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IVY Marine Consulting, LLC v. Monarch Energy Partners, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

March 13, 2019




         This matter comes before the Court on plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 61) and defendant's Motion to Strike Portions of Exhibit C (doc. 63). Although the parties did not fully avail themselves of briefing opportunities, both Motions are now ripe.

         I. Factual Background.[1]

         This action concerns an alleged breach of a charter agreement entered into between plaintiff, Ivy Marine Consulting, LLC, and defendant, Monarch Energy Partners, Inc. The barebones, single-count First Amended Complaint (doc. 16) alleges that Ivy Marine leased a certain barge vessel to Monarch Energy, but that Monarch Energy defaulted under the charter agreement by (i) failing to pay the $850 daily hire rate for 59 days, totaling $50, 150; and (ii)

         failing to return the vessel in a “gas free condition suitable to load #2 diesel, ” which will cost Monarch Energy the sum of $57, 775 to restore the vessel to that condition. (Doc. 16, ¶¶ 7-8.) On that basis, Ivy Marine demands judgment against Monarch Energy in the total amount of $110, 150, plus interest and court costs.[2] Federal jurisdiction is predicated on the diversity provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

         The parties entered into a Standard Time Charter (the “Agreement”), pursuant to which Ivy Marine agreed to let, and Monarch Energy agreed to hire, a barge vessel known as the MB6 (the “Barge”) at the rate of $850 per day, with an “on hire” date of July 6, 2017. (Doc. 61, Exh. A, at 1.) Monarch Energy agreed to pay that charter hire 30 days in advance and no later than 5 days after receiving an invoice, with late fees to be assessed at 12% per annum for payments not received by the applicable due date. (Id. at § 2.E.) The parties further agreed that the lease was for a period of five months and 29 days. (Id. at Amendment A.) An Amendment to the Agreement specified as follows: “If the barge is not returned to a fresh water port within the five months, twenty-nine days, there will be a penalty of $25, 000, and the charter agreement will continue until the MB 6 is returned to Ivy in a ‘cleaned' state.” (Id.)

         By the express terms of the Agreement, “Redelivery shall be made after the barge has been cleaned to the satisfaction of Ivy Marine, LLC and the owner of the barge, MB Barge.” (Id. at § 2.A.) The Agreement was devoid of any other description of the degree or specific nature of this “cleaning” requirement. It did not purport to delineate terms, degrees or standards for cleaning such as “gas-free” or “clean to diesel fuel.” Nor were such terms discussed at any time during the negotiation or execution of the Agreement. (Shrader Aff. (doc. 65, Exh. 1), ¶ 8.)

         Ivy Marine maintains that Monarch Energy breached the Agreement in two respects that form the basis of this litigation. First, plaintiff's evidence is that Monarch Energy failed to pay the agreed daily charter rate of $850/day for a 59-day period of the agreed term, running from November 2, 2017 through December 31, 2017. (Boles Aff. (doc. 61, Exh. C), ¶ 4.) For this alleged breach, Ivy Marine seeks to recover unpaid charter amounts of $50, 150, plus interest. Defendant's evidence shows that at some unspecified time during the charter term, “a tug picked the barge up from Ivy and departed with it for Lake Charles. It was gone about 20 days. [Monarch Energy] did not arrange or pay for the tug nor send the barge to Lake Charles.” (Shrader Aff., ¶ 19.)[3] Monarch Energy's position is that it is not responsible for the daily charter rate during that period. Defendant's evidence also reflects that Ivy Marine rented the Barge to a company called Rio Petroleum for at least some portion of the time period spanning December 19, 2017 through January 2, 2018. (Id., ¶ 21.) Monarch Energy objects that Ivy Marine has not given it credit for the Rio Petroleum rental period. (Id.)

         Second, Ivy Marine contends that Monarch Energy breached the Agreement by failing to comply with the requirement that the Barge be returned in a condition that was “cleaned to the satisfaction of Ivy Marine.” Monarch Energy conceded in a deposition that it did not clean the Barge upon redelivering it to Ivy Marine. (Shrader Dep., at 112.)[4] However, defendant's evidence is that Monarch Energy returned the Barge to Ivy Marine “in the same condition it was received, ” and that Ivy Marine neither cleaned nor caused the Barge to be cleaned at any time since 2010. (Shrader Aff., ¶ 10; Wilson Dep. (doc. 65, Exh. 5), at 40-41, 51.) In fact, defendant shows that Ivy Marine returned the Barge to “the same service carrying the same material following the expiration of Monarch's agreement with them.” (Shrader Aff., ¶ 10.) Thus, defendant's failure to clean the Barge did not compromise plaintiff's ability to lease it.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard.

         Summary judgment should be granted only “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.” Rule 56(a), Fed.R.Civ.P. The party seeking summary judgment bears “the initial burden to show the district court, by reference to materials on file, that there are no genuine issues of material fact that should be decided at trial.” Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). Once the moving party has satisfied its responsibility, the burden shifts to the non-movant to show the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. “If the nonmoving party fails to make 'a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof,' the moving party is entitled to summary judgment.” Id. (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986)) (footnote omitted). “In reviewing whether the nonmoving party has met its burden, the court must stop short of weighing the evidence and making credibility determinations of the truth of the matter. Instead, the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Tipton v. Bergrohr GMBH- Siegen, 965 F.2d 994, 999 (11th Cir. 1992) (internal citations and quotations omitted). “Summary judgment is justified only for those cases devoid of any need for factual determinations.” Offshore Aviation v. Transcon Lines, Inc., 831 F.2d 1013, 1016 (11th Cir. 1987) (citation omitted).

         III. Legal Analysis.

         In its minimalist Motion for Summary Judgment, supported by a brief spanning barely two pages in length and with no reply, Ivy Marine moves for judgment as a matter of law in its favor on the claim for breach of the charter agreement. Plaintiff's contention is that it is entitled to summary judgment as to both components of the claim, namely Monarch Energy's alleged (i) failure to pay the charter rate for 59 days of the agreed term; and (ii) failure to satisfy the contractual requirement that the Barge be returned to Ivy Marine in a “cleaned” state.

         “In order to establish a breach-of-contract claim, a plaintiff must show (1) the existence of a valid contract binding the parties in the action, (2) his own performance under the contract, (3) the defendant's nonperformance, and (4) damages.” City of Gadsden v. Harbin, 148 So.3d 690, 696 (Ala. 2013) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Ivy Marine's position, stated simply, is that the record unambiguously reflects that it has satisfied all of these elements with ...

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