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Bermuda Express v. M

filed: April 13, 1989.

BERMUDA EXPRESS, N.V., SOUTHEASTERN MARITIME COMPANY, PORT STEVEDORING COMPANY, INC., RYAN-WALSH STEVEDORING COMPANY, INC., NRS FINANCIAL CORP., ASSIGNEE OF MALONE MARINE GROUP, INC., ZALESKY, MARVIN D/B/A SEASIDE MARINE SUPPLY OF HOUSTON, CHARLES L. MOLHO, D/B/A MANHATTAN SHIP SUPPLY AND THURMOND SUPPLY CO., INC.
v.
M/V LITSA (EX. LAURIE U) IN REM, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil No. 83-1614.

Sloviter and Becker, Circuit Judges, and Barry, District Judge*fn*

Author: Sloviter

Opinion OF THE COURT

SLOVITER, Circuit Judge.

I.

ISSUES

The appellant vessel in an in rem action appeals from the district court's final adjudication and judgment awarding three stevedoring companies the full amount of their claims based on maritime liens for unpaid invoices for stevedoring services provided to the vessel before it was sold to its present owner. The principal issue on appeal is whether the claims of the stevedore lienors were barred by the equitable doctrine of laches. The conflicting interests involve, on one hand, those of maritime lienors whose services are essential for the smooth functioning of maritime commerce and, on the other hand, those of bona fide purchasers in good faith of vessels which may be subject to such liens. We must also decide the scope of "necessaries" which give rise to maritime liens under 46 U.S.C. § 971 (1982).

II.

FACTS

Most of the facts relevant to this appeal are not in dispute. Appellees, Port Stevedoring, Inc. (Port), Ryan-Walsh Stevedoring Company (Ryan-Walsh), and Southeastern Maritime Company (Semco), are in the business of supplying stevedoring services to vessels at various ports in the southern portion of the United States. In 1982, Uiterwyk Corporation (Uiterwyk), the general agent for Uiterwyk Lines, Ltd. which owned the vessel, contracted with appellees to provide stevedoring services for vessels nominated by Uiterwyk. This contract covered the vessel involved in this litigation, then known as the M/V LAURIE U, which sailed under Liberian registry. The contracts all called for payment of 80% of the amount due for services rendered upon completion of such services for each vessel and presentation of an invoice. Under the Port and Semco contracts, the balance became due a reasonable time after presentation of duly documented bills, while under the Ryan-Walsh contract final payment was due within sixty days after the presentation of such bills.

Semco provided services to the M/V LAURIE U on May 27 and 28, 1982 in Charleston, giving rise to a claim of $22,184.87. Ryan-Walsh provided services to the M/V LAURIE U on July 26-August 6, 1982 in New Orleans, giving rise to a claim for $25,404.21. Port provided services to the M/V LAURIE U in Houston on three occasions in 1982, May 13-23, August 11-14, and October 14-20, giving rise to claims for $112,994.71, $46,692.26, and $71,873.97 respectively.

On October 21, the M/V LAURIE U left United States waters and did not return until April 2, 1983. In the interim, two significant events took place. On December 8, 1982, Uiterwyk Lines, Ltd. sold the M/V LAURIE U to Star Warrant Shipping Corp. (Star), a shipping company operating out of Piraeus, Greece. In the contract of sale, Uiterwyk Lines, Ltd. warranted to Star that there were no maritime liens against the vessel, and Star's search of the Liberian registry in New York revealed that no claims had been filed against the ship. Star renamed the vessel M/V LITSA. Shortly after the sale, on January 27, 1983, Uiterwyk, the general agent, filed a petition in bankruptcy in the Middle District of Florida.

Upon learning of the bankruptcy, appellees filed individual claims in the bankruptcy court and contacted Lloyds Watch of London to determine the status of Uiterwyk vessels which they had serviced. Lloyds informed appellees of the purchase of the M/V LAURIE U and the name change, and continued to track the vessel's movements until it returned to United States waters on April 2, 1983. Bermuda Express, another claimant who has since settled with Star, arrested the M/V LITSA in the Port of Philadelphia on April 6, 1983. The district court had jurisdiction over this suit in admiralty under 28 U.S.C. § 1333 (1982).

Appellees intervened as plaintiffs and proceeded to trial against the M/V LITSA on their claims. After a bench trial, the district court determined that all three appellees had acted with the extraordinary degree of diligence required to preserve their maritime liens, and that neither their participation in the bankruptcy proceedings nor their failure to file notice of their maritime liens waived their right to assert those liens. The court entered the following judgments which represent the full amounts of the claims and prejudgment interest: Port, $324,185.31; Ryan-Walsh, $35,588.16; Semco, $31,078.28.

The vessel appeals, arguing that the district court erred in its analysis of the laches issue, that its finding of no waiver was clearly erroneous, that some of the claims were not necessaries giving rise to maritime liens, and that the award of prejudgment interest was not warranted.

III.

LEGAL ...


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