United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
CONTINENTAL INSURANCE COMPANY, ET AL.
L&L MARINE TRANSPORTATION, INC., ET AL
ORDER AND REASONS
L. C. FELDMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is River Ventures' motion for summary judgment.
For the following reasons, the motion is DENIED.
incident giving rise to this pending lawsuit began on
December 29, 2013 on the Mississippi River. On that evening,
the M/V ANGELA RAE, owned by C.J.L., Inc. and operated by L&L
Marine Transportation, Inc., was traveling southbound with
the FSP 101 barge. The M/V FREEDOM (owned and operated by
River Ventures) and the M/V MISS DOROTHY were traveling in
the same direction; both vessels attached a line to the FSP
101 barge. The FREEDOM was on the port side of the barge and
the MISS DOROTHY was on the starboard side, with the ANGELA
RAE face-up and in control, at least to some extent, of the
the voyage, Captain Colomb, captain of the MISS DOROTHY,
informed the ANGELA RAE that the MISS DOROTHY needed to
change fuel filters. However, that change did not happen
immediately. Instead, approximately 30 minutes prior to
reaching the Sunshine Bridge, Captain Colomb ordered his
deckhands, Joshua Deranger and Matt Lynch, to change the fuel
filters. In order to complete the task, the deckhands shut
down the MISS DOROTHY's starboard engine. This shutdown
allegedly caused a drag on the flotilla. The captain on the
ANGELA RAE attempted to inform the MISS DOROTHY of the drag
it was causing, and he allegedly received a response that the
MISS DOROTHY would give “more straight rudder.”
When the flotilla attempted to pass under the Sunshine
Bridge, however, the MISS DOROTHY allided with bridge; the
vessel was deemed a total loss.
the incident, multiple lawsuits were filed and consolidated
into this civil proceeding pending before this Court. One of
the actions that resulted is River Ventures, L.L.C.'s
limitation of liability action. River Ventures was the owner
and operator of the FREEDOM; several parties have filed
claims against River Ventures as part of the limitation
proceeding. River Ventures now moves the Court to grant
summary judgment in its favor, dismissing all claims against
it as it pertains to the limitation proceeding.
Rule of Civil Procedure 56 instructs that summary judgment is
proper if the record discloses no genuine dispute as to any
material fact such that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. No genuine dispute of fact
exists if the record taken as a whole could not lead a
rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party.
See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio.,
475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). A genuine dispute of fact exists
only "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict for the non-moving party."
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
Court emphasizes that the mere argued existence of a factual
dispute does not defeat an otherwise properly supported
motion. See id. Therefore, "[i]f the evidence
is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative,
" summary judgment is appropriate. Id. at
249-50 (citations omitted). Summary judgment is also proper
if the party opposing the motion fails to establish an
essential element of his case. See Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In this regard,
the non-moving party must do more than simply deny the
allegations raised by the moving party. See Donaghey v.
Ocean Drilling & Exploration Co., 974 F.2d 646, 649 (5th
Cir. 1992). Rather, he must come forward with competent
evidence, such as affidavits or depositions, to buttress his
claim. Id. Hearsay evidence and unsworn documents
that cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible
in evidence at trial do not qualify as competent opposing
evidence. Martin v. John W. Stone Oil Distrib.,
Inc., 819 F.2d 547, 549 (5th Cir. 1987); Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c)(2). Finally, in evaluating the summary judgment motion,
the Court must read the facts in the light most favorable to
the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.
damages involve a tow or an entire flotilla, courts employ
the ‘dominant mind' doctrine to ‘place
liability on the tug and absolve the tow from
liability.'” N.M. Paterson & Sons, Ltd. v. M/V
Ethel E., No. 01-7325, 2004 WL 170326, at *3 (N.D.Ill.
Jan. 14, 2004) (quoting In re TT Boat Corp., No.
98-494, 1999 WL 123810, at *3 (E.D. La. Mar. 3, 1999)).
“The ‘dominant mind' doctrine provides that
the vessel that is liable is the vessel whose people are
actually in control of the operation.” Id.
(citing Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Progress Marine Inc.,
No. 77-463, 1980 A.M.C. 1637 (E.D. La. Aug. 24, 1979),
aff'd, 632 F.2d 893 (5th Cir. 1980)). A tug is
considered the “dominant mind” when it provides
the motive power. See id. “A tug that tows the
tow into collision is presumed to be at fault, especially if
that collision is with a stationary object.” N.M.
Patterson, 2004 WL 170326, at *3 (citing Ryan Walsh
Stevedoring Co. v. James Marine Serv., Inc., 557 F.Supp.
457, 461 (E.D. La. 1983)). “If the tug is the
‘dominant mind, ' the tug is responsible for
knowledge of navigational conditions, including knowledge of
channels, depth of water, obstructions, pipelines and other
dangers to her tow.” Id.
a helper tug merely furnishes power in obedience to orders
from the primary tug without any negligence on its
part, it should be exonerated from all liability for
damages to the tow.” Complaint of Patton-Tully
Transp. Co., No. 79-2315, 1982 WL 195694, 1983 A.M.C.
1288, 1299 (E.D. La. Sept. 24, 1982) (emphasis added);
see also Moran Towing & Transp. Co. v. Empresa Hondurena
De V., 194 F.2d 629 (5th Cir. 1952). However, a tug is
not always immune from liability when it is not the
“dominant mind.” Patton-Tully, 193
A.M.C. at 1299-1300. “A helper tug will be deemed at
fault when it fails to comply with the lead tug's
orders.” Id. at 1300 (citing Panama Canal
Co. v. Sociedad de Transportes Maritimos, 272 F.2d 726
(5th Cir. 1959). Another court has expounded on
As Patton-Tully makes clear, however, as assist
vessel must be free of negligence to be absolved from
liability. If the non-dominant party ‘breached a duty
or acted in a negligent manner that contributed to the
damages … [it] may be held partially or solely
of the Complaint of Ingram Barge Co., No 13-3453, 2016
WL 1450027, at * 9 (N.D.Ill. Apr. 13, 2016) (alterations in
original)(internal citations omitted).
case history makes clear that an assist tug does not escape
liability under the “dominant mind” doctrine when
the assist tug is found negligent in some manner. Therefore,
the question before this Court is whether the FREEDOM was
negligent in any manner, such that she does not escape
liability under the “dominant mind” theory.