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In re Complaint of Cecchini

March 9, 2009

IN THE MATTER OF THE COMPLAINT OF JOSEPH CECCHINI, PLAINTIFF, OWNER OF THE VESSEL.
IN THE MATTER OF THE COMPLAINT OF JOSEPH CECCHINI, PLAINTIFF, OWNER OF THE VESSEL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frank C. Damrell, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

These admiralty matters are before the court on motions for orders directing monition (notice of the actions) and enjoining suits brought by plaintiff Joseph Cecchini ("plaintiff"), the owner of the subject vessel, the "Westmar."*fn1 In these actions,*fn2 plaintiff seeks to limit his liability for the collision that occurred on June 23, 2007, between the "Westmar" and a vessel owned by Ratha Ieng ("Ieng") in the Stockton Deep Water Channel in Stockton, California. Pursuant to the Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 30501-30512, and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, Supplemental Admiralty and Maritime Claims Rule F (hereinafter, "Rule F"), plaintiff moves the court for an order directing that monition, or notice of the actions, be issued to potential claimants requiring that they file any claims relating to the subject accident within thirty days of issuance of the notice and enjoining the filing or further prosecution of any other suits against plaintiff relating to this accident. Certain, presently named defendants/claimants in these actions oppose the motions.

For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's instant motions are GRANTED. The court files concurrently herewith its Order Directing Monition/Notice and Enjoining Suits and Notice of Action Brought for Limitation of or Exoneration from Liability.

BACKGROUND

On June 23, 2007, at approximately 10:30 p.m., plaintiff's vessel, the "Westmar," was struck by a vessel being operated by Ieng. The collision occurred in the Stockton Deep Water Channel in Stockton, California. As a result of the collision, Ieng was ejected from his vessel and drowned. Plaintiff was not on board the Westmar at the time of the collision; the Westmar was being operated by Paul Joseph Cecchini, who had passengers Richard Fenley ("Fenley") and Greg Royce ("Royce") with him.

On November 25, 2007, Ieng's wife and children filed a wrongful death action against plaintiff in the California Superior Court, County of San Joaquin, Case No. CV-033852 ("Ieng Action").

On February 14, 2008, Royce filed a complaint against plaintiff in the California Superior Court, County of San Joaquin, Case No. CV-034755 ("Royce Action"), seeking damages for personal injuries arising from the accident.

On March 10, 2008, plaintiff filed a verified complaint in this court pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 30511, seeking limitation of liability under federal admiralty law (Case No. Civ. S-08-516 FCD/DAD). Plaintiff specifically named Ieng and his heirs in the action. Plaintiff states, at that time, he was only aware of the Iengs as potential claimants. In place of the res, plaintiff provided a letter of undertaking from Continental Insurance Company for any judgment not to exceed $2,000.00, representing the estimated value of the Westmar after the collision.

Shortly thereafter, on March 17, 2008, Fenley and his wife filed an action in the California Superior Court, County of San Joaquin, Case No. CV-035013 ("Fenley Action"), seeking damages for personal injuries sustained by Fenley during the accident; Fenley's wife, who was not on board the Westmar during the accident, asserted a loss of consortium claim. Plaintiff was not originally named in the suit, but the Fenley's later amended the complaint, on June 16, 2008, to name plaintiff.

On June 19, 2008, plaintiff filed a second limitation of liability action in this court, pursuant to Section 30511, specifically naming the Fenleys and Royce as defendants/claimants (Case No. Civ. 08-1385 FCD/DAD).

Subsequently, in state court, certain of the defendants/claimants herein filed a motion in state court to consolidate the state court actions. That motion was heard and granted by the San Joaquin Superior Court on January 14, 2009. That same day, Chhom Saeng, a passenger aboard Ieng's vessel, filed an action in the San Joaquin Superior Court against plaintiff (Case No. CV-39-2009-00201762 ["Saeng Action"]). The state court, on its own motion, consolidated the Saeng Action with the other state court matters. Plaintiff subsequently named Saeng in Case No. Civ. 08-1385 FCD/DAD pending in this court.

During the Fall of 2008, plaintiff attempted to obtain a stipulation from the claimants above, wherein in exchange for claimants' stipulation to limit plaintiff's liability as provided by federal law, plaintiff would dismiss these federal actions and proceed in state court. However, all parties could not agree on the language of the stipulation; certain claimants believed that plaintiff was attempting to limit liability beyond what the applicable statutes permit.

Plaintiff states that because a stipulation could not be reached among the parties, he now files the instant motions for orders directing monition and enjoining suits. Pursuant to Rule F(4), plaintiff requests an order permitting him to publish notice of these actions in order to limit liability under the governing statutes and to extinguish any further claims against him arising from the accident, unless a timely claim is brought within the time allowed by the notice. Plaintiff also seeks an order enjoining the filing of any further suits against him arising from the incident and ...


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