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In Admiralty N.E. Taylor Boatworks, Inc v. the M/V Sir Winston

November 2, 2011

IN ADMIRALTY N.E. TAYLOR BOATWORKS, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE M/V SIR WINSTON, A 118-FOOT POWER VESSEL, HER ENGINES, TACKLE, FURNITURE, EQUIPMENT, APPURTENANCES, ETC., IN REM, AND WINSTON KNAUSS, INDIVIDUALLY, IN PERSONAM, HER OWNER, DEFENDANTS.



ORDER

This cause comes before the Court pursuant to Defendants M/V Sir Winston and Winston Knauss' Motion for Summary Judgment as to Count I of Plaintiff N.E. Taylor Boatworks, Inc.'s Complaint (Doc. # 16) and the response thereto (Doc. # 22). For the reasons that follow, the motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

In the early morning hours of January 23, 2010, the M/V Sir Winston, a 118-foot dinner cruise vessel, ran aground off Longboat Pass, Florida. After Winston Knauss, the vessel's owner, failed to retain tow services from two separate companies, the Coast Guard asked Knauss and his crew to vacate the vessel. (Knauss Dep. Doc. # 22-3 p.38 ln.13-p.44 ln.7). Later that day, Knauss requested that Boatworks pump and tow the vessel from the sandbar. (Knauss Dep. Doc. # 22-3 p.63 ln.2-22); (Banyas Aff. Doc. # 24 at ¶4). Both parties signed a work order prior to service, the terms of which were $550 per hour plus expenses. (Doc. # 16-2 Exh. C). Although the type of work to be performed was not listed on the work order, Knauss stated the boat needed to be pumped out and towed off the sandbar. (Knauss Dep. Doc. # 22-3 p.76 ln.14-15).

Prior to signing the work order, both parties inspected the vessel. However, the actual signing of the work order occurred in a restaurant a number of hours after Knauss had been aboard the vessel (Knauss Dep. Doc. # 22-3 p.63 ln.10-15) and two hours after Boatworks had been aboard. (Doc. # 16). At the time the work order was signed, both Knauss and Boatworks' principal, John Banyas, were under the impression that pumping and towing were the only services necessary to free the vessel. Boatworks asserts that Knauss represented that "the engine rooms were not flooded, that he had sealed the water-tight doors, that the grounding was not that bad." (Doc. # 16-3 Exh. D).

Upon returning to the vessel, Banyas alleges both the condition of the vessel and the weather had worsened to the extent that the "vessel became, and was, in danger of heeling over completely and becoming a total loss." (Banyas Aff. Doc. # 24 at ¶11). As a result, Boatworks had to employ additional vessels and men to assist.*fn1 (Banyas Aff. Doc. # 24 at ¶15).

Boatworks delivered the vessel to Hendry's Shipyard in Tampa, Florida. (Doc. # 22). On February 10, 2010, Boatworks generated an invoice. That invoice, presented to Defendants, included charges of $57,110 for towing services as contracted and an additional $500,000 for salvage services. (Doc. # 16-5 Exh. F). Defendants have not made full payment.*fn2 (Doc. # 1).

On August 18, 2010, Boatworks filed a complaint for non-payment of services rendered. (Doc. # 1). The complaint contains two counts: Count I seeks a salvage award, and Count II asserts a maritime lien against the vessel. (Doc. # 1). Defendants seek summary judgment as to Count I. (Doc. # 16).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary Judgment shall be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) (emphasis added). A fact is material if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

The moving party carries the initial burden of demonstrating to the Court, by reference to materials on file, that there are no genuine issues of material fact that must be decided at trial. Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., 357 F.3d 1256, 1260 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). Once that burden is met, the responsibility shifts to the nonmoving party to put forward specific evidence showing a genuine issue of material fact remains. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

In making a summary judgment determination, the Court "must view all the evidence and all factual inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Stewart v. Happy Herman's Cheshire Bridge, Inc., 117 F.3d 1278, 1285 (11th Cir. 1997). "If there is a conflict between the parties' allegations or evidence, the non-moving party's evidence is presumed to be true and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the non-moving party's favor." Int'l Metalizing & Coatings, Inc. v. M&J Constr. Co. of Pinellas County, Inc., No. 8:09-cv-643-T-33AEP, 2010 WL 3517038, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 7, 2010) (citing Shotz v. City of Plantation, Fla., 344 F.3d 1161, 1164 (11th Cir. 2003)).

III. ANALYSIS

Boatworks alleges that, although the parties had initially contracted for towing, the Boatworks' crew found the named vessel in imminent marine peril not anticipated by the towage contract. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 17). Boatworks thereafter took emergency measures in severe conditions to salvage the vessel. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 18). Boatworks alleges that it reacted quickly to unanticipated perilous conditions and, in good faith, undertook extraordinary efforts far above and beyond towing the vessel. Accordingly, Boatworks seeks a salvage award in addition to the towing fees anticipated by the contract.

"'Salvage is the reward or compensation allowed by the maritime law for service rendered in saving maritime property, at risk or in distress, by those under no legal obligation to render it, which results in benefit to the property.'" Atlantis Marine Towing, Inc. v. The M/V Priscilla, 491 F. Supp. 2d 1096, 1099 (S.D. Fla. 2007) (quoting The Neshaminy, 228 F. 285, 288-89 (3rd Cir. 1915)). A salvage award is granted to a salvor as both compensation for risky service and as inducement for saving maritime property. Boat Raising & Reclamation v. Victory, No. ...


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