In re: American River Transportation Company, for Exoneration from, or Limitation of, Liability, Plaintiff
United States of America, Corps of Engineers, Defendant - Appellee In re: American River Transportation Company, Plaintiff - Appellant
Submitted April 14, 2015.
Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis.
For American River Transportation Company, Plaintiff - Appellant: Douglas Gossow, Neal W. Settergren, GOLDSTEIN & PRICE, Saint Louis, MO.
For United States of America, Corps of Engineers, Defendant - Appellee: Michael Anthony DiLauro, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Civil Division, Torts Branch, Aviation & Admiralty Litigation Office, Washington, DC; Nicholas P. Llewellyn, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Eastern District of Missouri, Saint Louis, MO; Jessica G. Sullivan, Trial Attorney, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Civil Division, Torts Branch, Aviation & Admiralty Litigation, Washington, DC.
Before RILEY, Chief Judge, WOLLMAN and MELLOY, Circuit Judges. RILEY, Chief Judge, concurring in the judgment.
WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge.
This case comes to us on appeal a second time after the district court sua sponte dismissed the limitation action brought by the American River Transportation Company (Artco), concluding that the limitation proceeding could not go forward because the United States' potential claims were not subject to the Limitation of Shipowners' Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. § § 30501-30512 (the Limitation Act). The district court declined to hold the United States in contempt for violating the court's order enjoining suits outside the limitation proceeding. We reverse the court's dismissal of Artco's limitation action, affirm its denial of Artco's motion to hold the government in contempt and for sanctions, vacate
the district court's order as to the remaining motions, and remand for further proceedings.
This dispute arises from damage done to the government's lock and dam after barges separated from the M/V Julie White, a towboat owned by Artco, and allided with the lock and dam and appurtenant structures. The government informed Artco of the damage, and, in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure F (Rule F), Artco commenced this action under the Limitation Act in the Eastern District of Missouri, seeking limitation of its liability to the government or exoneration for the government's damages.
The district court issued an order enjoining the prosecution of any separate suits " whatsoever" against Artco or the vessel at issue " in respect of any claim arising out of or connected to" the allision and directing potential claimants to file claims by June 15, 2011. Before the time for filing claims had expired, the government filed a motion to dismiss Artco's complaint, arguing that the government's claim alleging a violation of the Rivers and Harbors Act (RHA), 33 U.S.C. § 408, was not subject to limited liability and therefore need not be litigated in the Rule F proceeding. The government never filed a timely claim in the limitation proceeding. The district court granted the motion to dismiss, holding that the government's potential § 408 claim was not subject to the Limitation Act and that the government could pursue it in a separate proceeding in personam. The district court then dismissed Artco's limitation action in its entirety.
Artco appealed, and we held in In re American River Transportation Co. (Artco I), 728 F.3d 839 (8th Cir. 2013), that because the government never filed a claim in the Rule F proceeding, it lacked statutory standing to move to dismiss Artco's limitation action. We reversed the district court's dismissal of Artco's limitation action on that basis and remanded the case. We did not address whether the government's claim was subject to limited liability under the Limitation Act or whether the government could pursue an in personam remedy.
On remand, the parties filed four new motions. Artco filed a motion for a final decree of exoneration based on the government's failure to file a claim and the lack of any other claims in the limitation action. The government moved for permission to file a late claim in the limitation proceeding. The government also initiated a new and separate proceeding based on the same incident, filing a complaint against Artco in the Eastern District of Missouri that alleged claims under the RHA, 33 U.S.C. § § 408-409. See United States v. Am. River Transp.
Co., No. 4:14-cv-00050-AGF (E.D. Mo. filed Jan. 13, 2014). In response, Artco filed in the limitation proceeding a motion to impose sanctions and to hold the government in contempt for violating the district court's injunction against the prosecution of separate suits. The government then filed a motion to consolidate the actions.
The district court disposed of all four motions in a single order. It denied Artco's motion for a decree of exoneration, stating that we had left intact its prior holding that the government's claims were not subject to limited liability under the Limitation Act and that the government could pursue an in personam remedy for its § 408 claim. The court concluded that its prior injunction had been overbroad and therefore denied Artco's motion to hold the government in contempt, to impose sanctions, and to direct dismissal of the government's
separate suit. As there were no claims filed against Artco in the limitation action, the court denied the government's motion for leave to file a late claim, denied as moot the government's motion to consolidate, and directed dismissal of the limitation action.
Artco appeals, arguing that the government's claim under § 408 of the RHA is subject to the Limitation Act, that the district court's dismissal of its limitation action is contrary to our holding in Artco I, that an absence of claims in a limitation action does not justify dismissal of the action but rather should result in exoneration or default judgment, and that the district court erred in refusing to hold the government in contempt and to impose sanctions for violating the injunction.
" Congress passed the Limitation Act in 1851 'to encourage ship-building and to induce capitalists to invest money in this branch of the industry.'" Lewis v. Lewis & Clark Marine, Inc., 531 U.S. 438, 446, 121 S.Ct. 993, 148 L.Ed.2d 931 (2001) (quoting Norwich & N.Y. Transp. Co. v. Wright, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 104, 121, 20 L.Ed. 585 (1871)). The Limitation Act limits vessel owners' liability for damage or injury to the value of the vessel and its freight, as long as the damage or injury occurs without the owner's privity or knowledge. 46 U.S.C. § 30505 . The Limitation Act provides:
(a) . . . . [T]he Liability of the owner of a vessel for any claim, debt, or liability described in subsection (b) shall not exceed the value of the vessel and pending freight.
(b) . . . . Unless otherwise excluded by law, claims, debts, and liabilities subject to limitation under subsection (a) are those arising from any embezzlement, loss, or destruction of any property, goods, or merchandise shipped or put on board the vessel, any loss, damage, or injury by collision, or any act, matter, or thing, loss, damage, or ...