Minott established that the injury he allegedly suffered while boarding the Brunello entitles him to a warrant in rem for the arrest of the vessel. Minott filed a complaint against the Brunello and other parties alleging that he was entitled to enforce a maritime lien against the Brunello for damages arising from a maritime tort. He then moved the district court to direct the clerk to issue a warrant in rem for the arrest of the Brunello , but the district court denied the motion. In addition to expressing doubt about whether Minott's claim fell within its maritime jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1333, the district court ruled that Minott's claim did not "give[ ] rise to a ‘maritime lien’ supporting the in rem seizure of the [v]essel" based on the erroneous premise that maritime liens arise only by statute and not by operation of the general maritime law. It also denied Minott's motion for reconsideration. We have interlocutory jurisdiction, id. § 1292(a)(3), Minott's claim for a maritime tort against the Brunello falls within the admiralty jurisdiction of the district court, id. § 1333(1), and Minott is entitled to a warrant in rem , Fed. R. Civ. P. Supp. R. C(3)(a)(i). We reverse and remand with instructions to direct the clerk to issue a warrant in rem for the arrest of the Brunello .

I. BACKGROUND

John Minott worked for Butch Kemp Designs, a marine engineering firm hired to perform maintenance and repairs aboard the Brunello while it was docked in navigable waters in Dania, Florida. Minott attempted to board the vessel, but when he was walking up the gangway "the [v]essel['s] captain or crew, suddenly and without warning, put the engines in gear, causing the gangway ... to detach from the [v]essel and fall overboard, together with [Minott]." Minott suffered "severe injuries to his head

, neck, and spine."

Minott filed a "verified complaint to enforce a maritime lien for damages arising from a maritime tort" in the district court. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(h) ; S.D. Fla. Adm. & Mar. R. B(2). The complaint asserted an in rem claim against the Brunello and in personam claims against other individual and corporate defendants. Minott then moved the district court to direct the clerk to issue a warrant in rem for the arrest of the vessel. See Fed. R. Civ. P. Supp. R. C(3)(a)(i); S.D. Fla. Adm. & Mar. R. B(3)(a). He explained that the tort was "cognizable under admiralty jurisdiction," that he was "entitled to a maritime lien," that he was "entitled to arrest the [v]essel and litigate directly against [it] in rem ," and that the vessel was "transitory in nature and at risk of leaving the jurisdiction of [the district court] if not immediately arrested."

The district court denied the motion without prejudice after finding that Minott failed to "establish good cause for the issuance of a warrant in rem ." It concluded that a maritime tort cannot "form the basis for a maritime lien" and cited a federal statute, 46 U.S.C. § 31342, that grants a lien to "a person providing necessaries to a vessel." The district court also explained that its "uncertainty" whether Minott's "claim [fell] under maritime jurisdiction ... weigh[ed] against issuing a warrant." Although it did not decide the question, the district court suggested that it lacked jurisdiction because Minott's "activity ... [was] not significantly tied to maritime activity" and his accident had "minimal" potential to "disrupt[ ] ... maritime commerce."

Minott moved for reconsideration and cited caselaw where plaintiffs filed in rem actions against vessels for maritime torts. The district court denied the motion. It explained that Minott's original motion sought a warrant only "based on 46 U.S.C. [section] 31301(5)(B)" and that he could not "raise [new] arguments" that he was "entitled to a warrant of arrest under [other] authorities." It also explained that these authorities "still ... [failed to] convince [it] that alleged tort victims ... are entitled to issuance of a warrant of arrest in rem upon filing a complaint."

Minott appealed and invoked our interlocutory jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(3).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"Whether a party's claim[ ] give[s] rise to a maritime lien is a legal question that is reviewed de novo, " Salvors, Inc. v. Unidentified Wrecked & Abandoned Vessel , 861 F.3d 1278, 1297 (11th Cir. 2017), as is "[t]he [d]istrict [c]ourt's application of admiralty law and the local rules implementing that law," Isbrandtsen Marine Servs. v. M/V Inagua Tania , 93 F.3d 728, 733 (11th Cir. 1996). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Supplemental Rule C, we review the facts alleged in the "complaint and ... supporting papers" to determine "[i]f the conditions for an in rem action [and warrant] appear to exist." Fed. R. Civ. P. Supp. R. C(3)(a)(i) (italics added).

