United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division
IN RE PROSPER OPERATORS, INC.; as operator of the M/V AMBER
D. CAIN, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the court are a Motion to Dismiss [doc. 35] and Appeal of
Magistrate Judge Decision [doc. 56] filed by claimant
Mitchell Navarre. Prosper Operators, Inc.
("Prosper"), the plaintiff in this limitation of
liability proceeding, opposes both motions. Docs. 41, 64.
suit arises from injuries allegedly suffered by Navarre
during his employment with Prosper. Doc. 1, ¶ 6. Navarre
contends that he was injured aboard the M/V Amber on June 14,
2015. Doc. 7, att. 4. He filed a petition for damages against
Prosper in the 38th Judicial District Court, Cameron Parish,
Louisiana. Id. As operator of the M/V Amber, Prosper
then filed a complaint in this court for exoneration from or
limitation of liability in this court. Doc. 1. The court
issued notice of the suit on October 19, 2016, and provided
that any person having a claim relating to the accident that
occurred on June 14, 2015, must file his claim in this action
on or before April 14, 2017. Doc. 6.
did not mail this notice to Navarre or publish it in a local
newspaper, as required under Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, Supplemental Rule F and set forth in the
court's Order Directing Issuance of Notice, issued the
same date as the notice. See doc. 5. Navarre
appeared on April 6, 2017, asserting that he had only
received notice when Prosper's counsel faxed him a letter
referencing the pending action on January 18, 2017, and then
mailed him another letter with a copy of the docket attached
on January 25, 2017. Doc. 7; see doc. 7, atts. 7
& 8. He moved to dismiss the suit for lack of
jurisdiction, alleging that the suit had not been timely
filed, and insufficient service of process. Doc. 7. He also
timely asserted an admiralty claim on April 13, 2017. Doc.
January 25 letter and in his opposition to the motion to
dismiss, Prosper's attorney asserted that he thought the
clerk of court was supposed to issue notice to claimants.
Judge James T. Trimble, Jr., to whom the case was then
assigned, found that the matter was timely filed and that the
January 25 letter constituted adequate notice to Navarre, as
a known claimant, under Supplemental Rule F(4). Accordingly,
he denied the motion to dismiss. Doc. 14.
February 20, 2019, Prosper moved for an extension of time to
publish notice to potential claimants. Doc. 28. The
magistrate judge granted the motion, over Navarre's
opposition. Navarre now appeals that ruling. Doc. 56. He also
moves to dismiss the case for insufficient service. Doc. 35.
Appeal of Magistrate Judge Decision
Magistrate Judge Kay noted, the 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.
Doc. 50, p. 3; see Fed. R. Civ. P. Supp. AMC A(2).
Supplemental Rule F provides that notice in a limitation
proceeding is given, as described above, by mailing a copy of
the court-issued notice any known claimants and publishing
that notice in the newspaper "once a week for four
successive weeks prior to the date fixed [by the court] for
the filing of claims." Id. at F(4). The court
may enlarge the time for claims to be filed "[f]or cause
shown." Additionally, as the Fifth Circuit has
repeatedly noted, the rules of admiralty are to be
"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).
district court has authority to review a magistrate
judge's decision on a non-dispositive pre-trial motion
and to reverse that decision if it is clearly erroneous or
contrary to law. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Castillo
v. Frank,70 F.3d 382, 385 (5th Cir. 1995). The
magistrate judge granted the motion for extension, reasoning
that the extension would not prejudice Navarre as "the
only possible or potential claimant to this matter."
Doc. 50, p. 3. This court disagrees, however, and notes
Navarre's intention to bring claims against Texas
Petroleum Investment Company ("TPIC") in the state
court suit, making TPIC a potential claimant in this matter.
Doc. 50; see British Transp. Comm'n v. United
States,354 U.S. 129 (1957) (liberal rules of joinder
apply in limitation proceeding, permitting court to
adjudicate the claims and cross-claims of all interests).
Furthermore, Prosper's determination that Navarre was the
sole claimant in this matter - even if well-founded -did not
outweigh Prosper's failure to comply with clear notice
procedures or timely rectify its mistake. The notice
procedures, particularly as to potential claimants, are far
from a "technicality" or mere "restraint or
frustration" for the vessel owner. The principles of
equitable liberality must be balanced against the interest of
the claimant, whose state court suit has been stayed for
nearly three ...