United States District Court, S.D. Florida
BLOOM, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
CAUSE is before the Court upon Universal Marine
Center's (“UMC”) Motion for Payment of
Custodia Legis Expenses, ECF No. 
(“Motion”). The Court has reviewed the Motion,
all supporting and opposing filings, the record in this case,
and is otherwise fully advised. For the reasons that follow,
the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.
Captain Janz Staats (“Staats”), filed a Verified
Complaint in rem under the Federal Maritime Lien Act
to foreclose a preferred maritime lien encumbering the M/Y
Golden Compass (the “Vessel”) for unpaid
seaman's wages. See ECF No. . Staats also
concurrently filed a Motion to Appoint UMC as a substitute
custodian pursuant to Local Admiralty Rule E(10)(c),
attaching the Declaration of Bernard Callot who stated UMC
would provide adequate facilities and supervision for the M/Y
Golden Compass in exchange for $250 per day to keep the
vessel in custody and perform verification of the bilges and
pumps and another $420 per day for dockage and security.
See ECF No. , [3-1]. On the following day, the
Court entered an order appointing UMC as the substitute
custodian and ordering it to retain M/Y Golden Compass in its
custody for safekeeping for the compensation described in the
motion. See ECF No. . Months into the litigation,
John Jaffe (“Jaffe”), as an Intervening
Plaintiff, filed a Motion for Interlocutory Sale of the
Vessel, which this Court granted on July 7, 2017.
See ECF Nos. , , and . Prior to the
sale of the Vessel, its owners filed an Unopposed Emergency
Motion requesting a stay of the interlocutory sale because a
private buyer was interested in purchasing the Vessel.
See ECF No. . The Court granted the stay
through September 18, 2017. See ECF No. . On
September 25, 2018, the owners informed the Court of their
inability to secure the buyer; therefore, the Court once
again ordered the sale of Vessel. See ECF Nos. 
and . At the public sale, Jaffe, as the highest bidder,
purchased the Vessel and the Clerk of Court confirmed the
sale following the expiration of the objection period.
See ECF No.  and .
seeks payment of its outstanding custodia legis
expenses prior to its release of the Vessel to Jaffe.
See ECF No. . The Court notes that, on or about
June 30, 2017, Jaffe made an interim payment of custodia
legis expenses to UMC in the amount of $137, 546.08
representing his pro rata share of the expenses.
See ECF No. . Thus, UMC is seeking to collect
the amount of custodia legis expenses incurred since
then, which total $199, 015.96 as of December 15, 2017.
See ECF No. . Jaffe is in agreement with the
payment of outstanding dockage fees as well as other storage
fees incurred in connection with storing the Vessel's
miscellaneous engine parts, an old dinghy and ship furniture.
See ECF No. . However, Jaffe objects to the
payment of a daily $250 custodial fee, which he characterizes
as a “watchman” fee, gate fees, and sales tax.
Id. In addition, Jaffe asks the Court to stay its
Order on this Motion and allow him to inspect the Vessel
“to ensure that UMC properly executed their duties as
substitute custodian and to adjust and/or credit Jaffe
accordingly for any damage incurred.” Id.
well settled that the expenses incurred in operating and
caring for a vessel while in the custody of the court are
considered “expenses of justice” subject to
reimbursement. See Donald D. Forsht Assocs., Inc. v.
Transamerica ICS, Inc., 821 F.2d 1556, 1561-62 (11th
Cir. 1987) (citing New York Dock Co. v. Steamship
Poznan, 274 U.S. 117 (1927)). See also Associated
Metals & Minerals Corp. v. Alexander Unity MV, 41
F.3d 1007, 1018 (5th Cir. 1995) (quoting Gen. Elec.
Credit & Leasing Corp. v. Drill Ship Mission
Exploration, 668 F.2d 811, 816 (5th Cir. 1982))
(“[S]ervices or property advanced to preserve and
maintain the vessel under seizure, furnished upon authority
of the court or an officer of the court . . . should be
allowed as custodia legis expenses.”);
Int'l Ship Repair & Marine Servs., Inc. v. Caribe
Sun Shipping, Inc., No. 8:12-cv-1651-T-33TGW, 2013 WL
24794 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 2, 2013) (finding that a substitute
custodian is entitled to collect actual expenses incurred for
the keeping of the vessel, such as storage, moving, boat
hire, or other special transportation, or keepers' fees,
insurance, and hourly rates for guarding, inventorying and
question presented is whether UMC is entitled to all expenses
claimed as the substitute custodian. As of December 15, 2017,
UMC is seeking to recover dockage fees at a daily rate of
$420, custodial fees at a daily rate of $250, $8, 200 in gate
fees, $10, 634.40 in sales tax, and $13, 625 in storage fees.
