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London v. Pettit

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

March 6, 2018

CERTAIN UNDERWRITERS at LLOYD'S, LONDON, Subscribing to Policies Numbered 8029663, 8001778, 8071754, 8072492, 8072737, and 8071620, Plaintiffs,
JEFF PETTIT, an individual, Defendant.



         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Jeff Pettit's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Dkt. #23. Mr. Pettit seeks summary judgment dismissal only of Plaintiffs' claim to recover costs incurred pursuant to the Oil Pollution Act (“OPA”). Id. Plaintiffs Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London, Subscribing to Policies Numbered 8029663, 8001778, 8071754, 8072492, 8072737, and 8071620 (“Plaintiffs”) oppose this Motion, arguing that they are not bringing a claim under the OPA against Mr. Pettit and are therefore not subject to the mandatory claims presentation procedure of that statute. Dkt. #29. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Defendant's Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Because Mr. Pettit seeks only partial summary judgment, the Court will limit discussion to those facts relevant to the requested relief.

         On February 21, 2014, a fire broke out at J Dock at the Shelter Bay Marina in La Conner, Washington. Dkt. #1 (“Complaint”) at ¶¶ 3.1, 3.3. One of the several recreational vessels destroyed by the fire was the IN DECENT SEAS, owned by Mr. Pettit. Complaint at ¶ 3.1; Dkt. #6 (“Answer”) at ¶ 7.5. Another of the damaged vessels was the SHEAR JOY, owned by Bill and Myo Shears (“the Shears”). Complaint at ¶ 3.1. The two vessels were moored next to each other. The circumstances of the marina fire were previously presented to the Court in the context of a claim for exoneration brought by the Shears, which was decided in the Shears' favor on summary judgment. See In re Complaint of Shears, No. C14-1296RSM, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 258, at *15 (W.D. Wash. Jan. 4, 2016).

         Plaintiffs are pursuing subrogated claims in this case against Defendant Pettit for damages incurred by certain owners of vessels moored at Shelter Bay Marina. Plaintiffs assert three causes of action: first, common law negligence claims for damages incurred by all of their insured, Complaint at ¶¶ 4.1-4.4; second, common law unseaworthiness claims, again for damages incurred by all of the insured, id. at ¶¶ 5.1-5.4; third, a subrogated claim for damages incurred by the United States Government for oil cleanup, pursuant to the OPA, and paid by Bill and Myo Shears, id. at ¶¶ 6.1-6.6. With regard to this third cause of action, Plaintiffs allege that the Shears “were considered by the U.S. Coast Guard to be ‘responsible parties' under the [OPA] for oil spilled due to the fire because oil had spilled from their vessel, SHEAR JOY.” Id. at ¶ 6.2. The Shears were assessed $43, 060.50 in costs by the Coast Guard, and this was paid out pursuant to an insurance policy. Id. at ¶¶ 6.3-6.4. Because Plaintiffs contend that the Shears were not at fault for the fire that caused the oil spill, they are hoping to recover these damages from Mr. Pettit, asserting that the Shears are subrogated to the rights of the U.S. Government pursuant to 33 U.S.C. § 2702(d)(1)(B). Id. at ¶ 6.6. Plaintiffs note that the damages alleged for this third cause of action are already being sought in the prior two causes of action “and are not in addition.” Id.


         A. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). Material facts are those which might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In ruling on summary judgment, a court does not weigh evidence to determine the truth of the matter, but “only determine[s] whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Crane v. Conoco, Inc., 41 F.3d 547, 549 (9th Cir. 1994) (citing Federal Deposit Ins. Corp. v. O'Melveny & Meyers, 969 F.2d 744, 747 (9th Cir. 1992)).

         On a motion for summary judgment, the court views the evidence and draws inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Sullivan v. U.S. Dep't of the Navy, 365 F.3d 827, 832 (9th Cir. 2004). The Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See O'Melveny & Meyers, 969 F.2d at 747, rev'd on other grounds, 512 U.S. 79 (1994). However, the nonmoving party must make a “sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof” to survive summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Further, “[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251.

         B. Analysis

         Congress passed the OPA, 33 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq., after the Exxon Valdez oil spill “to streamline federal law so as to provide quick and efficient cleanup of oil spills, compensate victims of such spills, and internalize the costs of spills within the petroleum industry.” Rice v. Harken Expl. Co., 250 F.3d 264, 266 (5th Cir. 2001) (citing S. Rep. No. 101-94 (1989), as reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 722, 723). To facilitate prompt cleanup and compensation, the OPA requires the “Coast Guard [to] identif[y] ‘responsible part[ies]' who must pay for oil spill cleanup in the first instance.” Chuc Nguyen v. Am. Commer. Lines, L.L.C., 805 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2015) (citing United States v. Am. Commercial Lines, LLC, 759 F.3d 420, 422 (5th Cir. 2014)). “Responsible parties are strictly liable for cleanup costs and damages and [are] first in line to pay [for] . . . damages that may arise under OPA.” Id. Individuals and entities harmed by an oil spill may file claims against the responsible party for damages. However, “to promote settlement and avoid litigation, ” Johnson v. Colonial Pipeline Co., 830 F.Supp. 309, 310 (E.D. Va. 1993), the OPA establishes specific procedures which claimants must follow. Specifically, the statute provides:

(a) Presentment Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, all claims for removal costs or damages shall be presented first to the responsible party or guarantor of the ...

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