United States District Court, S.D. Florida
ORDER AND OPINION DENYING COUNTER-DEFENDANT CRAIG
BELL'S MOTION TO DISMISS AMENDED COUNTERCLAIM
M .M IDDLEBROOK S UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
CAUSE comes before the Court on Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant
Craig Bell's ("Bell") Motion to Dismiss Amended
Counterclaim ("Motion"), filed on February 3, 2017.
(DE 32). Defendants/Counter-Plaintiffs Beyel Brothers, Inc.
("Beyel Bros."), Michael Wayne Everett Kuchler
("Kuchler"), and Bert Ammons ("Amnions")
(collectively, the "Defendants" or
"Counter-Plaintiffs") filed a Response in
opposition on February 17, 2017 (DE 33), to which Bell
replied on February 24, 2017 (DE 34). For the reasons stated
below, the Motion is denied.
instant admiralty action concerns the allocation of liability
for personal injuries and property damage arising out of a
boat capsizing. (Amended Complaint (DE 6), hereinafter
"Complaint" or Compl., " at ¶ 1). Bell is
the owner of the boat in question, a 16' Twin Vee vessel
(the "vessel"). (Id. at ¶ 2).
Plaintiff Dennis Stanton ("Stanton, " with Bell,
the "Plaintiffs" or "Counter-Defendants")
is Bell's friend and was a passenger onboard the vessel.
(Id. at ¶ 3). Beyel Bros, is a Florida
corporation that, among other services, provides inland and
ocean towing. (Id. at ¶ 4). On March 9, 2016,
Bell and Stanton were fishing from the vessel in the Indian
River. (Id. at ¶ 7). At some point, "the
vessel's outboard gas engine failed."
(Id.). Although Plaintiffs tried to navigate the
vessel to a nearby boat ramp, the wind and tide caused it
instead to drift towards a "rocky area off
Fisherman's Warf Marina." (Id.).
Kuchler, a Beyel Bros, employee, maneuvered one the
company's "Jon Boats" to Bell's vessel.
(Id. at ¶ 8). Kuchler reached the vessel, tied
it to the Jon Boat, and began towing it toward a boat ramp.
(Id.). During this process, another Beyel Bros,
employee, Ammons, was operating the tugboat Brittany
Beyel. (Id. at ¶ 9). According to the Complaint,
the tugboat either collided with the vessel or produced a
"wash, " the result in either case being that Bell
and Stanton were thrown from the vessel into the water.
(Id.). Bell and Stanton both allegedly sustained
injuries from the ejection and Bell's vessel was damaged.
(Id. at ¶ 10).
filed a Complaint against Defendants on October 25, 2016 (DE
1), and amended it once, on November 16, 2016 (DE 6). The
Amended Complaint contains twelve counts, asserting
negligence and negligence per se by each Plaintiff
against each Defendant. (Id. at ¶¶ 14-85).
Defendants filed an Answer on December 2, 2016 (DE 13), which
included one counterclaim against Bell for contributory
negligence (id. at 12-13). On January 24, 2017, the
Court issued an order dismissing the counterclaim for failure
to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. (DE 28).
The dismissal was based on the absence of a theory of
causation connecting Bell's alleged breaches of duty to
Stanton's injuries. (Id. at 5-6).
January 27, 2017, three days after the dismissal order,
Defendants filed an Amended Counterclaim for contribution,
which sought to cure the deficiencies that the Court had
identified. (DE 29). The Amended Counterclaim is different
from its predecessor in the following respects: (1) rather
than alluding to "negligence" generally (DE 13 at
12-13), the new version refers specifically to the negligence
elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages (DE 29 at
2-3); (2) the catalogue of Bell's "breache[s]"
in the Amended Counterclaim (id.) is longer than,
and for the most part, distinct from, the violations and
failures labeled as "negligence" in the original
counterclaim (DE 13 at 12-13); and (3) the vessel's
capsizing is now described as the "direct and proximate
result of Bell's actions" (DE 29 at 3), where the
prior version had been silent on any such connection. In the
instant Motion, Bell again seeks to dismiss the Amended
Counterclaim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (DE 32 at 1).
