United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
COMPLAINT OF BENJAMIN P. URBELIS FOR EXONERATION FROM AND/OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY, CIVIL AND MARITIME
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ALLISON D. BURROUGHS, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
maritime action, Petitioner Benjamin P. Urbelis (“Mr.
Urbelis”) seeks limitation of liability under 46 U.S.C.
§ 30501 et seq., in connection with a boating
accident on the M/V NAUT GUILTY (the “vessel”), a
29-foot power boat owned by Mr. Urbelis. Before the Court is
Claimant Nicole Berthiaume (“Ms.
Berthiaume”)'s Motion to Stay this action. [ECF No.
27]. Urbelis opposes the Motion [ECF No. 53], as do two
additional Claimants, Volvo Penta of the Americas, LLC [ECF
No. 47], and Chaparral Boats, Inc. [ECF No. 52]. For the
reasons set forth in this Memorandum and Order, Ms.
Berthiaume's Motion to Stay must be DENIED.
30, 2015, the vessel departed Charlestown, Massachusetts and
proceeded upon a voyage into Boston Harbor. Aboard the vessel
were Mr. Urbelis, Ms. Berthiaume, age 19, and a number of
other individuals. At approximately 7:00 p.m., the vessel was
anchored off of Spectacle Island. Several people, including
Ms. Berthiaume, jumped off of the vessel to swim.
Subsequently, someone aboard the vessel started the engines.
As Ms. Berthiaume attempted to swim back to the boat, she was
severely injured by the engine's moving propellers. Her
injuries included, among other things, the loss of her
dominant right arm below the shoulder, and other serious
17, 2015, Mr. Urbelis filed his Complaint in this action [ECF
No. 1], in which he alleges that the incident and Ms.
Berthiaume's resulting injuries were not caused or
contributed to by any negligence or fault on the part of Mr.
Urbelis, or any other person for whom Urbelis was
responsible. Accordingly, Mr. Urbelis seeks exemption from,
and/or limitation of liability for any damages or injuries
resulting from the accident, pursuant to 46 U.S.C. §
30501 et seq., which is commonly known as the
Limitation of Liability Act (the “Act”).
purpose of the Act was “to encourage the development of
American merchant shipping.” Complaint of Dammers
& Vanderheide & Scheepvaart Maats Christina
B.V., 836 F.2d 750, 754 (2d Cir. 1988) (quoting Lake
Tankers Corp. v. Henn, 354 U.S. 147, 150 (1957)).
“The Limitation Act achieves this purpose by
‘exempting innocent shipowners from liability, beyond
the amount of their interest [in the vessel].'”
In re Self, 172 F.Supp.2d 813, 816 (W.D. La. 2001)
(quoting Norwich & N.Y. Transp. Co. v. Wright,
80 U.S. 104, 121 (1871)). Specifically, a vessel owner facing
potential liability for a maritime accident may file a
petition with the federal district court seeking exoneration
from or limitation of liability. “Provided that the
accident in question occurred without the vessel owner's
‘privity or knowledge, ' the Limitation Act limits
the owner's liability to the value of his interest in the
vessel and freight.” In re Self, 172 F.Supp.2d
at 816 (citation omitted).
the shipowner files a petition to limit liability under the
Act, the district court “is empowered to issue a
restraining order or an injunction staying all other
proceedings against the shipowner arising out of the same
mishap.” Complaint of Dammers, 836 F.2d at 755
(internal quotations, alterations, and citation omitted);
see also Supp. R. Admiralty or Maritime Claims, Rule
F(3). The district court must also notify
“all potential claimants to file their claims against
the shipowner in the admiralty court within a specified time
period.” Complaint of Dammers, 836 F.2d at
755; see also Supp. R. Admiralty or Maritime Claims,
Rule F(4). “Thereafter, in a proceeding known as a
concursus, the district court, sitting in admiralty
without a jury, determines ‘whether there was
negligence; if there was negligence, whether it was without
the privity and knowledge of the owner; and if limitation is
granted, how the [limitation] fund should be
distributed.'” Complaint of Dammers, 836
F.2d at 755 (quoting Universal Towing Co. v.
Barrale, 595 F.2d 414, 417 (8th Cir. 1979) (alteration
in original)). Courts have described this process as a
“marshalling of assets, ” followed by a
“distribution pro-rata of an inadequate fund amongst
claimants, none of whom can be paid in full.”
