United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division
IN THE MATTER OF THE COMPLAINT OF PROSPER OPERATIONS, INC. AS OPERATORS OF THE MOTOR VESSEL AMBER, FOR EXONERATION FROM OR LIMITATION OF LIABILTY
the court is a Motion to Modify Court's Monition Order to
Extend Time to Publish Notice filed by petitioner Prosper
Operations, Inc (“Prosper”). Doc.
The motion is opposed by claimant Mitchell Navarre. Doc. 34.
For the following reasons, the motion will be
case originates from injuries Mitchell Navarre allegedly
sustained on June 14, 2015 while performing his duties as a
seaman aboard a 25-foot jo-boat, owned and operated by
Prosper. Doc. 34, att. 1, p. 1. On April 7, 2016, Navarre
filed suit against Prosper in the 38th Judicial
District Court, Cameron Parish, Louisiana (hereafter
“Navarre's Suit”). Id. On September
28, 2016, Prosper filed a limitation action in this court
seeking to exonerate itself from liability to all person
asserting claims related to Navarre's Suit or otherwise
limit its liability to the value of its vessel. Doc. 1. The
vessel is valued at $20, 000.00. Id. at att. 2.
October 19, 2016, the court approved the value of security
for the benefits of claimants in the amount of $20, 000.00
and stayed Navarre's Suit. Doc. 5, p. 2. The court also
directed the Clerk of Court to issue notice to all claimants
wishing to assert a claim connected to Prosper's
limitation action that they must file such claims by April
14, 2017; prior to this April 14 filing date, counsel for
Prosper was ordered to publish the notice in the Lake Charles
American Press once a week for four successive weeks.
Id. Pursuant to the order: the Clerk of Court issued
notice, [doc. 6], Navarre filed his claim before the April 14
filing date [doc. 10], however Prosper never published the
notice in the Lake Charles American Press. See Doc.
28, att. 1, p. 2.
April 6, 2017, Navarre filed a motion to dismiss
Prosper's limitation action, alleging inter alia
that Prosper had failed to properly serve or provide him
notice of the limitation action. Doc. 7. Specifically,
Navarre argued that he should have been served with the
complaint within 90 days of it being filed as required by
Rule 4(m) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Id. at 1. The court found this argument to be
without merit. Doc. 14, p. 12. It noted that service of
process in limitation of liability actions is governed by
Rule F of the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and
Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions. Id. at
11. The court further noted,
Rule F provides for a different means of providing claimants
with notice of the action than service of process. Under Rule
F, instead of service of process under Rule 4 of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure, the plaintiff is required to give
“notice to claimants” by publishing the notice
issued by the court in a newspaper once a week for four
consecutive weeks before the deadline for filing claims, and
if the plaintiff knows any claimants, by mailing them a copy
of the notice no later than the second publication of the
notice in the newspaper.
Id. (internal citations omitted). Based on evidence
that Navarre had been notified of the suit and the belief
that Prosper had complied with the court's October 19,
2016 order, the court reasoned that requirements of Rule F
had been satisfied. Id. at 12. The court denied
Navarre's motion to dismiss on August 14, 2017. Doc. 15.
February 20, 2019, Prosper filed the instant Motion to Modify
Court's Monition Order to Extend Time to Publish Notice
seeking an extension of the time to publish notice of the
claim in the Lake Charles American Press. Doc. 28. It
indicates that it believed that the court would publish the
notice and send a copy to Navarre. Id. at att. 1, p.
2. It argues that no claimant is prejudiced by such an
extension because Navarre is the only possible claimant in
this matter and he already has notice of this suit.
Id. Navarre opposes the motion. Doc. 34. He argues
that Prosper has forfeited its rights to have the limitation
issue litigated in federal court and that the action should
be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(5) for Prosper's
failure to property serve and notify Navarre. Id. at
4. He has filed a Motion to Dismiss asserting the same
currently pending before this court. Doc. 35.
Law and analysis
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure apply to limitation actions
“except to the extent that they are inconsistent”
with the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims
and Asset Forfeiture Actions. Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. AMC. A(2).
Under Rule F of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or
Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions-upon the filing
of a limitation of liability action,
the 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. . . . 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.
Fed. R. Civ. P. Supp. AMC F(4) (emphasis added). In assessing
whether one district court had “cause” to enlarge
the filing period under Rule F, the Fifth Circuit
“reaffirm[ed] the view many times expressed that the
Admiralty is administered with equitable liberality and a
simultaneous freedom from restraints or frustrations
occasioned by technicalities or formal imperfections.”
Texas Gulf Sulphur Co. v. Blue Stack Towing Co., 313
F.2d 359, 362 (5th Cir. 1963) (citation omitted). Indeed,
many courts have noted the “equitable latitude”
courts have when overseeing admiralty proceedings. See
Cates v. U.S., 451 F.2d 411, 415 (5th Cir. 1971);
See also Petition of New Jersey Barging Corp. 168