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In re Complaint of Ingram Barge Co.

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division

September 29, 2014

IN THE MATTER OF THE COMPLAINT OF INGRAM BARGE COMPANY, OWNER OF THE M/V AUBREY B. HARWELL AND BARGE IN068509, FOR EXONERATION FROM OR LIMITATION OF, LIABILITY,

ORDER

SARA DARROW, District Judge.

Ingram Barge Company ("Ingram") initiated a limitation action under this Court's admiralty jurisdiction for claims arising from injury to one of its employees, Brandon Hall. Hall answered and counterclaimed for unseaworthiness and Jones Act negligence, and demanded that these claims be tried by a jury. Ingram impleaded the United States. Ingram moved to strike the jury demand, and, separately, to dismiss Hall's claims. The United States joined Ingram in both motions. Ingram and the United States argue that there is no right to a jury trial in a limitation action, and that Hall's claims for non-monetary losses do not state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The United States additionally argues that its statutory waiver of sovereign immunity requires a bench trial. For the following reasons, the motions to strike jury demand are DENIED in part and GRANTED in part, and the motion to dismiss is DENIED. Ingram's additional motion for leave to file a reply brief is DENIED.

BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[1]

On June 4, 2012, Hall, an Ingram employee, was injured while working on one of Ingram's barges, the M/V Aubrey B. Harwell. Hall was wrapping a mooring line to connect the barge to a metal pin on Lock and Dam 13, which is operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers ("the Corps"). The line snapped, striking Hall in the head and causing him multiple severe injuries.

On September 10, 2012, Ingram filed an action, ECF No. 1, asserting admiralty jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1333 and seeking to exonerate itself from liability for the accident or, alternatively, limit its liability to the value of the M/V Aubrey B. Harwell, Barge IN068509, and pending freight, pursuant to 46 U.S.C. §§ 30505 and 30506. On September 10, 2012, this Court issued an order, ECF No. 4, requiring all parties with claims arising from the incidents of June 4, 2012 to file those claims with the Court, and stayed all other actions in other courts until the outcome of the limitation action was determined. On October 19, 2012, Hall filed an answer, ECF No. 8, and counterclaims against Ingram alleging negligence under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104, and unseaworthiness under the general maritime law. Hall demanded a jury to hear both counts. On January 4, 2014, Ingram impleaded the United States, ECF No. 14, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 14(c)(2) and the Suits in Admiralty Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 30901-30918. On January 13, 2014, Ingram moved, ECF No. 24, to strike Hall's jury demand, and on the same day moved, ECF No. 26, to dismiss Hall's counterclaim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On January 27, 2014, the United States joined Ingram's motions, ECF Nos. 28, 29, adding their own supplementary motion to strike Hall's jury demand. Hall responded on February 2, 2014, ECF Nos. 30, 31, to the motions to strike and to dismiss. On February 12, 2014, Ingram moved for leave to file a reply, ECF No. 36, and attached the reply as an exhibit. Hall twice amended his complaint, ECF Nos. 38, 40, adding the United States as a co-defendant, and the United States filed an answer, ECF No. 42.

DISCUSSION

I. The Jury Demand

Ingram argues that because no right to a jury trial exists in admiralty claims, and because cases in admiralty are generally tried without a jury, Hall's demand for a jury should be struck. Ingram's Mot. to Strike at 2. Ingram also argues that the demand should be struck because limitation actions are best suited to bench trials. Id. at 2-3. The United States argues additionally that because the Suits in Admiralty Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30903(b), which waives sovereign immunity for certain civil actions in admiralty, requires a bench trial, Hall's jury demand should be struck. United States's Mot. to Dismiss at 1.

A. Legal Framework

When a party properly demands a jury trial, the matter must be tried to a jury unless the court, on motion or on its own, finds that there is no federal right to a jury trial on some or all of the issues. Fed.R.Civ.P. 39(a)(2). A court may strike from a pleading insufficient defenses or any immaterial, impertinent or scandalous matter. Id 12(f).

The Seventh Amendment provides that "[i]n suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved." However, the Seventh Amendment does not apply to admiralty actions, and a party has no right to a jury trial in an action instituted in admiralty. Fitzgerald v. U.S. Lines Co., 374 U.S. 16, 20 (1963). Equally, however, a party in an admiralty proceeding has no right to a non-jury trial. See Romero v. International Terminal Operating Co., 358 U.S. 354, 369 (1959); Fitzgerald at 20; Complaint of Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 895 F.Supp. 604, 614 (1995).

There is a strong tradition of trying suits in admiralty without a jury, particularly in the case of limitations proceedings, in which a court enjoins suits in other fora against a vessel owner while the court determines whether the owner's liability should be limited to the value of the vessel. See Complaint of Dammers & Vanderheide & Scheepvaart Maats Christina B.V., 836 F.2d 750, 755-56 (2d Cir. 1988) (explaining the technicalities of the limitation proceeding and why it is rarely tried to a jury). However, this preference must be weighed against the Seventh Amendment rights of plaintiffs to pursue their claims before a jury, which would be effectively abrogated by requiring respondents to a limitation action to have their claims tried without a jury. Indeed, the law expressly recognizes and preserves the jury rights of plaintiffs in maritime suits, both via the "saving to suitors" clause of 28 U.S.C. § 1333, which permits plaintiffs to bring in personam maritime cases in an ordinary civil action, and via the Jones Act, which expressly provides "the right of the plaintiff to a jury." 46 U.S.C. § 30104.[2]

In cases where plaintiffs are forced by a limitation action to bring their suits in admiralty, courts have acted, where possible, to preserve the jury rights of the plaintiff. See Fitzgerald, 374 U.S. at 21 (holding that a Jones act claim and a general maritime law claim for maintenance and cure "must be submitted to the jury when both arise out of the same set of facts"); Complaint of Poling Transp. Corp., 776 F.Supp. 779, 786 (S.D.N.Y. 1991) (deciding in a case where limitation forced personal injury claimants out of state court that "[t]he proper approach here is to empanel a jury at the outset and allow trial to proceed on issues pertaining both to limitation and the common law claims"); Great Lakes, 895 F.Supp. at 614-15 (empaneling a jury and simultaneously trying personal injury claims to the jury and a limitation action to the court).

"It is elementary that [t]he United States, as sovereign, is immune from suit save as it consents to be sued..., and the terms of its consent to be sued in any court define that court's jurisdiction to entertain the suit.'" Crawford v. Elec. Boat Corp., 515 F.Supp.2d 282, 286 (D. Conn. 2007) (citing United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980)). Section 303903 of Title 46 waives the sovereign immunity of the United States in cases where "if a private person or property were involved, a ...


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