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Gardiner v. Ramzabar

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 20, 2017



          George A. O'Toole, Jr. United States District Judge.

         This matter was tried to the Court sitting without a jury. Upon consideration of the evidence and the arguments of the parties, I make the following findings of fact and conclusions of law, pursuant to Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:

         I. Findings of Fact

         The M/V RAMZABAR (“the vessel”) is a federally documented 1978 31-foot Bertram sport fishing boat, Official Number 662443. Frederick Gardiner purchased the vessel in 1996, and has remained the only federally registered owner of the vessel since that time. From the late 1990s until 2004, the vessel was regularly kept on a mooring in the water adjacent to the property of Mrs. Trudy Cutler, with her permission. Mrs. Cutler was Gardiner's former mother-in-law, with whom he seemed to share an amiable familial relationship. Brian Macourt, Gardiner's nephew, was given unlimited permission to use the vessel provided that he kept up its necessary maintenance. Macourt used the vessel regularly until 2004. Gardiner and Macourt also enjoyed an amiable familial relationship during this time.

         Sometime in 2004, the vessel was removed from the water and stored on Mrs. Cutler's property. From 2004 until 2013, the vessel was stored either on the property of Mrs. Cutler or, at times, on Macourt's property. I find that Macourt was a permissive user with whom Gardiner entrusted the vessel. The evidence did not support a finding that there was a business or contractual agreement between Gardiner and Macourt pursuant to which Gardiner agreed to pay either Mrs. Cutler or Macourt for storage or maintenance of the vessel. Specifically, I find that Mrs. Cutler allowed Gardiner to store the vessel on her property without expectation of compensation. I do not credit the assertion that Macourt expected to receive $35, 000, or any other sum, from Gardiner in exchange for storage as alleged in the counterclaim. Additionally, there was no specific evidence of any particular goods, services, or necessaries advanced by Macourt for which he reasonably expected reimbursement from Gardiner.

         At some point between 2010 and 2013, Macourt decided that he no longer wished to store the boat on either his or Mrs. Cutler's property. The evidence is unclear as to the extent this decision was communicated to Gardiner. Macourt decided to try to sell the boat.

         On June 18, 2013, Sean Thibert paid Macourt $2, 000 in exchange for whatever interest Macourt had in the vessel. Thibert specifically understood at the time of sale that Macourt did not hold title to the vessel and that it was legally owned by Gardiner. In July 2013, Thibert attempted without success to have the vessel deemed “abandoned” under state law so that he could obtain a valid title to it. To comply with state statutory procedure for obtaining title to an abandoned boat, he ran a required notice in the local newspaper.

         At some point thereafter, Gardiner sought out Thibert in response to the newspaper ad and asserted his legal ownership of the vessel. During this meeting, Thibert showed Gardiner a copy of a letter from Macourt's attorney dated March 28, 2011, which purported to have been sent by certified mail to Gardiner making demand for $11, 000 on behalf of Macourt for unspecified costs incurred in connection with the latter's purported storage of the vessel. This certified letter was never signed for by Gardiner, and there is no evidence as to whether Gardiner actually received the letter or read its contents before the meeting with Thibert in 2013. However, I do find that at the time the letter was sent, Gardiner was aware that Macourt was seeking to have the vessel removed and was claiming to be owed some amount for costs related to its storage.

         The evidence is unclear as to whether Gardiner attempted to remove the vessel from Thibert's property after the 2013 meeting. In any event, Gardiner did not in fact remove the vessel and it remained in Thibert's possession until 2016. At some point in 2016, Thibert listed the boat for sale on He specifically noted that there was an issue with respect to his not having title to the vessel.

         On April 11, 2016, Michael Arcidi paid Thibert $3, 000 for whatever interest Thibert had in the vessel. It is undisputed that Arcidi knew that Thibert was not the owner of legal title to the vessel. Arcidi registered the vessel in his home state of New Hampshire, where proof of title was not required.

         In 2016, Arcidi was in possession of the vessel and preformed extensive repairs that greatly improved its condition. Arcidi admittedly did not rely on the credit of the vessel in preforming this work. The evidence did not indicate the value of any improvements made to the vessel by Arcidi.

         On June 16, 2016, Arcidi was informed that his application to register the vessel with the Coast Guard and was denied because of Gardiner's conflicting affidavit of ownership.

         II. Conclusions of Law

         Gardiner initiated the present action, asking the Court to declare him the sole owner of the vessel and grant damages for conversion. Arcidi counterclaimed, asserting that he is entitled to possession of the vessel because he was granted ownership by Thibert. Additionally, he asserted counterclaims for maritime liens accruing from the ...

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