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Minott v. M/Y Brunello

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

June 6, 2018

JOHN MINOTT, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
M/Y BRUNELLO, Official No. 71147, her engines, tackle, and appurtenances, in rem, BRUNELLO YACHT CHARTERS, LTD., a foreign corporation, as owner of the M/Y Brunello, DERECKTOR FLORIDA, INC., a Florida corporation, XYZ CORPORATION(S), marine contractors, JOHN DOE, as captain of the M/Y Brunello, Defendants-Appellees.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 1:17-cv-22856-KMW

          Before MARCUS, WILLIAM PRYOR, and ROSENBAUM, Circuit Judges.

          WILLIAM PRYOR, Circuit Judge:

         This appeal from the denial of a warrant in rem for the arrest of a vessel requires us to decide whether we have interlocutory jurisdiction, and if so, whether John Minott established that the injury he allegedly suffered while boarding the Brunello entitles him to a warrant in rem for the arrest of the vessel. Minott filed a complaint against the Brunello and other parties alleging that he was entitled to enforce a maritime lien against the Brunello for damages arising from a maritime tort. He then moved the district court to direct the clerk to issue a warrant in rem for the arrest of the Brunello, but the district court denied the motion. In addition to expressing doubt about whether Minott's claim fell within its maritime jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1333, the district court ruled that Minott's claim did not "give[] rise to a 'maritime lien' supporting the in rem seizure of the [v]essel" based on the erroneous premise that maritime liens arise only by statute and not by operation of the general maritime law. It also denied Minott's motion for reconsideration. We have interlocutory jurisdiction, id. § 1292(a)(3), Minott's claim for a maritime tort against the Brunello falls within the admiralty jurisdiction of the district court, id. § 1333(1), and Minott is entitled to a warrant in rem, Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. R. C(3)(a)(i). We reverse and remand with instructions to direct the clerk to issue a warrant in rem for the arrest of the Brunello.

          I. BACKGROUND

         John Minott worked for Butch Kemp Designs, a marine engineering firm hired to perform maintenance and repairs aboard the Brunello while it was docked in navigable waters in Dania, Florida. Minott attempted to board the vessel, but when he was walking up the gangway "the [v]essel['s] captain or crew, suddenly and without warning, put the engines in gear, causing the gangway . . . to detach from the [v]essel and fall overboard, together with [Minott]." Minott suffered "severe injuries to his head, neck, and spine."

         Minott filed a "verified complaint to enforce a maritime lien for damages arising from a maritime tort" in the district court. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(h); S.D. Fla. Adm. & Mar. R. B(2). The complaint asserted an in rem claim against the Brunello and in personam claims against other individual and corporate defendants. Minott then moved the district court to direct the clerk to issue a warrant in rem for the arrest of the vessel. See Fed. R. Civ. P. Supp. R. C(3)(a)(i); S.D. Fla. Adm. & Mar. R. B(3)(a). He explained that the tort was "cognizable under admiralty jurisdiction, " that he was "entitled to a maritime lien, " that he was "entitled to arrest the [v]essel and litigate directly against [it] in rem, " and that the vessel was "transitory in nature and at risk of leaving the jurisdiction of [the district court] if not immediately arrested."

         The district court denied the motion without prejudice after finding that Minott failed to "establish good cause for the issuance of a warrant in rem." It concluded that a maritime tort cannot "form the basis for a maritime lien" and cited a federal statute, 46 U.S.C. § 31342, that grants a lien to "a person providing necessaries to a vessel." The district court also explained that its "uncertainty" whether Minott's "claim [fell] under maritime jurisdiction . . . weigh[ed] against issuing a warrant." Although it did not decide the question, the district court suggested that it lacked jurisdiction because Minott's "activity . . . [was] not significantly tied to maritime activity" and his accident had "minimal" potential to "disrupt[] . . . maritime commerce."

         Minott moved for reconsideration and cited caselaw where plaintiffs filed in rem actions against vessels for maritime torts. The district court denied the motion. It explained that Minott's original motion sought a warrant only "based on 46 U.S.C. [section] 31301(5)(B)" and that he could not "raise [new] arguments" that he was "entitled to a warrant of arrest under [other] authorities." It also explained that these authorities "still . . . [failed to] convince [it] that alleged tort victims . . . are entitled to issuance of a warrant of arrest in rem upon filing a complaint."

         Minott appealed and invoked our interlocutory jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(3).

          II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "Whether a party's claim[] give[s] rise to a maritime lien is a legal question that is reviewed de novo, " Salvors, Inc. v. Unidentified Wrecked & Abandoned Vessel, 861 F.3d 1278, 1297 (11th Cir. 2017), as is "[t]he [d]istrict [c]ourt's application of admiralty law and the local rules implementing that law, " Isbrandtsen Marine Servs. v. M/V Inagua Tania, 93 F.3d 728, 733 (11th Cir. 1996). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Supplemental Rule C, we review the facts alleged in the "complaint and . . . supporting papers" to determine "[i]f the conditions for an in rem action [and warrant] appear to exist." Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. R. C(3)(a)(i) (italics added).

         III. DISCUSSION

         We divide our discussion in two parts. First, we explain that we have interlocutory jurisdiction over this appeal. Second, we explain that the district court erred when it refused to direct the ...


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