The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. CURTIS JOYNER
Before the Court is the motion of claimants Sandra A. Ventura, Anthony M. Ventura, Joan Pepper and Patricia Putt
to vacate an August 27, 1991 Court Order enjoining all proceedings against plaintiffs/third party defendants Dredging Equipment, Inc. and Morania Oil Tanker Corporation. For the reasons set forth below, claimants' motion is granted.
This lawsuit stems from a boating accident which occurred on June 29, 1991 on the Delaware River near the Delaware Memorial Bridge, which is south of Wilmington, Delaware. A pleasure craft called the "Three Hour Tour" was allegedly struck by a barge called the Morania No. 400, which was being push-towed by a tug called the Morania No. 3. As a result of the collision, Thomas L. Pepper, III, the pilot of the Three Hour Tour, and twenty-two month old Nicholas Ventura, one of the passengers, were killed.
Prior to any claims being filed, on August 27, 1991, Dredging Equipment, Inc., the owner of Morania No. 3, and Morania Oil Tanker Corp. the operator and charterer of Morania No. 3 (herein referred to as "D & M"), filed a complaint for limitation or exoneration from liability in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York pursuant to the Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. app. §§ 181-189 ("the Act"). D & M also filed an Ad Interim Stipulation for Value stating that the value of Morania No. 3 amounted to $ 2,200,000.00. On that same day, the Honorable Kevin Duffy issued an order approving the stipulation for value, and directing the issuance of a notice to any potential claimants regarding the filing of their respective claims in the admiralty court within a specified time period. He further enjoined the prosecution of any actions or proceedings against D & M for claims arising out of the June 29, 1991 accident pending the resolution of the limitation action in admiralty court. However, suits against the barge Morania No. 400 and its owners, Morania Tug & Barge, Inc. (herein referred to as "T & B") were not enjoined.
Pursuant to Judge Duffy's order, the various passengers on the Three Hour Tour as well as the estates of Thomas Pepper, III and Nicholas Ventura filed personal injury and wrongful death claims in November, 1991 against D & M in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which had admiralty jurisdiction over these claims. On December 9, 1991, the Ventura claimants filed a third-party complaint pursuant to Rule 14(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure against T & B. Thereafter, on December 20, 1991, this case was transferred to this Court by way of claimants' motion to transfer on the basis of forum non conveniens.
Claimants now seek to vacate Judge Duffy's order enjoining all proceedings against D & M pursuant to the Limitation of Liability Act. However, before we can reach claimants' arguments, a discussion of the Act and the competing provisions of the "Saving to Suitors" Clause at 28 U.S.C. § 1333 is warranted.
Section 183(a) of the Act provides that the:
liability of the owner of any vessel...for any embezzlement, loss, or destruction by any person of any property, goods, or merchandise shipped or put on board of such vessel, or for any loss, damage, or injury by collision, or for any act, matter, or thing, loss, damage, or forfeiture, done, occasioned, or incurred, without the privity or knowledge of such owner or owners, shall not...exceed the amount or value of the interest of such owner in such vessel, and her freight then pending.
46 U.S.C. app. § 183(a) (1958).
Thus, under the Act, a shipowner can limit his liability to the value of the vessel and its freight. S & E Shipping Corp. v. Chesapeake & Ohio Ry. Co., 678 F.2d 636, 642 (6th Cir. 1982). Once the proper procedures are undertaken by the shipowner, such as filing a petition and tendering an adequate bond, the district court must enter an order enjoining all other proceedings against the shipowner arising out of the same accident. See 46 U.S.C. app. § 185; Fed.R.Civ.P. Supplemental Rule F(3). In Re Complaint of Dammers & Vanderheide & Scheepvaart Maats Christina B.V., 836 F.2d 750, 754-55 (2nd Cir. 1988); S & E Shipping, 678 F.2d at 642. Thereafter, the court notifies all potential ...