Because Jaffe does not object to UMC's recovery of
dockage fees or storage fees, the Court only addresses the
remaining disputed fees. Starting with the custodial fees,
the Motion to Appoint UMC as a substitute custodian specified
the proposed custodial charge of $250.00 per day-the exact
rate UMC now seeks to recover. See ECF No. ,
[3-1]. Although Jaffe argues there is no evidence that UMC
hired a “watchman” to justify this expense, this
Court previously approved such a daily charge and stated that
UMC would be entitled to recover it. See ECF No.
. Further, when assessing interim custodia legis
expenses, this Court already determined that these fees were
recoverable. See ECF No. . UMC also presented
the Declaration of Captain Bernard Calot in which he
confirmed that, during the custodial period, UMC regularly
inspected the Vessel, including verifying the bilges and
pumps. See ECF No. [129-1]. As such, the Court sees
no basis to deny UMC its custodial expenses, especially when
these expenses have already been approved twice.
sales tax, however, UMC does not explain why it is charging a
six percent sales tax on custodial services. In his Response,
Jaffe points out that it would be inappropriate for UMC to
charge sales tax on services as no goods were sold that would
justify the imposition of such a tax. See ECF No.
 at 6-7. Neither UMC's Motion nor Reply explains why
UMC, as the substitute custodian, is entitled to recover
sales tax for its services or provides any authority in
support of such a request. See ECF Nos.  and
. Thus, the Court sees no basis to award sales tax as a
custodia legis expense.
Jaffe objects to UMC's attempt to tax gate fees. In
essence, UMC attempts to recover $8, 200 in fees, which
appear to be a per-person fee that UMC charged for each
individual it allowed to set foot on the Vessel while in its
custody. UMC acknowledges that it did not obtain the
Court's approval to charge such gate fees in advance, but
it nonetheless seeks to recover them from Jaffe. See
ECF No.  at ¶ 2. In response, Jaffe points out that
the Order allowing for the interlocutory sale of the Vessel
required that any “interested person” who visits,
boards, inspects, examines, or surveys the Vessel would do so
at his or her sole expense and risk. See ECF No.
. UMC, in turn, acknowledges this language within the
Order but argues that such language does not encompass
“the Owner's agents who were preparing the
Vessel” for sale. ECF No. . However, UMC, as the
party seeking to recover custodia legis expenses,
has not provided the Court any specific information to
demonstrate that the individuals on the boat were not an
“interested person” or were otherwise present in
a different capacity. The Court acknowledges that UMC has
attached a log to its Motion with certain information, but
UMC did not provide the Court with any details by which to
interpret the log. Further, even if the Court made certain
assumptions about the log in an effort to interpret it, the
log is incomplete. UMC attempts to recover gate fees for the
months of October, November, and December 2016 as well as
January, February, March, April, May, June, July, September
and October of 2017, but the log only contains entries for
the months of November 2016 and January, February, March, May
and July of 2017. See ECF No. [121-1]. Given
UMC's failure to seek Court approval to charge gate fees
and its failure to otherwise demonstrate how such fees
constitute custodia legis expenses, the Court
declines to award them.
the Court addresses Jaffe's request that the Court stay
its decision, allow him the opportunity to inspect the
Vessel, and schedule an evidentiary hearing to determine
whether UMC allowed the Vessel to deteriorate. Jaffe's
request is based on a report from an individual named Rick
Pineiro who was apparently allowed to board the Vessel on
some unknown occasion(s). See ECF No.  at 4.
The Court declines Jaffe's invitation to further postpone
the issue. The July 7, 2017 Order requiring the interlocutory
sale of the Vessel required that UMC make the Vessel
available for inspection “at the request of any
interested person.” See ECF No.  at 2.
Jaffe could have inspected the Vessel at any point during the
last five months, but he fails to explain why, to this date,
he has yet to inspect the Vessel, especially when he
successfully bid on it at the public auction. A delay of this
decision will only result in increased custodia
legis fees while this matter is stayed - an outcome
that, according to Jaffe, would cause him to “suffer
additional economic damages.” ECF No.  at 2. By
means of this Order, the Court is not precluding Jaffe from
inspecting the Vessel. In fact, once Jaffe inspects it, if he
finds that UMC allowed the Vessel to deteriorate, he may file
an appropriate motion with the Court. Until such time,
however, the Court declines any invitation to delay this
decision on UMC's entitlement to custodia legis
expenses. Accordingly, it is
AND ADJUDGED that UMC's Motion, ECF No.
, is GRANTED in part and DENIED in
part as follows:
1. UMC is awarded dockage fees at a daily rate of $420,
custodial fees at a daily rate of $250, and $13, 625 in
2. The spreadsheets attached to UMC's Motion and Reply
reflect that Jaffe has made two payments in the amounts of
$137, 546.08 and $36, 987.75. Therefore, UMC must credit
Jaffe for the amount of such payments.
3. On or before January 20, 2018, Jaffe must
pay UMC all outstanding dockage fees, custodial fees, and
storage fees then due consistent with this Order.
AND ORDERED in Miami, Florida, this 19th day ...