United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division
IN RE DOUBLE C. MARINE LLC ET AL
WHITEHURST MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MICHAEL J. JUNEAU UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is a Motion to Bifurcate, or in the Alternative, a
Motion to Empanel Jury to be Finders of Fact for
Claimant's Damage filed by Paul Jones
(“Jones”) Rec. Doc. , and a Memorandum in
Opposition filed by Barbara Ann LLC, and Double C Marine LLC,
(“Barbara Ann and Double C”), Rec. Doc. .
For the following reasons, the Motion to Bifurcate is
matter arises out of an allision that occurred on January 28,
2014 between the ANDERS ELEVATOR, a liftboat owned by Anders,
and a barge in the tow of the M/V CAROLINE G, a vessel owned
by Barbara Ann and chartered by Double C. Jones, who was
working aboard the ANDERS ELEVATOR at the time of the
allision, claims to have sustained physical
April 7, 2014, Jones filed a Jones Act and general maritime
personal injury lawsuit against Double C, Barbara Ann, and
Anders in Louisiana state court pursuant to the
“savings to suitors” clause,  28 U.S.C.
§1333, and demanded a jury trial pursuant to 46 U.S.C.
two limitation proceedings were filed in this Court. On July
9, 2014, Double C, as operator/bareboat charterer, and
Barbara Ann, as owner of the M/V CAROLINE G, filed a
Complaint for Exoneration or Limitation of Liability
(hereinafter the “Double C Limitation” assigned
Civil Action No. 14-2273). Thereafter, on July 28, 2014,
Anders filed a Verified Complaint for Exoneration from or
Limitation of Liability (hereinafter the “Anders
Offshore Limitation” assigned Civil Action No.
14-2390). In conjunction with these filings, this Court
issued orders enjoining the prosecution of Jones' state
court lawsuit, Rec. Doc. 4. The Limitation
Proceedings were consolidated in this Court on April 9, 2015,
Rec. Doc. 30.
March 6, 2019, Jones re-urged his Motion to Bifurcate,
Rec. Doc. . Barbara Ann and Double C Marine
have opposed the Motion, Rec. Doc. . On March
20, 2019, Jones and Anders informed the Court that they
settled their claims, and a 60 Day Order of Dismissal was
therefore entered terminating the Anders Limitation - Civil
Action 14-2390, Rec. Doc. 180. As part of the
settlement, Anders assigned to Jones the claim it asserted
against Double C and Barbara Ann for contribution for amounts
it has paid Jones for maintenance and cure.
Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C.A. §§ 30501 -
30512, permits a shipowner facing potential liability for a
maritime accident to file a petition in federal court to
limit its liability. The Limitation of Liability Act provides
that if the shipowner did not have “privity or
knowledge” of the vessel's fault relative to the
accident in question, the owner's liability is limited to
“the amount or value of the interest of such owner in
such vessel, and her freight then pending.” 46 U.S.C.A.
§ 30505(a). The limitation proceeding is therefore
comprised of a two-step analysis: the court must first,
determine whether the vessel's acts render it liable to
the injured claimant and, second, whether the shipowner had
knowledge or privity of these negligent acts. See generally
Thomas J. Schoenbaum, 2 Admiralty and Maritime Law §
15.8 (6th ed. 2018).
statutory right of a vessel owner to seek a limitation of
liability in federal court directly conflicts with the right
of a complainant to seek a common law remedy in state court
pursuant to the “saving to suitors” clause of 28
U.S.C. § 1333(1). That statute grants federal district
courts exclusive jurisdiction over “[a]ny civil case of
admiralty or maritime jurisdiction, saving to suitors in all
cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise
entitled.” 28 U.S.C. § 1333. The Fifth Circuit has
explained that “[t]he saving to suitors clause evinces
a preference for jury trials and common law remedies in the
forum of the claimant's choice.” Odeco Oil
& Gas Co. v. Bonnette, 74 F.3d 671, 674 (5th Cir.
1996). Keeping in mind the tension that exists between the
two statutes, the federal district court's “primary
concern is to protect the shipowner's absolute right to
claim the [Limitation] Act's liability cap, and to
reserve the adjudication of that right in the federal
CLAIMS OF THE PARTIES AND ANALYSIS
exercise his “saving to suitors” option and to
pursue his claims in state court, Jones seeks to bifurcate
the case to ensure that the only issue resolved in the
federal forum is the exoneration and/or limitation of
liability question and to reserve to the state court all
non-limitation issues. In support of his Motion, Jones
asserts that Fed.R.Civ.P. 42 gives this Court discretion to
bifurcate and that bifurcation protects all the parties'
interests in this matter.
Ann and Double C, on the other hand, urge this Court to
determine their initial liability and to also apportion fault
among all potentially liable parties. In support of their
position, they claim that if the district court determines
that the owner is entitled to limit liability, the district
court in the limitation action should also determine the
liability of the owner (fault) and the damages of each
claimant, allocating to all claimants a pro rata share of the
limitation fund. They go onto contend that only if limitation
is denied are the claimants released to prosecute their
claims as the stays of the other proceedings against the
owner would then properly be lifted. ...