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Blue Water Enterprises, Inc. v. Town of Palm Beach

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

September 6, 2017

BLUE WATER ENTERPRISES, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF PALM BEACH, FLORIDA, and the TOWN OF PALM BEACH POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KENNETH A. MARRA United States District Judge.

         This cause is before the Court upon Defendants Town of Palm Beach and Town of Palm Beach Police Department's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Verified Complaint [DE 9].[1] The Court has reviewed all papers submitted in connection with the motions, the entire file, and is otherwise duly advised in the premises. These motions are ripe for the Court's consideration.

         BACKGROUND FACTS

         The Verified Complaint in this action sets forth the following alleged facts. Plaintiff Blue Water Enterprises, Inc. is the owner of the M/Y Time Out. [DE 1 at ¶ 4]. On September 7, 2016, Thomas Henry Baker was navigating the M/Y Time Out from the Bahamas to Palm Beach, Florida when he suffered an engine failure as he neared the Palm Beach Inlet. [DE 1 at ¶14]. He called “mayday” seeking assistance and attempted to anchor his vessel about a half-mile off shore from the Town of Palm Beach. [Id. at ¶15]. Before help could arrive, five to seven foot seas and high winds pushed his vessel into the beach bow first in the Town of Palm Beach, just on the south side of the Palm Beach Inlet jetty. [Id. at ¶16].

         Town of Palm Beach police arrived and arrested Mr. Baker, charging him with boating under the influence. [Id. at ¶17]. Mr. Baker asked the police for the opportunity to make arrangements to secure his vessel, but this request was denied. The vessel was left floundering in rough surf and high winds. [Id. at ¶18]. Being unsecured and unattended, the vessel completely turned about in the rough seas and wind and within a few hours was astern to the shore taking on water and sand. [Id. at ¶22]. When Mr. Baker returned to the vessel, he was advised by the local towing and salvage companies that it was no longer possible to tow the vessel off the beach. [Id. at ¶23].

         The Verified Complaint alleges a claim for damages arising out of the failure of the Defendants to protect the vessel after Mr. Baker was arrested. [DE 1]. Plaintiff alleged that the incident at issue occurred on the navigable waters of the United States, and that it bears a substantial relationship to a traditional maritime activity and has the potential to disrupt maritime commerce. As such, Plaintiff alleges that this case falls within the Court's admiralty jurisdiction. [Id.].

         POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

         Defendants move to dismiss the Verified Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). They allege that there is no maritime jurisdiction, because the alleged incident did not occur on navigable waters, rather, it occurred on the beach. [DE 9 at 2]. They state that Plaintiffs have asserted a claim under Florida's “undertaker's doctrine, ” which they argue fails here as Plaintiff has not pled physical harm. They argue that Plaintiff's claims are based upon the allegedly negligent investigation by the Town's officers, which claims are barred by Florida law. Defendants state that the Police Department must be dismissed, because it is not a distinct legal entity. [Id.]. Finally, Defendants argue that this action is premature for failing to comply with the waiver of sovereign immunity rules set forth in Fla. Stat. §768.28. [DE 9 at 13].

         In response, Plaintiff argues that this case falls within the Court's admiralty jurisdiction [DE 10 at 2-5]; that Defendants have not provided any legal authority demonstrating that the Police Department is not a legal entity separate from the Town; that it is not relying upon Florida's undertaker's doctrine [Id. at 5-6]; that Plaintiff is not accusing Defendants of violation of their discretionary judgment in making an arrest, or of negligent investigation [Id. at 6]; and that Fla. Stat. 768.28 does not apply [Id. at 9-10].

         In reply, Defendants reiterate that Plaintiff's case fails the two-pronged test for admiralty jurisdiction [DE 11 at 2]; that Plaintiff has not established that a duty of care exists on the facts set forth in the Complaint [Id. at 5-10]; and that the Town Police Department is not a separate entity from the Town [Id. at 10].

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         As the Eleventh Circuit explained in Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525 (11th Cir. 1990),

Attacks on subject matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) come in two forms. “Facial attacks” on the complaint “require[ ] the court merely to look and see if [the] plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a basis of subject matter jurisdiction, and the allegations in his complaint are taken as true for the purposes of the motion.” . . . “Factual attacks, ” on the other hand, challenge “the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, irrespective of the pleadings, and matters outside the pleadings, such as testimony and affidavits, are considered.”

Id. at 1528-29 (Citations Omitted). Defendants argue that this case presents a situation where the attack on subject matter jurisdiction is factual; so, no presumption of truthfulness attaches to Plaintiff's allegations [DE 11 at 2].

         Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

         With respect to the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court observes first that Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a pleading contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” The Supreme Court has held that “[w]hile a complaint attacked by a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's 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. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quotations and citations omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Thus, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 1950.

         When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all of the plaintiff's allegations as true in determining whether a plaintiff has stated a claim for which relief could be granted. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984). As a general rule, the Court must “limit[] its consideration to the pleadings and exhibits attached thereto” when deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Gros ...


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