Complaint of Dammers, 836 F.2d at 755 (quoting
In re Moran Transp. Corp., 185 F.2d 386, 389 (2d
after Mr. Urbelis filed his Complaint in this action, the
Court appointed an appraiser. [ECF No. 8]. After inspecting
the vessel, the appraiser determined that the fair market
value of the M/V NAUT GUILTY was $29, 000, and the value of
its pending freight was $0.00. [ECF No. 12]. In addition, on
August 10, 2015, the Court issued an Order directing the
issuance of notice to all potential claimants, and
restraining all other lawsuits, actions, or proceedings
against Mr. Urbelis, pending the resolution of this
Limitation of Liability action. [ECF No. 15]. The Court's
Order had the effect of staying a separate civil action that
Ms. Berthiaume filed against Mr. Urbelis and other defendants
in the Massachusetts Superior Court for Suffolk County on
July 6, 2015 (the “state-court action”).
See [ECF No. 53-1].
September 2015, Ms. Berthiaume filed an Answer to Mr.
Urbelis' Complaint. [ECF No. 22]. In addition, two new
Claimants - Volvo Penta of the Americas, LLC
(“Volvo”) and Chaparral Boats, Inc.
(“Chaparral”) came forward to file Claims and
Answers. [ECF Nos. 20, 23]. Volvo manufactured the boat
engines that were in use at the time of the accident, and
Chaparral manufactured the vessel itself. Both Volvo and
Chaparral deny any liability in connection with the incident,
and each claims that it is entitled to complete
indemnification from Urbelis and/or other parties, in the
event a judgment is rendered against it. Further, both
Chaparral and Volvo expressly request attorney's fees and
costs as part of their indemnity claims. Alternatively, Volvo
and Chaparral assert that they are entitled to contribution
from Urbelis and/or other parties for any judgment collected
the deadline to file claims had passed, Ms. Berthiaume filed
the instant Motion to Stay [ECF No. 27], in which she asks
the Court to stay this action and allow her to try her claims
against Mr. Urbelis and others before a jury in Massachusetts
state court. Ms. Berthiaume contends that this Limitation of
Liability action is essentially a single-claimant proceeding,
as no other injured parties have come forward as claimants.
She argues that in such a case, the Limitation of Liability
action may be stayed until the state-court action is
resolved, as long as Mr. Urbelis' right to pursue
limitation of liability in federal court is preserved and
protected by stipulation. Specifically, Ms. Berthiaume has
offered a number of stipulations that she claims adequately
protect Mr. Urbelis' rights. Those proposed stipulations
are as follows:
PROPOSED STIPULATION NO. 1: Berthiaume concedes and agrees
that the United States District Court for the District of
Massachusetts has exclusive jurisdiction over all limitation
of liability issues which may arise from the boating accident
which occurred on May 30, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts, and
that Urbelis is entitled to and has the right to litigate all
issues relating to limitation of liability pursuant to the
provisions of 46 U.S.C. § 30501, et seq.
STIPULATION NO. 2: Berthiaume concedes and agrees to waive
any claim(s) of res judicata pertaining to the issue
of limitation of liability based on any judgment obtained in
state court or other proceeding based on the boating accident
which occurred on May 30, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.
PROPOSED STIPULATION NO. 3: Berthiaume concedes and agrees
that the United States District Court for the District of
Massachusetts has exclusive jurisdiction to determine the
value of the limitation fund, and so long as Berthiaume has
had an opportunity to obtain an independent appraisal or
related evaluation, Berthiaume will stipulate to the value of
the limitation fund as determined by said court.
PROPOSED STIPULATION NO. 4: Berthiaume concedes and agrees
that should a judgment be obtained in any court or other
proceeding and should the United States District Court for
the District of Massachusetts determine that limitation of
liability is appropriate, Berthiaume will seek only her
respective pro rata share(s) of the limitation fund
as measured by the respective proportions of any judgment(s)
obtained in any state court or other proceeding.
PROPOSED STIPULATION NO. 5: Berthiaume concedes and agrees
that should a judgment be obtained on behalf of Berthiaume in
any state court or other proceeding against Urbelis and/or
other liability parties who may cross-claim or claim against
Urbelis, and if the United States District Court for the
District of Massachusetts determines that limitation of
liability is appropriate and establishes a limitation fund,
and said judgment(s) is/are in excess of the value of said
limitation fund, in no event will Berthiaume seek to enforce
said judgment(s) insofar as same may expose Urbelis to
liability in excess of the limitation fund.
[ECF No. 28].
Urbelis, Volvo, and Chaparral all oppose Ms. Berthiaume's
Motion to Stay. They argue that this is not a single-claimant
proceeding, because Chaparral and Volvo have also filed
claims against Urbelis, seeking indemnification and/or
contribution. They contend that the presence of multiple
claims gives rise to competing claims for the limitation
fund. They further argue that Ms. Berthiaume's proposed
stipulations do not adequately ...