The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leisure, District Judge:
Defendant Vessel Charters, Inc. ("VCI"), owner of the SS
SANTA ADELA, claims that it is not a proper party to this
lawsuit brought by its employee, seaman Gumersindo Padro. VCI
supports its claim by citing the Suits in Admiralty Act ("SIAA"
or the "Act")*fn1 which, under certain circumstances, holds
the United States exclusively liable for admiralty claims
arising under the SIAA. 46 U.S.C.App. § 745. VCI time-chartered
the vessel SS SANTA ADELA to the United States, through the
Military Sealift Command, an agency of the Department of the
Navy. Because VCI believes the SIAA applies here, it seeks
dismissal of the lawsuit for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. Alternatively, VCI requests that summary judgment
be granted. After careful review of the SIAA and case law
interpreting it, the Court denies VCI's motion for dismissal
for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. As a number of factual
issues remain to be resolved, VCI's motion for summary judgment
is also denied.
The facts not in dispute will be briefly summarized. In 1984,
VCI entered into a time-charter agreement with the Department
of the Navy. Pursuant to the agreement, VCI was to provide the
vessel SS SANTA ADELA for the Navy's use, with VCI retaining
responsibility for manning the ship with officers and crew, as
well as navigation, care and custody of the ship. See
Defendant's Exhibit 1, Article 22(a) (the "time-charter
agreement"). The resulting relationship provided that the Navy
designate the cargo to be carried and the ports to be visited,
while VCI had day-today operational control of the SS SANTA
On April 3, 1988, with the time-charter agreement operative,
plaintiff sustained a severely broken left leg while assisting
at docking the ship in Yakohoma, Japan. His injury allegedly
resulted when one of the mooring lines snapped and wrapped
around his leg. As a result of the injury, plaintiff has been
unable to return to work as a merchant seaman.
On March 17, 1989, plaintiff brought this lawsuit alleging
that his injury was caused by VCI's negligence in maintaining
its mooring lines, or, alternatively, by the unseaworthiness of
the SS SANTA ADELA. In its answer, VCI alleged, as its first
affirmative defense, that plaintiff's exclusive remedy lies
against the United States pursuant to the SIAA. This motion is
grounded on that defense and requests that VCI be dismissed as
defendant because the Court lacks jurisdiction over it.
The Court will first consider the SIAA and case law
interpreting it before discussing its application here.
A. Suits In Admiralty Act
VCI claims that the United States is the exclusive defendant
in this lawsuit, pursuant to the SIAA. Sections 741 through 745
of the Act provide the statutory frame for VCI's claim, and the
sections must be read together to understand their use.
Section 741 provides in relevant part:
No Vessel owned by the United States . . . or in
the possession of the United States . . . or
operated by or for the United States . . . shall
hereafter, in view of the provision herein made
for a libel in personam [Section 742], be subject
to arrest or seizure by judicial process in the
United States or its possessions. . . .
The important passage for this lawsuit is "Vessel[s] . . .
operated by or for the United States," which the Court finds
includes a vessel such as the SS SANTA ADELA. A reasonable
interpretation of the plain language of the statute requires
its application to a privately owned ship operated for the
benefit of the United States. See J. W. Petersen Coal & Oil Co.
v. United States, 323 F. Supp. 1198, 1205-06 (N.D.Ill. 1970)
(articulates the meaning of "operated by or for the United
States," and concludes that a time-charter is encompassed by
the "operated for" language); see also A.H. Bull S.S. Co. v.
United States, 105 F. Supp. 474, 479 (S.D.N.Y. 1952), aff'd,
208 F.2d 888 (2d Cir. 1953).
The Court must also consider section 742 to determine whether
the SS SANTA ADELA is within the jurisdiction of the SIAA.
Section 742 provides that, "[i]n cases where . . . if a private
person or property were involved, a proceeding in admiralty
could be maintained, any appropriate nonjury proceeding in
personam may be brought against the United States." Certainly,
absent the time-charter agreement, plaintiff could have
maintained an admiralty proceeding against VCI, as the owner of
the SS SANTA ADELA, to recover damages for his injury. See
Cosmopolitan Shipping Co. v. McAllister, 337 U.S. 783, 791, 69
S.Ct. 1317, 1321-22, 93 L.Ed. 1692 (1949). Thus, at this stage
of the analysis, plaintiff's claim ...