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Mainstay Fisheries, Inc. v. Northern Waterfront Associates, L.P

Superior Court of Rhode Island

March 2, 2016

MAINSTAY FISHERIES, INC. AND RICHARD F. MUDD, SR.
v.
NORTHERN WATERFRONT ASSOCIATES, L.P. and NORTHERN WATERFRONT ASSOCIATES CO., LLC
v.
KANE AND KANE, INC.; EAST PASSAGE REAL ESTATE ASSOCIATES, L.P.; MT. HOPE MARINE CONTRACTORS, INC.; AND MICHAEL VIERA; SHELTOW I, INC. and JOHN SHELTON

For Plaintiff: John D. Deacon, Esq.

For Defendant: Robert J. Quigley, Jr., Esq. Kenneth J. Hill, Esq. Robert Edward Collins, Esq. Kenneth R. Tremblay, Esq.

DECISION

STONE, Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants Sheltow I, Inc. and John Shelton's (jointly, Defendants) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the issue of damages relating to Plaintiffs Mainstay Fisheries, Inc. and Richard F. Mudd, Sr.'s (collectively, Plaintiffs) Complaint. Likewise, Northern Waterfront Associates, L.P. and Northern Waterfront Associates Co., LLC move for partial summary judgment, adopting the arguments of Defendants. In response, Plaintiffs filed a timely objection. This Court heard arguments from the parties on March 2, 2015.[1] Jurisdiction is pursuant to Rule 56 of the Rhode Island Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasoning set forth in further detail below, the Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I

Background

The following facts are undisputed by the parties. Plaintiff Mainstay Fisheries, Inc. (Mainstay) is a Rhode Island corporation, which at all times material hereto, had a principal place of business in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Plaintiff Richard F. Mudd, Sr. is a resident of Tiverton, Rhode Island and was the sole shareholder and officer of Mainstay. He was the Captain of the F/V KISMET, a 65-foot single-crew offshore wooden lobster boat. The F/V KISMET was built in 1981, and it was owned and operated by Mainstay. Throughout its service, it was operating as an offshore lobster/gill net fishing vessel for Mainstay. The vessel was surveyed in 2006 by Richard Learned of Learned Associates Inc. and given an appraised value of $160, 000.

Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff Northern Waterfront Associates, L.P. is a Delaware Limited Partnership, with a principal place of business in Pennsylvania. Pertinently, it was the owner of the Weyerhaeuser Pier (the Pier) in Portsmouth, Rhode Island at all relevant times. Defendant/Third-Party Defendant John Shelton (Mr. Shelton) is a resident of Tiverton, Rhode Island and the President of Defendant/Third-Party Defendant Sheltow I, Inc. (Sheltow). Sheltow consisted of a tug boat, HOPE, and a barge, which were used for tasks like taking fresh water out to vessels. Sheltow was doing business out of the Pier until it could locate a more permanent base of operations.

Sheltow had purchased a crane and other equipment from Defendant Mt. Hope Marine Contractors, Inc. On July 3, 2007, Mr. Shelton was on the Pier working on the crane. On that day, there was a great deal of activity happening on the Pier; there were adolescents in the area preparing a bonfire, [2] there were individuals walking on the beach, including Sarah Edelstein (Ms. Edelstein), and there were laborers working, including Mr. Shelton and Mike Kelly (Mr. Kelly). According to Mr. Shelton, both he and Mr. Kelly worked on the Pier until approximately 4:00 pm. At that time, Mr. Shelton left for a meeting in Tiverton, Rhode Island.

Sometime later that evening, the Pier caught on fire. Michael Viera and Ms. Edelstein- two eye witnesses-were talking when Mr. Viera observed smoke on the Pier, in the vicinity of the pump and crane. Ms. Edelstein proceeded to take pictures, fully documenting the fire from its onset. At some point, the F/V KISMET, which was docked on the Pier, caught on fire and drifted out into the waters surrounding the Pier. The F/V KISMET became a total loss from the damages sustained in the fire.

As a result, on July 24, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint alleging negligence on the part of various defendants in Newport County Superior Court. Defendants were brought into the case by way of an Amended Third-Party Complaint filed on August 5, 2011. In addition to the value of the vessel itself, Plaintiffs claim additional damages for a life raft, an Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacon, bait, fuel onboard the vessel, coils of line, steel weights, balls, hi-flyers, slip gun (collectively, the Equipment), fork truck, prepaid dockage, and a deductible paid to Reagan Construction to remove the vessel's wreck. In addition, Plaintiffs seek damages for offshore lobster traps that were lost after the fire in the amount of $116, 640 and loss of business in the amount of $156, 000, based on a business valuation expert report. Although Defendants concede that the value of the vessel is recoverable if they are found to be liable, they assert that these other damages are not.

Consequently, on January 29, 2015, Defendants filed the instant Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. In their Motion, Defendants assert that Plaintiffs are not entitled to the other assorted damages in the Complaint, aside from the actual value of the vessel. Relying on federal admiralty law, Defendants insist that Plaintiffs' recovery is limited to the value of the vessel and expressly seek to exclude the damages for the Equipment and loss of business income. Therefore, the Defendants seek a ruling by this Court that Plaintiffs' claims for damages beyond the fair market value of the vessel-including fuel, bait and other items, loss of business income, and loss of offshore lobster traps-are not recoverable.

In response, Plaintiffs insist that this case is governed by state law not federal maritime law as Defendants propose. More specifically, Plaintiffs argue that because the Defendants' asserted acts of negligence took place on the Pier-and because piers are treated as extended parts of the land-state law applies. Moreover, they claim that even if maritime law is applicable they can still recover for lost profits and the other miscellaneous damages.

For the purpose of the present Motion, the parties have agreed that the following facts are also not in dispute: each of the Defendants is presumed to be liable to Plaintiffs on the claims asserted for the purposes of assessing damages; the tortious conduct of all defendants occurred entirely on the Pier; Defendants' tortious actions and omissions proximately caused the complete destruction of all the items of tangible and intangible property for which Plaintiffs claim damages in the present case and the cessation of Mainstay's business operations; and that Plaintiffs ...


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