United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
SARAH MARGARET OWEN and JOHN NORTON OWEN, as the Executors of the ESTATE OF SARA LOUISE OWEN; and in their individual capacity as the beneficiaries of SARA LOUISE OWEN, a deceased person, Plaintiffs,
AMERICAN SHIPYARD CO., LLC d/b/a NEWPORT SHIPYARD, LLC, ASC REALTY CO., LLC; CHARLES A. DANA, III a/k/a CHARLES DANA, U.S. SECURITY ASSOCIATES, INC. d/b/a D. B. KELLY ASSOCIATES; U.S. SECURITY ASSOCIATES STAFFING, INC.; and JOSHUA CARLSON, Defendants.
WILLIAM E. SMITH, Chief Judge.
case involves the tragic death of three women in 2012 when
the car in which they were riding drove off a pier in
Newport, Rhode Island. Defendants allege that the driver,
Jennifer Way, was legally intoxicated at the time of the
crash. Defendants now seek leave to implead Way's Estate
so that Defendants can assert contribution, indemnity,
negligence, negligence per se, and strict liability claims
against it. (See Defs.' Mot. for Leave to File a Third
Party Compl., ECF No. 29.)
defendant, acting as a third-party plaintiff, may implead any
non-party “who is or may be liable to [the third-party
plaintiff] for all or part of the [plaintiff's] claim
against [the third-party plaintiff].” Fed.R.Civ.P.
14(a)(1) (emphasis added). Defendants have fourteen days
after submitting their answer to bring a third party into the
suit without leave of court. Id. Otherwise, the
Defendant must obtain the court's permission.
Id. “In that event, the determination is left
to the informed discretion of the district court, which
should allow impleader on any colorable claim of derivative
liability that will not unduly delay or otherwise prejudice
the ongoing proceedings.” Lehman v. Revolution
Portfolio LLC, 166 F.3d 389, 393 (1st Cir. 1999) (internal
this “liberal standard, ” id., the Estate argues
that the Court should deny Defendants' Motion because (1)
Defendants unreasonably delayed in initiating the complaint;
(2) the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the
Estate; (3) Defendants are improperly trying to reverse
engineer a form of “Mary Carter Agreement”; and
(4) Defendants do not have a colorable claim against the
Court can quickly dispense with the first three arguments.
Despite the Estate's argument to the contrary, Defendants
did not unreasonably delay in bringing their claims against
the Estate. There was considerable delay in opening the
Estate, which resulted in the timing of Defendants'
Motion. The Court finds unconvincing the Estate's
argument that the delay in opening the Estate or in bringing
this motion was caused by the Defendants or was unreasonable.
Second, with regard to the Estate's jurisdiction
argument, even if, as Plaintiff argues, admiralty
jurisdiction fails, the Court would still have supplemental
jurisdiction over Defendants' third-party complaint. See
Allstate Interiors & Exteriors, Inc. v. Stonestreet
Const., LLC, 730 F.3d 67, 72-73 (1st Cir. 2013); Spark Energy
Gas, LP v. Toxikon Corp., 864 F.Supp.2d 210, 218- 19 (D.
Mass. 2012) (“[N]o independent jurisdictional basis is
required for a defendant to implead a third party
defendant.” (internal citations omitted)). And finally,
the Estate's “Mary Carter” argument is
without merit. The Estate argues, rather unclearly, that the
Owens' settlement with Way's insurer amounts to a
“reverse Mary Carter Agreement.” (See Owen's
Opp'n 3, 14-15, ECF No. 33.) The First Circuit summarized
such agreements in England v. Reinauer Transp. Co., L.P., 194
F.3d 265, 274 (1st Cir. 1999). Like in England, the
settlement agreement on which the Estate bases its argument
is not secret, nor has the Estate presented any evidence that
the settlement amount is contingent in any way on the outcome
of this case. See Id. at 274-75. Based on this, the
Court fails to see how the Owens' settlement with the
insurer amounts to a “Mary Carter” agreement.
however, a much closer call whether Defendants assert a
colorable claim against the Estate. The issue turns on
whether this Court has admiralty jurisdiction over the case.
As Plaintiff argues, without admiralty jurisdiction,
Defendants' claims fall squarely within the Rhode Island
Supreme Court's holding in Cooney v. Molis, 640 A.2d 527
(R.I. 1994), that a
settling joint tortfeasor, with no liability to any parties
to a suit, cannot be forced to defend a lawsuit that was the
basis for the joint-tortfeasor release. The remaining joint
tortfeasor is free to assert the settling joint
tortfeasors' liability in their absence. This holding, in
our opinion, encourages settlement but does not prejudice the
rights of the nonsettling defendants.
Id. at 530.
other hand, if admiralty law applies, Defendants' claims
turn on how a fact finder apportions fault and, thus, would
be inappropriate to decide at this juncture. (See Defs.'
Reply 2-3, ECF No. 35.) As this Court held in its order on
Plaintiff's Motion to Strike, it is premature to
determine whether admiralty law applies to this action at
this time. (See ECF No. 36.) This is because the Court would
benefit from a more robust record as to the nature of the
parties' involvement with their various vessels and the
effect the accident had on maritime activities. Consequently,
the Court GRANTS ...