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Coastal & Gulf Marine Transport, LLC v. Eastern Barge Services, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 31, 2018

COSTAL & GULF MARINE TRANSPORT, LLC
v.
EASTERN BARGE SERVICES, INC.

          SECTION: “J” (5)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          CARL J. BARBIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 46) filed by Plaintiff, Coastal & Gulf Marine Transport, LLC, and an opposition thereto (Rec. Doc. 47) filed by Defendant, Eastern Barge Services. Plaintiff has also filed a reply (Rec. Doc. 52). Having considered the motion and legal memoranda, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motion should be GRANTED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This Supplemental Rule D action arises from an ownership dispute regarding the M/V MISS ANN (“MISS ANN”). In 2012, Plaintiff, Coastal & Gulf Marine Transport, LLC (“CGMT”), contracted with Raymond & Associates, LLC (“R & A”), to build the MISS ANN. Following the completion of the vessel, CGMT entered into an oral bareboat charter agreement with Defendant, Eastern Barge Services (“EBS”), for the MISS ANN to trade in the vicinity of Houma, Louisiana. At that time, CGMT was composed of two 50% members: Linda Marra and Roy White. EBS, on the other hand, was wholly owned by Roy White.

         On January 5, 2017, Roy White died intestate. CGMT alleges that shortly thereafter, John White, the administrator of Roy White's estate, unilaterally terminated the charter agreement between CGMT and EBS. CGMT also alleges that EBS has maintained possession and now claims ownership of the vessel. On January 2, 2018, Linda Marra initiated the instant lawsuit on behalf of CGMT, seeking a decree that CGMT is the true and lawful owner of the MISS ANN. In addition, CGMT simultaneously moved for an issuance of a warrant of arrest, and the vessel was subsequently arrested on January 10, 2018.[1] Following the arrest, the Court held a show cause hearing, after which it concluded that CGMT had shown sufficient cause to maintain the arrest.

         CGMT now moves for judgment as a matter of law that it is the true and lawful owner of the MISS ANN. EBS has filed a timely opposition, and CGMT has filed a reply. The motion is now before the Court on the briefs and without oral argument.

         PARTIES' ARGUMENTS

         CGMT argues that it is the de jure owner of the MISS ANN, as evidenced by a bill of sale, which conveys to CGMT title to the MISS ANN, and various certificates of documentation issued by the United States Coast Guard (“USCG”), which list CGMT as the owner of the vessel. In addition, CGMT maintains that documented vessels, such as the MISS ANN, must be transferred via a bill of sale, and EBS has failed to cite to a bill of sale, or any other document, evidencing CGMT's intent to transfer ownership of the vessel.

         In contrast, EBS argues that it acquired ownership of the vessel in 2014 when CGMT's charter was revoked by the Louisiana Secretary of State. To this end, EBS maintains that summary judgment is inappropriate because genuine issues of material fact exist as to the status of CGMT as a business entity and Linda Marra's authority to act on its behalf. EBS also contends that the Court should deny CGMT's motion because a certificate of documentation is non-conclusive proof of ownership. Finally, EBS argues that a bill of sale is not necessary in order to overcome summary judgment because it is not the only method of transferring ownership of a vessel.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). When assessing whether a dispute as to any material fact exists, a court considers “all of the evidence in the record but refrains from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence.” Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 398 (5th Cir. 2008). All reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, but a party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated assertions. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. A court ultimately must be satisfied that “a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Delta, 530 F.3d at 399.

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party “must come forward with evidence which would ‘entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial.'” Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1264-65 (5th Cir. 1991). The nonmoving party can then defeat the motion by either countering with sufficient evidence of its own, or “showing that the moving party's evidence is so sheer that it may not persuade the reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in favor of the moving party.” Id. at 1265.

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by merely pointing out that the evidence in the record is insufficient with respect to an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who must, by submitting or referring to evidence, set out specific facts showing that a genuine issue exists. See Id. at 324. The nonmovant may not rest ...


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