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In re Urbelis

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 2, 2018

IN RE BENJAMIN P. URBELIS FOR EXONERATION FROM AND/OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY, CIVIL AND MARITIME

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this maritime action, Petitioner Benjamin P. Urbelis seeks exoneration from or limitation of liability in connection with an accident that occurred during a recreational outing on his power boat, the M/V NAUT GUILTY (the “Vessel”). Currently before the Court are a number of motions concerning whether non-party Alexander Williams, a passenger on the Vessel during the accident, should be involved in this action and in what capacity. Williams failed to file a claim for losses or damages before the September 25, 2015 deadline, and a default judgment entered against him. [ECF No. 49]. On July 21, 2017, the Court denied Williams' motion for leave to file a late claim. [ECF No. 111]. The now pending motions include: (1) Williams' motion for reconsideration of the denial of his motion for leave [ECF No. 128]; (2) claimant Chaparral Boats, Inc.'s (“Chaparral”) motion for leave to file a third-party complaint against Williams [ECF No. 124]; and (3) claimant Volvo Penta of the Americas, LLC's (“Volvo”) motion for leave to file a third-party complaint against Williams. [ECF No. 130]. For the following reasons, Williams' motion for reconsideration is DENIED and Chaparral's and Volvo's respective motions for leave to file a third-party complaint against Williams are GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 30, 2015, Urbelis and a number of other guests, including claimant Nicole Berthiaume and Williams, boarded the Vessel for a recreational outing on the Boston Harbor. [ECF Nos. 1 at 1; 63 at 1]. While the Vessel was anchored off of Spectacle Island, several of the people on the Vessel, including Berthiaume, jumped off of the Vessel to swim. Subsequently, someone aboard the Vessel started the engines. [ECF No. 63 at 1]. As Berthiaume attempted to swim back to the boat, she was injured by the engine's moving propellers. Id. Her injuries included, among other things, the loss of her dominant right arm below the shoulder, and other serious lacerations. Id.

         On June 17, 2015, Urbelis filed this action seeking exoneration from or limitation of liability for any damages or injuries resulting from the accident pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 30501 et seq., commonly known as the Limitation of Liability Act (“LOLA”). [ECF No. 1]. A court-appointed appraiser determined that the Vessel's fair market value was $29, 000, and the value of its pending freight was $0.00. [ECF No. 12]. On August 10, 2015, the Court ordered the issuance of notice to all potential claimants that they must file any claims by September 25, 2015 or be defaulted. [ECF No. 16]. The Court also enjoined all other lawsuits, actions, or proceedings against Urbelis pending the resolution of the LOLA action, including the civil action that was filed by Berthiaume against Urbelis, Williams, and other defendants in the Massachusetts Superior Court (the “State Court Action”). [ECF No. 53-1].

         Only Berthiaume, Chaparral, and Volvo filed timely claims and answers to the Complaint. [ECF Nos. 20, 22, 23]. Berthiaume claims $25, 000, 000 in damages and challenges Urbelis' right to limitation. [ECF No. 22 at 7-8]. Chaparral (the manufacturer of the Vessel) and Volvo (the manufacturer of the Vessel's engines that were in use at the time of the accident) both seek indemnification and/or contribution, from Urbelis or others, in the event that a judgment is rendered against them. [ECF No. 63 at 4].

         On October 8, 2015, a default judgment entered against all persons that had not filed timely claims. [ECF Nos. 42, 49]. Almost one year later, on September 19, 2016, Williams filed a motion for leave to file a late claim for contribution and indemnity. [ECF No. 72]. The motion noted that Williams had been named as a defendant in the State Court Action and identified as being involved in the operation of the Vessel during the outing on the Boston Harbor. [ECF No. 72 at 1]. Williams claimed that his filing was late because his civil defense counsel had been “appointed . . . by the underwriter for the [V]essel, ” and that granting leave would not in any way prejudice the other parties. [ECF No. 72 at 1-5]. As further described below, the Court held that Williams did not adequately explain his failure to timely file a claim and denied the motion. [ECF No. 111].

         During the pendency of Williams' motion for leave to file a late claim, on February 23, 2017, Berthiaume filed a motion for leave to amend her claim and answer to assert crossclaims against Williams, Chaparral, and Volvo. [ECF No. 96]. On July 21, 2017, the Court granted Berthiaume's motion with respect to asserting crossclaims against Chaparral and Volvo but denied the motion with respect to Williams, because he was not a party given the denial of his motion for leave to file a late claim. [ECF No. 112]. Berthiaume's amended pleading included crossclaims against Chaparral and Volvo for negligence, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, and products liability. [ECF No. 118 at 7-20].

