United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
E. FALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss filed by Reel Pipe,
LLC and C-Logistics, LLC. R. Doc. 20. USA Comserv, Inc.
opposes. R. Doc. 23. By order of the Court, both sides
submitted additional briefing. R. Docs. 32, 36. Having
considered the parties' briefs and the applicable law,
the Court now issues this Order and Reasons.
Comserv, Inc. (“USA Comserv”) chartered Reel
Pipe, LLC (“Reel Pipe”)'s vessel, the M/V
CAROL CHOUEST (the “Vessel”) to transport 850,
000 gallons of fuel to Puerto Rico. Under the terms of the
Charter, USA Comserv agreed to pay $20, 000 per day charter
hire; $1, 200 per day for C-Logistics LLC
(“C-Logistics”), an affiliate of Reel Pipe, to
coordinate the receiving, loading, and manifesting of all
equipment; and certain other defined expenses. Reel Pipe
invoiced USA Comserv after the 28-day charter period, but has
not been paid. Accordingly, it sued USA Comserv for breach of
the Charter and under Louisiana's Open Account statute.
answer, USA Comserv asserts that the Vessel was unfit for its
intended voyage. It brings counterclaims against Reel Pipe
and third-party claims against C-Logistics for breach of the
Charter; negligent misrepresentation; violations of the
Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act; and “recognition
of its maritime lien against the Vessel.”
issue here is Count 2 of USA Comserv's counterclaim,
titled “recognition of maritime lien.” R. Doc. 10
at 13. Specifically, “USA Comserv requests recognition
of its maritime lien against the Vessel for all damages
resulting from Reel Pipe's breach of the time
charter.” Id. Reel Pipe moved to dismiss this
claim under Rule 12(b)(6), arguing that USA Comserv had
waived its right to a lien under the terms of the Charter.
The Court, however, ordered supplemental briefing on a
potential issue that neither side had addressed: whether a
non-vessel owner can seek recognition of a maritime lien when
the Vessel is not before the Court.
Pipe now argues that this Court cannot adjudicate the merits
of USA Comserv's alleged maritime lien, since USA Comserv
did not assert an in rem claim against the Vessel,
did not name the Vessel as an in rem defendant, and
did not arrest the Vessel. USA Comserv counters that it seeks
only recognition - not enforcement - of its maritime lien, so
there is no requirement that the Vessel be arrested.
Alternatively, USA Comserv asserts that Reel Pipe waived its
objection to in rem jurisdiction by failing to raise
the issue in its 12(b)(6) motion.
LAW AND ANALYSIS
maritime lien “is an ancient and unique feature of
admiralty doctrine, ” Cardinal Shipping
Corp. v. M/S Seisho Maru, 744 F.2d 461, 466 (5th
Cir. 1984), that “developed as a necessary incident of
the operation of vessels.” Silver Star Enterprises,
Inc. v. Saramacca MV, 82 F.3d 666, 668 (5th Cir. 1996)
(internal quotations omitted). As the Fifth Circuit has
A maritime lien is not, like a dry-land lien, a security
interest arising from the personal obligation of the
vessel's owner under a contract. A maritime lien is based
instead on the fiction that the vessel may be a
defendant in a breach of contract action when the
vessel itself has begun to perform under the contract. While
the legal fiction of the personality of the vessel may seem
anachronistic, it is grounded in sound policy. The existence
of a maritime lien affords special protection to the party
who has been injured by a breach of contract and provides the
basis for in rem admiralty jurisdiction. The injured
party may arrest the vessel to ensure that should it prevail
in the breach of contract action, it will be able to satisfy
its judgment. The lien holder is therefore placed in a
privileged position in relation to other creditors who do not
have the security of a lien and must proceed in
personam against the owner of the vessel.
E.A.S.T. Inc. of Stamford v. M/V Alaia, 876 F.2d
1168, 1174 (5th Cir. 1898) (internal citations omitted).
vessel is “an entity apart from its owner, ” and
a maritime lien “represents a property interest
entirely distinct from an in personam right.”
Merchants Nat'l Bank of Mobile v. Dredge Gen. G.L.
Gillespie, 663 F.2d 1338, 1350, 1345. (5th Cir. 1981).
It “adheres to the vessel wherever it may go” and
“follow[s] the vessel even after it is sold to an
innocent purchaser.” Equilease Corp. v. M/V
Sampson, 793 F.2d 598, 602 (5th Cir. 1986). “Thus,
the maritime lien is a lien on the vessel, and only
indirectly, inasmuch as it conflicts with the owner's
rights in the vessel, it is connected with the owner.”
Id. (internal quotations omitted). “[T]he
in personam action is filed ...