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal
sufficiency of a complaint. See Fed. R. Civ. P.
12(b)(6). In assessing the legal sufficiency of a
complaint's allegations, the Court is bound to apply the
pleading standard articulated in Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). That is, the complaint
"must. . . contain sufficient factual matter, accepted
as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on
its face.'" Am. Dental Ass'n v. Cigna
Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1289 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "Dismissal is
therefore permitted when on the basis of a dispositive issue
of law, no construction of the factual allegations will
support the cause of action." Glover v. Liggett
Grp., Inc., 459 F.3d 1304, 1308 (11th Cir. 2006)
(internal quotations omitted) (citing Marshall Cty. Bd.
of Educ. v. Marshall Cty. Gas Dist, 992 F.2d 1171, 1174
(11th Cir. 1993)).
reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court must construe
plaintiffs complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff
and take the factual allegations stated therein as true.
See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007);
Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 406 (2002);
Brooks v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Fla.,
Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1369 (11th Cir. 1997). However,
pleadings that "are no more than conclusions, are not
entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions
can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be
supported by factual allegations." Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678; see also Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola Co.,
578 F.3d 1252, 1260 (11th Cir. 2009) (stating that an
unwarranted deduction of fact is not considered true for
purpose of determining whether a claim is legally
a plaintiff is not required to detail all the facts upon
which he bases his claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rather, Rule
8(a)(2) requires a short and plain statement of the claim
that fairly notifies the defendant of both the claim and the
supporting grounds. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56.
However, "Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a 'showing,
' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to
relief." Id. at 556, n.3. Plaintiffs
"obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his
'entitlement to relief requires more than labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action will not do." Id. at 555
(citation omitted). "Factual allegations must be enough
to raise [plaintiffs] right to relief above the speculative
level, on the assumption that all of the allegations in the
complaint are true." Id.
sole argument in favor of dismissal is that Defendants have
yet again failed to set forth allegations that establish the
causality prong of a negligence claim. In particular, he
contends that the counterclaim does not allege how
his alleged breaches caused the wash or collision between the
tugboat and vessel as the latter was being towed. Instead,
Bell maintains, the Amended Counterclaim merely lists more
types of breaches that led the vessel to drift, and then
assumes that these breaches "somehow" caused
Stanton's injuries. (DE 32 at 4). Defendants respond that
the issue is not whether the Amended Counterclaim adequately
alleges facts that could support the theory that Bell caused
the wash or the collision, but whether it adequately alleges
that "Stanton's injuries were proximately
caused or contributed to by Bell's breaches." (DE 33
at 6) (emphasis in original). Alternatively, Defendants argue
that, even if the relevant inquiry centers on the cause of
the vessel's capsizing, "any one of or all of the
allegations, taken as true, could have" produced that
result. (Id. at 7).
the federal rules "do not prescribe a heightened
pleading standard for maritime negligence claims",
Everhart v. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Civ. No.
07-23098, 2008 WL 717795, at *3 (S.D. Fla. 2008) (Martinez,
J.), the sufficiency of Defendants' Amended Counterclaim
is governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In order to make out a
claim under that rule, it is not necessary for the plaintiff
to "specifically plead every element of a cause of
action." Roe v. Aware Woman Ctr. For Choice,
Inc.,253 F.3d 678, 683 (11th Cir. 2001). Allegations
are assessed cumulatively such that "[t]here need not be
a one-to-one relationship between any single allegation and a
necessary element of the cause of action."
Rodriguez-Reyes v. MolinaRodriguez, 711
F.3d 49, 55 (1st Cir. 2013). At the same time, "it is
still necessary that a [pleading] contain either direct or
inferential allegations respecting all the material elements
necessary to sustain a recovery under some viable legal
theory." Roe, 253 F.3d at 683 (quoting In