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In re Complaint of Liquid Waste Technology, LLC

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 31, 2019

In the MATTER OF the Complaint of LIQUID WASTE TECHNOLOGY, LLC, d/b/a Ellicott Dredge Technologies, as Owner Mud Cat MFD for Exoneration From or Limitation of Liability, Petitioner.

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          Peter Newton Freiberg, Jeffrey I. Carton, Denlea & Carton LLP, White Plains, NY, Myles Bartley, Mount Vernon, NY, Christopher Daniel Barraza, Denlea & Carton LLP, White Plains, NY, for Petitioner.

         ORDER GRANTING MOTIONS TO VACATE ORDER OF STAY

         Jeffrey Alker Meyer, United States District Judge.

         On March 3, 2018, a dredge capsized in the waters of the Long Island Sound in Guilford, Connecticut, resulting in the death of one man and possibly injuries to others. The dredge's owner has filed a special action under this Court's admiralty jurisdiction that seeks to limit its potential liability to solely the value of the dredge. Multiple claimants, however, seek to pursue relief against the owner by means of personal injury actions in Connecticut state court and outside the context of this Court's admiralty jurisdiction.

         The question before me is the extent to which these other actions should be allowed to proceed. In light of the stipulations of claimants that adequately preserve the dredge owner's rights to have this Court ultimately adjudicate its rights to a limitation of liability, I conclude that the claimants should be permitted to proceed for now against the dredge owner in state court. Therefore, I will grant the motions to vacate the stay of the four claimants who seek to proceed against the dredge owner in Connecticut state court.

         BACKGROUND

         This admiralty action commenced on August 7, 2018, when petitioner Liquid Waste Technology, LLC, d/b/a Ellicott Dredge Technologies (EDT), filed a complaint for exoneration from or limitation for liability under the Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30501, et seq. Doc. #1. According to the complaint, EDT owns a dredging vessel known as the "Mud Cat MFD (Multi-Function Dredge)," which it describes as a "self-launching, amphibious dredge" bearing a "heavy duty excavator arm" that can be equipped with a variety of dredging tools. Doc. #1 at 1.

         EDT rented the Mud Cat MFD to the Guilford Yacht Club. Id. at 2. The Guilford Yacht Club in turn hired Poolscape Pool & Spa, LLC, to operate the Mud Cat MFD. Id. at 3. Poolscape employed James Willard and several other individuals who were to be trained in the operation of the Mud Cat MFD to perform dredging operations at the Guilford Yacht Club. Ibid. On March 3, 2018, the Mud Cat MFD capsized, throwing people into the water and resulting in the death of James Willard. Ibid.

         On August 21, 2018, the Court entered an order approving EDT's affidavit of valuation for $178,000 and ad interim security, and directing issuance of notice and filing of claims. Doc. #9. Most significantly for purposes of this ruling, the Court entered an order restraining and staying the prosecution in any other court of claims against EDT arising from the incident of March 3, 2018. Ibid.

         In the meantime, six claimants filed answers or claims in this action. Docs. #16, 18, 20. Four of the six claimants—Michelle Willard (spouse of James Willard), Michelle Willard as Administratrix of the Estate of James Willard, Michael Martocci, and Poolscape Pool and Spa, LLC—have

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subsequently filed motions to vacate the Court's restraining/stay order insofar as it enjoins them from pursuing common law claims against EDT in state court. Docs. #25, 27.

         The remaining two claimants—the Guilford Yacht Club and Unit Owners Association at Guilford Yacht Club—have not moved to stay or otherwise participated in the briefing involving the motions to stay. Instead, the Guilford Yacht Club claimants assert that they are "pro hac vice" owners of the Mud Cat MFD and have separately filed their own Limitation of ...


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