The opinion of the court was delivered by: LEONARD D. WEXLER
In the above-referenced admiralty action, Donald Karshan ("Karshan"), the owner of the 50 foot yacht, "WAVELENGTH," (the "vessel") and R.J. Kershaw and Certain other Underwriters at Lloyd's (collectively "plaintiffs") bring suit against Mattituck Inlet Marina & Shipyard ("Mattituck" or "defendant"), which sold the vessel to Karshan, under a strict product liability theory to recover $ 89,620.82 in property losses as a result of a fire on the vessel. Now before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.
The following facts are not in dispute. On or about April 1, 1985, Donald Karshan, who had purchased four other vessels and sold three in the preceding two years, purchased Wavelength, a 50 foot diesel-powered motor vessel manufactured by Murray Chris-Craft Yachts, Inc. ("Chris Craft") from Mattituck for $ 480,000. At about noon on April 27, 1987, while the vessel was berthed at Daytona Beach, Florida, a fire started aboard the vessel which resulted in damage costing $ 89,620.82 to repair; $ 5,000 was paid by Karshan and the balance by Karshan's insurers, Lloyds. At the time of the fire, the vessel had been left unattended by its captain, Gregory Jaeger.
After the fire, two separate surveyors were retained by plaintiffs and/or their representatives to evaluate the fire damage and determine its cause. Both surveyors concluded that a defect within the vessel's starboard shore power connector the caused the fire. One of these surveyors, Alex Milligan, further opined that the manufacturer was at fault:
the fire did originate by reason of a loose connection of ship's electrical wiring conductor in attachment to the installed plug-receptacle. This fault is laid to the installer. (Plug-receptacle unit is permanent installation aboard yacht).
Alex Milligan, Independent Marine Surveyor, Survey Report No. 6632.
On September 7, 1988, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Chris-Craft for $ 84,620.82 in the 12th Judicial Circuit in and for Manatee County, Florida, alleging negligence, strict liability and breach of express warranty. On January 12, 1989, after Chris-Craft filed for Chapter 11 reorganization, plaintiffs filed a proof of claim for the same amount with the Bankruptcy Court in Florida. On April 2, 1990, plaintiffs brought the instant action against Mattituck under a strict products liability theory.
Plaintiffs' complaint mentions only "damage to the Vessel and expenses for the repair of said damage. . . . "Plaintiffs' Complaint, paras. 14 and 16. However, in plaintiffs' 3(g) Statement and in an affidavit submitted by plaintiffs' attorney, damage to "entertainment units, furnishings, and other decorator items placed on the Vessel" is also noted. Plaintiffs' 3(g) Statement, para. 2.
In East River S.S. Corp. v. Transamerica Delaval, 476 U.S. 858, 90 L. Ed. 2d 865, 106 S. Ct. 2295 (1986), the Supreme Court held that in an admiralty case, "a manufacturer in a commercial relationship has no duty under either a negligence or strict products-liability theory to prevent a product from injuring itself." Id. at 871. Defendant argues that this holding applies to the facts of the instant case and it is therefore entitled to summary judgment. Plaintiffs attempt to distinguish East River on two grounds: (1) they have alleged damage other than to the product itself; and (2) WAVELENGTH was not purchased in a commercial transaction.
As noted above, although plaintiffs' complaint sought recovery only for "damage to the Vessel and expenses for the repair of said damage," Plaintiffs' Complaint, para. 16, their 3(g) Statement and their attorney's affidavit note damage to "other property," including "entertainment units, furnishings, and other decorator items placed on the Vessel."
Plaintiffs' 3(g) Statement, para. 2. The affidavit refers to a report by Alex Milligan, plaintiffs' Marine Surveyor, which lists, inter alia, the following items as damaged in the fire: drapes, towels, stereo speakers, televisions, a video cassette recorder, and various items of furniture. See Alex Milligan, Independent Marine Surveyor, Estimate for Repair of Damages dated May 11, 1987. However, Milligan's report fails to differentiate between original equipment included in the purchase price of the vessel and "other property" brought on to the vessel at a later time. In any event, it appears ...