The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sweet, District Judge.
Plaintiffs Poling Transportation Corp. and Motor Vessel Poling Bros.
No. 7, Inc. (the "Poling Entities") brought this limitation action under
the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of this court pursuant to Rule
9(h) and Supplemental Rule F, Fed. R.Civ.P. The individual claimants
Antonio Coca, Sylvia Coca and David Theophilous (the "Individual
Claimants") made timely requests for a jury trial pursuant to Rule 38,
Fed.R.Civ.P, which the Poling Entities and claimants Long Island Railroad
Company ("LIRR") and the Metropolitan Transit Authority ("MTA") have
opposed. For the following reasons, the Individual Claimants' request that
a jury be empaneled is granted.
The Poling Entities are corporations organized and existing under the
laws of the State of New York. At all times relevant to this action, the
Poling Entities were the registered and pro hac vice owners of the Motor
Vessel Poling Bros. No. 7 (the "Vessel"). The Vessel is a United States
documented, diesel-driven steel tanker.
The MTA is a public benefit corporation organized and existing under
the laws of the State of New York.
The LIRR is a public benefit corporation organized and existing under
the laws of the State of New York. It is a subsidiary of the MTA with its
own corporate status.
On or about December 27, 1986, the Vessel delivered and discharged her
cargo of no-lead premium gasoline to the Ditmas Terminal at Newton Creek
in Long Island City, New York, which is owned and operated by Ditmas Oil
Associates, Inc. ("Ditmas"), a New York corporation. While the Vessel was
discharging her cargo, the shore tank receiving the gasoline overflowed
and a spill of approximately 12,000 gallons eventually seeped out into
the Ditmas Terminal and the adjacent properties. Shortly thereafter,
there was a fire and explosion. The source igniting this fire is
currently in dispute before this court.
The Individual Claimants were injured and the property of various other
claimants (the "Other Claimants")*fn1 was damaged as a result of the
explosion and fire. The Individual Claimants commenced actions against
the Poling Entities, the LIRR, the MTA, and the Other Claimants in New
York State Supreme Court, Bronx and Queens Counties, for injuries,
economic loss and loss of services allegedly sustained due to the fire.
The Other Claimants brought state court actions for property damage
against the Poling Entities, the LIRR, and the MTA.
On December 2, 1987, Poling brought this exoneration or limitation of
liability action in this court pursuant to Supplemental Rule F,
Fed.R.Civ.P. Notice of the complaint and of the time to file claims in
the limitation action was filed on January 13, 1988. On December 4,
1987, this court entered a stay enjoining the commencement or prosecution
of any actions or proceedings against the Poling Entities or their
property for any loss or damage resulting from the fire and explosion
pending the resolution of the limitation proceeding.
The Individual Claimants have filed claims in the limitation proceeding
against the Poling Entities in the aggregate amount of $56,500,000 and
cross-claims against the LIRR, the MTA, and the Other Claimants and have
requested a jury trial. In addition, the LIRR, the MTA, and the Other
Claimants have filed claims for damages and for contribution and/or
indemnification against the Poling Entities. The Poling Entities have
filed counterclaims or, in the alternative, claims for contribution
and/or indemnification against the LIRR, the MTA, Individual Claimant
David Theophilous and the Other Claimants.
The Individual Claimants maintain that this court should try the issues
raised by the Poling Entities' petition for limitation of liability
without a jury, following which the court should lift the stay so that
the remaining issues can be decided in state court, presumably with a
jury. The Individual Claimants argue that this approach is proper because
the state claims are not properly within the pendent jurisdiction of this
Alternatively, the Individual Claimants urge that if the court
concludes that it does have pendent jurisdiction over the state claims,
it must adjudicate this case in a manner that preserves their right to
jury trial on the common law claims, that is, that it must empanel a jury
in the limitation proceedings.
The Poling Entities counter that this matter must proceed as a bench
trial because there is no right to a jury trial in admiralty absent a
claim carrying a statutory right to jury trial, such as one under the
Jones Act, or an independent basis of federal jurisdiction, such as
diversity, both of which are lacking here. Unlike the Individual
Claimants, the Poling Entities maintain that pendent jurisdiction over
the state law claims in the limitation proceeding is wholly proper and
that therefore they may be adjudicated before this court without a jury.
This court concludes that pendent jurisdiction over the common law
claims does exist. The limitation issue is a substantial federal claim,
see Ford Motor Co. v. Wallenius Lines, 476 F. Supp. 1362, 1368 (E.D.Va.
1979) (admiralty constitutes federal basis for pendent jurisdiction), and
the common law claims for personal injury, property damage, and
indemnification and/or contribution arise from a "common nucleus of
operative fact," namely, the fire and explosion. United Mine Workers v.
Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 725, 86 S.Ct. 1130, 1138, 16 L.Ed.2d 218 (1966). The
question thus presented is whether the court may empanel a jury in this
limitation proceeding based on the presence of pendent state law claims
for which there is no independent basis of federal jurisdiction. This
question naturally divides itself into two sub-questions:*fn2 (1) must
the limitation and common law issues be tried to the court sitting
without a jury or (2) may the limitation issues be tried to the court and
the common law issues tried to a jury?
I. Jurisdiction over Limitation Proceeding
This matter is before this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1333
("§ 1333") and 46 U.S.C.App. § 183(a) ("§ 183(a)" or the