         II. DISCUSSION

         The issue of whether Williams should participate in this action, and in what capacity, has been raised on multiple occasions in this case. The claimants have consistently maintained that Williams should be involved in this litigation in one way or another. Urbelis agrees that Williams may be liable for damages resulting from the boating accident at issue but his position has wavered as to how Williams should be involved in this action. At a scheduling conference held on September 20, 2016, where counsel for Chaparral stated that if Williams were not brought into the case, Chaparral “would probably seek leave to implead him, because he is obviously a critical part of this whole puzzle, ” [ECF No. 85 at 8:5-9], counsel for Urbelis acknowledged that Williams is likely “substantially liable for the incident” and “there [would be] no prejudice” if he were allowed to file a late claim. Id. at 9:7-14.[1] Moreover, when counsel for Berthiaume said that, “assuming Berthiaume asserts crossclaims against [Volvo] and Chaparral and Williams as part of this case, [he] foresee[s] this as a case in which at the end the Court would try the fault issues on those crossclaims as well and the only thing bifurcated to go back to State Court for a jury trial[, ] if [Berthiaume] prevails here[, ] would be damages, ” counsel for Urbelis (and Volvo) expressed agreement. Id. at 28:17-22, 29:9-12.

         Following the denial of Williams' motion for leave to file a late claim, and the allowance of crossclaims against Chaparral and Volvo, at a status conference on July 25, 2017, counsel for Chaparral and Volvo agreed in essence that “one way or another, [Williams] needs to be in this case.” [ECF No. 122 at 32:19-33:13]. Counsel for Berthiaume did not object to Williams' involvement as an impleaded third party, but counsel for Urbelis indicated that he would oppose a motion to implead Williams because he did not want Williams in the case since a default judgment had already been entered against him. Id. at 34:2-13; 36:2-18. Counsel for Williams suggested that he would file for reconsideration, which he did on September 15, 2017. Id. at 37:1-6; [ECF No. 128]. The fact that Williams is not currently a party to this litigation despite the universal acknowledgment that he may bear some responsibility has led to the filing of the motions currently pending before the Court.

         A. Williams' Motion for Reconsideration

         Williams seeks reconsideration of the Court's order denying his motion for leave to file a late claim. Although he does not clearly identify the basis for his motion, and “[t]he Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not specifically provide for the filing of motions for reconsideration, ” such motions are usually decided pursuant to either Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e)[2] or Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b).[3] Central Produce El Jibarito v. Luna Commercial Corp., 880 F.Supp.2d 282, 284 (D.P.R. 2012) (citation omitted). A motion is generally treated as filed pursuant to Rule 59(e) or Rule 60(b) based upon its filing date. Id. at 285 (citing Perez-Perez v. Popular Leasing Rental, Inc., 993 F.2d 281, 284 (1st Cir. 1993)). “If a motion is served within [28] days of the rendition of judgment, the motion will ordinarily fall under Rule 59(e).” Id. Here, Williams' motion for leave to file a late claim was denied on July 21, 2017. [ECF No. 111]. Even assuming, arguendo, that the order on the motion for leave to file a late claim constituted a judgment, Williams filed the motion for reconsideration on September 15, 2017, almost one month after the expiration of the 28-day period. Rule 60(b) therefore applies, although the resolution of the motion would be the same under either rule.[4]

         “The Court has ‘substantial discretion and broad authority to grant or deny' a motion for reconsideration made pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) or 60(b).” Provanzano v. Parker View Farm, Inc., 827 F.Supp.2d 53, 57 (D. Mass. 2011) (quoting Ruiz Rivera v. Pfizer Pharm., LLC, 521 F.3d 76, 81 (1st Cir. 2008)). As grounds for reconsideration, Williams argues newly discovered evidence, a manifest error of law, and the clear unjustness resulting from the Court's order denying him leave to file a late claim. See Ruiz Rivera, 521 F.3d at 81-82 (quoting Kansky v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of New England, 492 F.3d 54, 60 (1st Cir. 2007)) (“A court may appropriately grant a motion for reconsideration ‘where the movant shows a manifest error of law or newly discovered evidence.'”); Savini v. Ashland, Inc., No. 11-12277, 2013 WL 5218194, at *1 (D. Mass. Sept. 16, 2013) (quoting United States v. Allen, 573 F.3d 42, 53 (1st Cir. 2009)) (“motions for reconsideration are appropriate only in a ...


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