branch of the New York State Thruway Authority charged with
maintaining the Erie Canal) (the "Canal Corporation"), pursuant
to its powers under Canal Law § 83, seized the vessel in order to
clear the canal for navigation. On April 20, 1998, the Canal
Corporation contracted with Plaintiff to repair and remove the
New York from the canal (the "Agreement").
The Agreement transferred and assigned any interest the state
had in the tug to Plaintiff as partial compensation for its
removal from the canal. It further stated that Plaintiff would
receive $4,500 for his service and could bill an additional
amount not to exceed $5,000 in order to remove the tug from the
canal. Relying on these terms, Plaintiff alleges that he has
spent one hundred fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) repairing the
tug and removing it from the canal.
In an effort to exercise his possessory rights under the
Agreement, he filed this Admiralty and Maritime action on January
14, 2000 to perfect title to the tug. On May 4, 2000, he filed a
motion to establish title. In a decision dated July 10, 2000,
this Court held that it did not have jurisdiction over his claim
and denied the motion. He filed the present motion for
reconsideration of that decision on July 27, 2000.
A. Standard for Reconsideration
Motions for reconsideration proceed in the Northern District of
New York under Local Rule 7.1(g), unless otherwise governed by
Fed.R.Civ.P. 60. The "clearly erroneous" standard of review
applies to motions for reconsideration. The moving party must
"point to controlling decisions or data that the court overlooked
— matters, in other words, that might reasonably be expected to
alter the conclusion reached by the court." Shrader v. CSX
Transp., Inc., 70 F.3d 255, 257 (2d Cir. 1995).
Generally, the prevailing rule in the Northern District
"recognizes only three possible grounds upon which motions for
reconsideration may be granted; they are (1) an intervening
change in controlling law, (2) the availability of new evidence
not previously available, or (3) the need to correct a clear
error of law or prevent manifest injustice." In re C-TC 9th Ave.
Partnership, 182 B.R. 1, 3 (N.D.N.Y. 1995). Plaintiff's basis
for his motion is that this Court made a clear error of law when
it held that it did not have jurisdiction over his claim because
he did not already hold legal title to the vessel. Although this
Court enjoys broad discretion when making a determination to
reconsider on this ground, Von Ritter v. Heald, 876 F. Supp. 18,
19 (N.D.N.Y. 1995), it will not disregard the law of the prior
case unless "the Court has a `clear conviction of error' with
respect to a point of law on which its previous decision was
predicated." Fogel v. Chestnutt, 668 F.2d 100, 109 (2d Cir.
B. Standard to Assert Jurisdiction Under Rule D
Admiralty law "provides for an in rem action to assert title
or a possessory right to a vessel and other maritime property,"
which is codified by Supplementary Rule D. Thomas J. Schoenbaum,
2 Admiralty and Maritime Law § 21-4 (2d ed. 1994). "Rule D can be
utilized by anyone who claims a superior right to possession of a
vessel or other maritime property." Id. "A petitory action is a
suit to try title to property independent of questions concerning
possession." Id. Rule D states, in part, that "all action . . .
to try title maintainable according to the course of the
admiralty practice with respect to a vessel . . . the process
shall be by a warrant of arrest of the vessel." Fed.R.Civ.P.
It is well established that "[a] petitory suit is utilized to
assert legal title to a vessel, or to remove a cloud upon one's
title. . . ." Wehr v. Pheley, No. C 99-4574,
2000 WL 236438 at * 3 (N.D.Cal. Feb.16, 2000) (emphasis added)
(citing Kawa Leasing, Ltd. v. Yacht Sequoia, 544 F. Supp. 1050,
1063 (D.Md. 1982); Privilege Yachting, Inc. v. Teed,
849 F. Supp. 298, 301 (D.Del. 1994)). It is also clear that, in order
to bring a petitory action, Plaintiff must assert legal title.
Assertion of a merely equitable interest is insufficient. See
Schoenbaum, at § 21-4 (citing Jones v. One Fifty Foot Gulfstar
Motor Sailing Yacht, 625 F.2d 44 (5th Cir. 1980)); Privilege,
849 F. Supp. at 301; Silver v. The Sloop Silver Cloud,
259 F. Supp. 187, 191 (S.D.N.Y. 1966).*fn4
In the July 10, 2000 decision, this Court held that because
Plaintiff did not already hold title to the vessel, he could not
be asserting legal title to it under Rule D. As a result, this
Court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the
merits of his claim. In doing so, the Court neglected the fact
that the basis for Plaintiff's Rule D claim is the State's
transfer of title of the tug to him pursuant to the Agreement.
The Agreement's broad language transferred and assigned "any
interest" the State might have in the tug to the Plaintiff.
Consequently, Plaintiff's Rule D claim is based upon legal title
arguably transferred to him under the Agreement and it was clear
error for this Court to conclude that it did not have
jurisdiction to adjudicated the claim's merits. Because the Court
has reconsidered its July 10, 2000 Order and concluded that it
does have jurisdiction to adjudicate Plaintiff's claim, it must
now decide whether his claim to the tug is valid.
C. The Merits of Plaintiff's Claim
Under the Abandoned Shipwreck Act (the "ASA"):
The United States asserts title to any abandoned
shipwreck that is:
(1) embedded in submerged lands of a State;