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Richmond Bay Marina, LLC v. The Vessel" Relax"

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

December 19, 2013

RICHMOND BAY MARINA, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
THE VESSEL

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT AGAINST THE VESSEL "RELAX"

MARIA-ELENA JAMES, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

On June 28, 2013, Plaintiff Richmond Bay Marina, LLC, filed this admiralty and maritime action in rem against Defendant The Vessel "Relax, " Documentation No. 1037234, alleging that between June 1, 2001, and December 30, 2012, the Vessel incurred berthing charges and late fees at the Marina Bay Yacht Harbor and consumed electrical utilities during May through August 2011, which remain unpaid to the total of $6, 956.23. Compl. ¶¶ 5-8, Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiff seeks to foreclose a maritime lien against the Vessel, her engines, boats, tackle, apparel, and furniture pursuant to the Federal Maritime Lien Act ("FMLA"), 46 U.S.C. § 31342, and seeks a judgment condemning the Vessel and an order for its sale to pay the outstanding amount. Id. at 3.

Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment (Dkt. No. 23). No adverse parties - including the owner of the Vessel - have appeared in the action or filed an opposition to the Motion. On November 7, 2013, the Court held a hearing on the Motion. After carefully reviewing the record, and controlling authorities, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment.

II. BACKGROUND

Defendant is a fiberglass recreational sailing vessel approximately 63' in length. Compl. ¶ 3. On November 1, 2008, the Vessel's owner, Paul Kassatkin, entered into a Berth License Agreement with Plaintiff, pursuant to which Plaintiff agreed to provide berthing and electrical power to the Vessel while it was located in the Marina Bay Yacht Harbor in Richmond, California. Id . ¶ 5; Dkt. No. 29 at 1-6 (Agreement). The Vessel was berthed at the Marina Bay Yacht Harbor under the Berth License Agreement until January 20, 2012, when the Vessel was moved to Emeryville Marina, in Emeryville, California. Compl. ¶ 5.

Plaintiff alleges that between June 1, 2011 and December 30, 2012, pursuant to the Berth License Agreement, the Vessel incurred $6, 615 in berthing charges, plus $245 in late fees (at a rate of $35 per month). Id. ¶ 6. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that the Vessel consumed electrical utilities for the months of May through August 2011, in the amount of $96.23. Id. ¶ 7. According to Plaintiff, the total amount of $6, 956.23 is due and payable ( Id. ¶ 8), and it has demanded payment of the outstanding amount, but it has not been paid ( Id. ¶ 10).

As a result, Plaintiff filed the instant in rem action, asserting a maritime lien against the Vessel, her engines, boats, tackle, apparel, and furniture pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 31341(a)(1) and general maritime law. Compl. ¶ 11; Mot. at 2.

On July 2, 2013, the Court approved Plaintiff's proposed warrant of arrest, ordering that a warrant be issued for arrest of the Vessel, which the Clerk of Court thereafter issued. Dkt. Nos. 13, 14. Concurrently, the Court granted Plaintiff's Application for Appointment of a Substitute Custodian, appointing Stephen Orosz, Harbormaster of Marina Bay Yacht Harbor, custodian of the Vessel and authorizing the U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of California to surrender possession of the Vessel to him. Dkt. No. 11. The Marshal arrested the Vessel on July 17, 2013, at Emeryville Marina, and it was towed to the Marina Bay Yacht Harbor. Dkt. No. 15. The Marshal filed a Process Receipt and Return on July 19, 2013. Id.

Thereafter, Plaintiff published a Notice of Action and Arrest in The Recorder, in compliance with Admiralty Local Rule 4-2(a), and Plaintiff filed the Proof of Publication pursuant to Admiralty Local Rule 4-2(b). Dkt. No. 16.

On August 22, 2013, Plaintiff requested entry of default (Dkt. No. 17), which the Clerk of Court entered on August 22, 2013 (Dkt. No. 18).

On October 4, 2013, Mr. Kassatkin filed a request for Supervised Access to Remove Personal Belongings from the Vessel. Dkt. No. 20. Mr. Kassatkin, however, did not formally appear in this action or file a verified statement of right of possession or ownership interest in the Vessel.

Subsequently, on October 11, 2013, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion for Default Judgment. Dkt. No. 23. No oppositions were filed in response to the Motion. On November 7, 2013, the Court held a hearing on the Motion. Mr. Kassatkin appeared at the hearing and indicated that he opposed the Motion. The Court explained to Mr. Kassatkin that he had to appear in the matter, move to set aside the entry of default, and file an opposition or a statement setting forth his interest in the Vessel. Following the hearing, the Court issued an order setting a deadline for Mr. Kassatkin to appear and move to set aside the default for November 19, 2013. Dkt. No. 27 at 1. The Court also ordered that Mr. Orosz permit Mr. Kassatkin to go aboard the Vessel to recover personal items. Id. The Court continued the hearing on the Motion for Default Judgment to November 21, 2013. Id.

Prior to the November 21, 2013 hearing, Mr. Kassatkin failed to file any opposition to the Motion or move to set aside the entry of default. At the hearing, the Court questioned whether Mr. Kassatkin had attempted to file any opposition. Mr. Kassatkin responded that he had no defense to set the default aside. Accordingly, the Court took the Motion under submission and now issues its ruling.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Pursuant to Admiralty Local Rule 6-2(b), after entry of default, a plaintiff may move for default judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b). The Court may enter default judgment upon a showing that: (1) notice has been given as required by Admir. L.R. 6-1(a)(2) and (b)(2); (2) the time to answer has expired; and (3) no one has filed a verified statement of right of possession or ownership interest in the property. Admir. L.R. 6-2(b)(1)-(3).

Admiralty Local Rule 6-1, in turn, provides in relevant part:

(a) Notice Required. A party seeking a default judgment in an action in rem must show that due notice of the action and arrest of the property has been given:
(2) In actions not subject to Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. G:
i. By publication as required in Fed.R.Civ.P. Supp. C(4);
ii. By service upon the master or other person having custody of the property; and
iii. By service under Fed.R.Civ.P. 5(b) upon every other person who has not appeared in the action and is known to have an interest in the property.

Admir. L.R. 6-1(a)(2).

Generally, "[t]he district court's decision whether to enter default judgment is a discretionary one." Aldabe v. Aldabe, 616 F.2d 1089, 1092 (9th Cir. 1980). In determining whether default judgment is appropriate, the Ninth Circuit has enumerated the following factors for courts to consider: (1) the possibility of prejudice to the plaintiff; (2) the merits of the plaintiff's substantive claim; (3) the sufficiency of the complaint; (4) the sum of money at stake in the action; (5) the possibility of dispute concerning material facts; (6) whether default was due to excusable neglect; and (7) the strong policy underlying the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure favoring decisions on the merits. Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1986). Where a default judgment is granted, the scope of relief is limited by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(c), which states that a "default judgment must not differ in kind from, or exceed in amount, what is demanded in the ...


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