III. DISCUSSION

We divide our discussion in two parts. First, we explain that we have interlocutory jurisdiction over this appeal. Second, we explain that the district court erred when it refused to direct the clerk to issue a warrant in rem for the arrest of the Brunello .

A. We Have Interlocutory Jurisdiction.

We have interlocutory jurisdiction over appeals from "decrees of ... district courts ... [that] determin[e] 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). "As a general rule, a district court's order resolving one or more claims on the merits is appealable under [ section] 1292(a)(3), irrespective of any claims that remain pending." Sea Lane Bahamas Ltd. v. Europa Cruises Corp. , 188 F.3d 1317, 1321 (11th Cir. 1999). For example, we "ha[ve] jurisdiction over the appeal of an order dismissing on the merits one or more parties from an action." Id. (collecting cases); see also Nichols v. Barwick , 792 F.2d 1520, 1522 (11th Cir. 1986) ("Not all the rights and liabilities of the parties need be determined before such an order is appealable."); Trinidad Foundry & Fabricating, Ltd. v. M/V K.A.S. Camilla , 966 F.2d 613, 614 & n.1 (11th Cir. 1992). But we lack jurisdiction "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.’ " Sea Lane Bahamas , 188 F.3d at 1321 (quoting Jensenius v. Texaco, Inc. , 639 F.2d 1342, 1343 (5th Cir. Unit A Mar. 1981) ).

The refusal of the district court to issue a warrant in rem for the arrest of the Brunello falls within our interlocutory jurisdiction because it has the effect of a final order that "reach[es] the merits of the claim" and "prejudices [the] substantive rights of [Minott]." Id. (quoting Jensenius , 639 F.2d at 1343 ). To be sure, the decision refusing to arrest the Brunello did not resolve Minott's claims against the other defendants. But it resolved his claim against the vessel, and he is entitled to immediate review of that decision.

The refusal to arrest the Brunello resolved the question of the vessel's liability because "[a]ttachment subjecting the res to the jurisdiction of the court is a prerequisite to a finding of in rem liability." Dow Chem. Co. v. The Barge UM-23B , 424 F.2d 307, 311 (5th Cir. 1970) (italics added). For example, in The Pesaro the Supreme Court exercised interlocutory jurisdiction over a "decree" that released a vessel from arrest but did not "formally" "dismiss the libel." 255 U.S. 216, 217, 41 S.Ct. 308, 65 L.Ed. 592 (1921). The Supreme Court explained that although the "decree ... [did] not dismiss the libel," this detail was not "decisive" because "[t]he decree ... declare[d] [that the vessel was] not subject to any such process[,] ... direct[ed] her release ..., [and] end[ed] the suit as effectually as if it formally dismissed the libel." Id. In short, although the question whether to arrest a vessel arises at the beginning of litigation, it also "reach[es] the merits of the claim," Sea Lane Bahamas , 188 F.3d at 1321(quoting Jensenius, 639 F.2d at 1343 ), because it necessarily dictates jurisdiction and liability.

More importantly, a failure to arrest a vessel "prejudices [the] substantive rights of the parties" in the light of the mobile nature of vessels. Id. (quoting Jensenius , 639 F.2d at 1343 ). If a vessel leaves the jurisdiction while the district court is resolving claims against other defendants, the plaintiff risks forever losing his "substantive" right to "enforce a maritime lien," Trinidad , 966 F.2d at 615, because "where the res is no longer before the court, ... in rem jurisdiction is destroyed" and the district court "can[not] proceed to adjudication," L.B. Harvey Marine, Inc. v. M/V River Arc , 712 F.2d 458, 459 (11th Cir. 1983) (italics added). The Supreme Court highlighted this concern in Swift & Co. Packers v. Compania Colombiana del Caribe, S.A. , when it exercised interlocutory jurisdiction over "an order ... vacating a foreign attachment of a vessel." 339 U.S. 684, 685, 70 S.Ct. 861, 94 L.Ed. 1206 (1950) ; see also id. at 688–89, 70 S.Ct. 861. The Supreme Court explained that "[a]ppellate review of [an] order dissolving [an] attachment at a later date would be an empty rite after the vessel had been released and the...

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