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Holmes v. YCT. Nova

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

September 6, 2017

ROBERT HOLMES, et al., Plaintiffs,
YCT. NOVA, et al., Defendants.


          Robert S. Lasnik United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on “Defendants' Stephen Yadvish and Yachtfish Marine, Inc.'s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.” Dkt. # 51. Plaintiffs initiated this litigation to obtain possession of two vessels that were, at the time, being held by defendants, to recover damages allegedly caused by Yachtfish Marine, Inc.'s conversion of the vessels, and to clear any and all maritime liens asserted by defendants against the vessels. Defendants argue that certain claims and issues have been finally resolved against plaintiffs and seek partial summary judgment based on a jury verdict in a related state court proceeding. Having reviewed the memoranda, declarations, and exhibits submitted by the parties, [1] the Court finds as follows:

         A. First Cause of Action: Supplemental Rule D Possessory Relief

         Defendants have turned over possession of the vessels to plaintiffs. The first claim for relief is therefore DISMISSED as moot.

         B. Second Cause of Action: Conversion

         In the state court proceeding, plaintiff Marquis International Holdings, LLC (“MIH”) asserted a counterclaim for conversion against defendants Yadvish and Yachtfish Marine, Inc. (“YMI”) regarding their use and possession of the vessel M SQUARED.[2] Under the doctrine of claim preclusion, a final judgment forecloses successive litigation of the same claim between the same parties. Garity v. APWU Nat'l Labor Org., 828 F.3d 848, 855 (9th Cir. 2016). The doctrine applies when a claim is raised or could have been raised in the prior action. Stewart v. U.S. Bancorp, 297 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 2002). Here, the conversion claim against Yadvish and YMI was actually raised and then abandoned. There is no explanation for why plaintiffs failed to preserve the issue through trial: they may not revive the claim at this point. Plaintiffs' conversion claim regarding the vessel M SQUARED is therefore DISMISSED.

         A conversion claim against defendant Clark would not be barred by res judicata. The claim was not asserted in the state court proceeding and there is no indication that Clark had asserted a lien or otherwise wilfully interfered with plaintiffs' possessory rights until after the deadline for adding parties in the state action had passed.[3] Regardless, plaintiffs have not asserted a claim for conversion against Clark in this litigation. The Second Cause of Action is specifically directed at defendant YMI and may be pursued only against that defendant and only with regards to the NOVA.

         C. Third Cause of Action: Supplementary Rule D Declaratory Relief

         In this litigation, plaintiffs seek a declaration that Holmes is the sole owner of the vessel NOVA and that MIH is the sole owner of the vessel M SQUARED, free and clear of any maritime lien asserted by defendants Yadvish, YMI, and/or Clark. In their motion, defendants argued that this claim is barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion and judicial estoppel. They subsequently withdrew their motion on these grounds. Dkt. # 58 at 4.

         D. Damage Award

         To the extent that a conversion claim can be pursued in this litigation, a monetary remedy in the form of damages may be appropriate. Defendants' request for an order barring plaintiffs from seeking damages in this lawsuit is DENIED.

         E. Issue Preclusion

         The state court jury determined that there was no joint venture agreement or contract between Yadvish/YMI and Holmes/MIH, but that Yadvish/YMI defrauded Holmes, resulting in damages of $66, 196.50. These damages correspond to the amount Holmes paid to transport the M SQUARED from Florida to Washington. The jury found that there were no fraudulent or negligent misrepresentations made to MIH.

         Defendants argue that these findings necessarily resolved two factual issues: (1) whether defendants agreed to perform work on the M SQUARED at a reduced hourly rate and (2) whether defendants agreed to cap the fees and expenses incurred in repairing the M SQUARED. The jury was not asked either of these questions, and the special verdict form is too vague to require the inferences defendants would like to draw. It is entirely possible that the jury found that Yadvish and/or YMI lied to Holmes regarding the terms on which the repair work would be done, causing Holmes to purchase the M SQUARED and have it shipped to Washington. While that is not the only inference one could glean from the special verdict form, it is a reasonable explanation for the ...

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