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Fish, LLC v. Harbor Marine Maintenance & Supply, Inc.

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

April 16, 2018

FISH, LLC, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
HARBOR MARINE MAINTENANCE & SUPPLY, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          JOHN C. COUGHENOUR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. No. 39) and Defendant's motion to withdraw admissions (Dkt. No. 46). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Plaintiffs' motion (Dkt. No. 39) and DENIES Defendant's motion (Dkt. No. 46) for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Unless otherwise indicated, the following facts are uncontroverted. Zane White and his limited liability company, Fish LLC (collectively “Plaintiffs”), engaged Defendant to upgrade the engines on Plaintiffs' vessel and make other repairs. (Dkt. No. 39 at 3.) Defendant brought the vessel ashore and replaced the engines at its boat yard, but did not finish the job on land. (Id. at 6.) It launched the vessel and towed it to Plaintiffs' boathouse on November 3, 2015, intending to finish the job on-site. (Dkt. No. 40-7 at 2-3.) The vessel sank in the boathouse on or about November 22, 2015 before any additional work could be performed. (Dkt. No. 39 at 8.)

         No one witnessed the vessel sink. Holly James, an independent boat detailer, testified that she entered the boathouse on the evening of Friday November 20th to return items to Mr. White. (Dkt. No. 45-1 at 32.) She observed the vessel floating at its normal position in the water without the bilge pump running. (Id. at 33, 34.) Two days later, Port of Everett personnel discovered the vessel sunken in the boathouse. (Dkt. No. 40-16 at 5.) Zane White was out of state throughout this period and has no personal knowledge regarding the sinking. (Dkt. Nos. 39 at 15, 44 at 4.)

         Plaintiffs bring claims for breach of a bailment agreement, breach of contract, breach of the implied warranty of workmanlike performance, and negligence and/or gross negligence. (Dkt. No. 14 at 4-7.) Defendant counter-claims for breach of contract, alleging Plaintiffs failed to pay amounts owing for the work it did on the vessel before it sunk along with the salvage and storage services Defendant rendered after the vessel sunk. (Dkt. No. 15 at 8-9.) Trial in this matter is scheduled to begin June 4, 2018. (Dkt. No. 16.)

         Plaintiffs now move for partial summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 39.) They ask the Court to: (1) find that Defendant is liable as a matter of law for all but Plaintiffs' negligence claims, (2) dismiss some of Defendant's affirmative defenses, and (3) dismiss Defendant's counter-claim. (Id. at 1.) By separate motion, Defendant asks the Court to withdraw certain admissions it made by virtue of an untimely response to Plaintiffs' second request for admissions. (Dkt. No. 46.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if 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). In making such a determination, the Court must view the facts and inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-50

         (1986). Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, the opposing party “must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case, and a dispute about a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49. Ultimately, summary judgment is appropriate only against a party who “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).

         B. Breach of Bailment Agreement

         Plaintiffs move for summary judgment on their claim that Defendant breached the bailment agreement. (See generally Dkt. No. 39.) A bailment is created when property is delivered to and accepted by a recipient with the implied promise that the property will be returned once the purpose of the bailment has been fulfilled. 19 Williston on Contracts § 53:2 (4th ed.) (May 2017 update). “It has long been established that the law of bailment is applicable to suits for damages to or loss of a vessel that has been left with another for purposes of repair.” Goudy & Stevens, Inc. v. Cable Marine, Inc., 924 F.2d 16, 18 (1st Cir. 1991) (citing Buntin v. Fletchas, 257 F.2d 512, 513 (5th Cir. 1958)). Further, if a bailor demonstrates that a bailee had exclusive possession of property and then returned the property damaged, a presumption of negligence attaches. Natl. Liab. & Fire Ins. Co. v. R & R Marine, Inc., 756 F.3d 825, 832 (5th Cir. 2014). To overcome this presumption, the bailee must make an affirmative showing that it either exercised reasonable care or that its negligence was not the proximate cause of the damage. Id.

         It is undisputed that Plaintiffs delivered the vessel to Defendant in a seaworthy condition. (See generally Dkt. Nos. 39, 44.) At issue are the remaining elements. The Court finds Defendant presents sufficient evidence to create genuine of fact regarding whether the bailment terminated prior to the ...


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