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In re Complaint of Heningburg

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

October 23, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF THE COMPLAINT OF PIERCE A. HENINGBURG & HEIDI H. HENINGBURG AS OWNERS OF UNNAMED, 1985 CRUISERS YACHTS 336 ULTRA-VEE BEARING HIN #CRS4425BD585 & STATE OF ALABAMA #AL-1449-AE FOR EXONERATION FROM OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY

          ORDER

          KRISTI K. DuBOSE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner's Rule 55(b)(2) and Supplemental Rule F(5) motion for entry of final default judgment against all non-filing parties. (Doc. 49).

         I. Background

         On July 9, 2019, Petitioner filed a Complaint for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability pursuant to the Shipowners' Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 30501-30512, and Supplemental Admiralty Rule F of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for any injuries, death, damages, or losses of whatever description arising from the March 7, 2019 fire at Grand Mariner Marina in Mobile, Alabama involving their 1985 CRUISERS YACHTS 336 ULTRA-VEE BEARING HIN #CRS4425BD585 & STATE OF ALABAMA # AL-1449-AE (the “Vessel”). (Docs. 1-4). On July 12, 2019, pursuant to Supplemental Rule F(4), the Court issued an Order Restraining Suits, Approving Limitation Plaintiffs' Security, Directing Issuance of Notice and the Filing of Claims. (Doc. 5). This Order required that the Notice be published in accordance with Supplemental Rule F and that Petitioner mail, not later than the day of the second publication, a copy of said Notice to every person known to have made any claim against Petitioner or the Vessel arising out the incident described in the Complaint. Said mailings and public notice were made. (Doc. 19-1; Doc. 19-2; Doc. 20). Pursuant to Supplemental Rule F(4), the Court's Order gave notice to all “persons or corporations” with claims with respect to the incident involving the Vessel on March 7, 2019. (Doc. 7). The Order and Notice directed that all persons having such claims must file them as provided for in Supplemental Rule F with the Clerk of Court and serve on or mail to Petitioners attorney a copy thereof, on or before August 15, 2019. (Id.)

         The deadline for receipt of Claims and Answers has expired. The following Answers and Claims were filed prior to expiration of the deadline: Dennis Pilarcyzk (Doc. 25); Sam Williams (Doc. 26); Grand Mariner Marina (Doc. 27); William Whitehall (Doc. 28); and Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company ao Terri Carrier (Docs. 21, 30). On August 16, 2019, Petitioner moved for a Clerk's Default against all non-filing/appearing parties. (Doc. 31). On August 21, 2019, per Fed.R.Civ.Proc. Rule 55(a), the Clerk entered a default against all non-filing parties. (Doc. 37). Petitioner moves for entry of default judgment as to all non-filing/appearing parties. (Doc. 49).

         II. Discussion

         As aptly summarized in the Matter of Freedom Marine Sales, LLC, 2019 WL 3848875, *1-2 (M.D. Fla. Jul 31, 2019) report and recommendation adopted 2015 WL 3835945 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 15, 2019) (entering default judgment against parties who failed to respond, answer or appear):

         In an action to exonerate or limit liability from claims arising out of maritime accidents, the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure set forth strict deadlines for providing notice to potential claimants and filing claims. Pursuant to Supplemental Rule F(4):

[T]he court shall issue a notice to all persons asserting claims with respect to which the complaint seeks limitation, admonishing them to file their respective claims with the clerk of the court and to serve on the attorneys for the plaintiff a copy thereof on or before a date to be named in the notice. The date so fixed shall not be less than 30 days after issuance of the notice. For cause shown, the court may enlarge the time within which claims may be filed. The notice shall be published in such newspaper or newspapers as the court may direct once a week for four successive weeks prior to the date fixed for the filing of claims. The plaintiff not later than the day of second publication shall also mail a copy of the notice to every person known to have made any claim against the vessel or the plaintiff arising out of the voyage or trip on which the claims sought to be limited arose.
Fed. R. Civ. P. Supp. F(4). Once such notice has been given, all claims “shall be filed and served on or before the date specified in the notice provided ...” Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. F(5). “If a claimant desires to contest either the right to exoneration from or the right to limitation of liability, the claimant shall file and serve an answer to the complaint unless the claim has included an answer.” Id.

In cases arising under these rules, a default judgment will be entered against any potential claimant who has failed to respond to public notice of a complaint for exoneration from and/or limitation of liability within the established notice period so long as the petitioner has fulfilled “[its] obligation to publish notice of the limitation proceeding ... the [n]otice expressly and clearly stated the deadline for filing a claim and/or answer ... and [the notice stated] that a consequence of failing to file a timely claim and/or answer was default and being forever barred from filing a claim and/or answer.” In re Petition of Holliday, No. 6:14-cv-1709-Orl-28DAB, 2015 WL 3404469, at *3 (M.D. Fla. May 26, 2015) (citation omitted); see also In the Matter of Reef Innovations, Inc., No. 11-cv-1703, 2012 WL 195531, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 6, 2012) (noting that a party seeking a default judgment on a complaint for exoneration from or limitation of liability must first publish a notice of the action in a newspaper for four consecutive weeks).

Petitioners fulfilled their obligation to publish a notice of the limitation proceeding once per week for four consecutive weeks….as required by Supplemental Rule F(4)…..Further, Petitioners have fulfilled their obligations by mailing, via certified mail, a copy of their Complaint and the Court's Order Approving Ad Interim Stipulation, Notice of Monition, and Injunction, to all known potential claimants to this Limitation proceeding required by Supplemental Rule F and Local Admiralty Rules.
The Court's Order and Notice of Monition expressly and clearly stated …. the deadline for filing a claim ….. and that a consequence of failing to file a timely claim was default ….The deadline mandated by the Court for filing claims has expired.….
Under these circumstances, Petitioners have demonstrated that an entry of default ...

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