United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
For Rodney Farnsworth III, Plaintiff: Brian Keane, Kaplan/Bond Group, Boston, MA; J. Patrick Yerby, Law Office of Patrick Yerby, Jamaica Plain, MA.
For Towboat Nantucket Sound, Inc., Defendant: David S. Smith, LEAD ATTORNEY, Farrell McAleer & Smith LLP, Salem, MA.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO CONFIRM THE ARBITRATION AWARD
F. Dennis Saylor IV, United States District Judge.
This is a claim arising out of a marine salvage contract. Plaintiff Rodney Farnsworth III signed a salvage contract with defendant Towboat Nantucket Sound, Inc., on board his vessel at 3:30 a.m., after defendant's towboat had pulled the vessel off a rocky shoal. The contract included a mandatory arbitration clause. Farnsworth contends, among other things, that the arbitration clause is voidable because he was forced to sign the salvage contract under duress. This case was stayed pending the outcome of the arbitration proceedings.
On November 15, 2013, the arbitration panel issued a decision in favor of Towboat Nantucket and denying the relief sought by Farnsworth. Towboat Nantucket has moved to confirm the arbitration award.
For the following reasons, the motion to confirm the arbitration award will be granted.
A. Factual Background
The facts are set forth as alleged in the complaint unless otherwise noted.
On July 28, 2012, at around 8:00 p.m., Rodney Farnsworth III was anchoring his motor yacht, the M/Y AURORA, in the Weepecket Island anchorage in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. According to Farnsworth, an errant depth-sounder reading caused
the vessel to run aground. He contends that despite the grounding, the vessel was undamaged, completely buoyant, and watertight.
According to defendant, that evening there was a line of thundershowers moving east through the Woods Hole area with heavy rain, lightning, and winds around 20 knots gusting to 33 knots. (Brown Aff., Docket No. 28, Ex. A ¶ 2). The thunderstorms had many lightning strikes and reduced visibility to less than 300 feet. ( Id. ¶ 6). The tide was low and the water in the area near Farnsworth's vessel was shallow and rocky. ( See id. ¶ ¶ 2, 9, 12).
Farnsworth requested assistance from Towboat New Bedford on his radio. He had a towing insurance policy that covered tows, but not salvages. ( Id. ¶ 14). Approximately an hour after the vessel was grounded, the vessel NORTHPOINT from Towboat Nantucket responded to his call. Farnsworth allowed the NORTHPOINT to give him a towline. The vessel was secured but was not moved in order to prevent possible damage. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 10-12).
After the line was made secure, the captain of the towboat called Farnsworth on his cell phone. According to the captain, he told Farnsworth that the towboat's services would not be covered by the towing policy " due to the rocky location and weather conditions where he was stranded." ( Id. ¶ 14).
Between midnight and 1:00 a.m., the tide rose. By about 2:00 a.m., the NORTHPOINT was able to pull the AURORA to deeper water. In the course of that operation, the vessel was pulled onto rocks, causing some damage to the hull. The vessel, however, remained operational and (according to Farnsworth) seaworthy.
Farnsworth then cast off the towline and sailed the AURORA to the harbor in Woods Hole. The NORTHPOINT also sailed to Woods Hole. While the ships were anchored there, two Towboat Nantucket employees boarded the AURORA.
Farnsworth contends that he was forced to sign a standard towing reimbursement agreement for the towing of his vessel. He was also required to execute another contract giving Towboat Nantucket rights to a salvage award for towing the vessel. After refusing three times, Farnsworth eventually signed the ...