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Staub v. Henshaw

June 7, 2006

DEREK W. STAUB, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN E. HENSHAW, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John T. Curtin United States District Judge

This is an action in admiralty brought in accordance with the Limitation of Liability Act ("LOLA"), 46 U.S.C. App. § 181, et seq. Plaintiff Derek W. Staub seeks limitation of his liability pursuant to the LOLA with respect to a negligence action brought against him in state court by defendant John E. Henshaw involving a motorboat collision which occurred on the Niagara River in July 2005. Defendant moves to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under the LOLA. For the following reasons, defendant's motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

As set forth in the complaint in this action, in the early morning hours of July 23, 2005, plaintiff and a companion, Scott Hitchcock, were traveling on the Niagara River in plaintiff's 1986 Checkmate Ambassador motorboat when plaintiff's boat collided with a 1986 Sea Ray Seville motorboat owned and operated by defendant Henshaw. In November 2005, Mr. Henshaw filed a lawsuit against plaintiff in New York State Supreme Court seeking compensatory and punitive damages as a result of plaintiff's alleged negligent operation of his motorboat. Plaintiff answered the state court complaint and asserted several affirmative defenses, including limitation of liability pursuant to the LOLA-- specifically, 46 U.S.C. App. § 183(a).*fn1

Plaintiff then filed this action on February 13, 2006, seeking the benefit of the LOLA, and subsequently submitted to the court a notice of petition pursuant to 46 U.S.C. App. § 185.*fn2 Defendant now moves to dismiss the federal court complaint and petition for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted on the ground that plaintiff has failed to plead--and cannot prove--an essential element of a cause of action for limitation of liability under section 183(a), i.e., that the loss, damage, or injury, by collision occurred without plaintiff's privity or knowledge.

DISCUSSION

1. Standard for Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6)

Dismissal of a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is only appropriate when "'it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Nechis v. Oxford Health Plans, Inc., 421 F.3d 96, 100 (2d Cir. 2005) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The inquiry for the court "is not whether a plaintiff is likely to prevail, but whether he is entitled to offer evidence to support his claims." Id. (citing Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 701 (2d Cir. 1998)). In making this inquiry, the court must assume the truth of well-pleaded factual allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Id. (citing E.E.O.C. v. Staten Island Sav. Bank, 207 F.3d 144, 148 (2d Cir. 2000)).

In support of his motion to dismiss the complaint and petition in this case, defendant has submitted as an exhibit to his attorney's affidavit a copy of the accident report completed by the Erie County Sheriff's Department regarding the July 23, 2005 collision at issue. Plaintiff objects to this submission as evidence outside the pleadings, which would require the court "to treat the motion as one for summary judgment under Rule 56, giving the party opposing the motion notice and an opportunity to conduct necessary discovery and to submit pertinent material." Kramer v. Time Warner Inc., 937 F.2d 767, 773 (2d Cir. 1991).

In this regard, it is well established that in ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court may consider not just the facts stated in the complaint but also the content of documents attached to the complaint as exhibits or incorporated in the complaint by reference. See Newman & Schwartz v. Asplundh Tree Expert Co., 102 F.3d 660, 662 (2d Cir. 1996). Even if not attached or incorporated by reference, documents which are integral to the plaintiff's claim, and of which the plaintiff had notice, may be considered on a motion to dismiss. Cortec Indus., Inc. v. Sum Holding L.P., 949 F.2d 42, 48 (2d Cir. 1991); International Audiotext Network, Inc. v. American Tel. and Tel. Co., 62 F.3d 69, 73 (2d Cir. 1995). The court may also consider matters of public record, Pani v. Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, 152 F.3d 67, 75 (2d Cir. 1998), and matters of which judicial notice may be taken under Fed. R. Evid. 201. Kramer, 937 F.2d at 773. If the court wishes to consider any additional material, it must convert the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to a motion for summary judgment, and must give the parties "reasonable opportunity to present all material made pertinent to such a motion by Rule 56." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); see Kramer, supra.

As the following discussion demonstrates, the court need not consider any evidence outside the pleadings, and need not convert the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment, because plaintiff has failed to plead facts sufficient to state a claim for limitation of liability under the LOLA.

2. The LOLA

By its terms, the LOLA requires a plaintiff seeking limitation of liability to plead and prove the following:

1. that he has been sued for some loss, damage or injury;

2. that the loss, damage, or injury was without his privity ...


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