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Gabarick v. Laurin Maritime (America) Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

May 21, 2014

STEPHEN MARSHALL GABARICK, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated; ET AL, Plaintiffs
v.
LAURIN MARITIME (AMERICA) INCORPORATED; ET AL, Defendants; AMERICAN COMMERCIAL LINES, L.L.C., Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
D.R.D. TOWING COMPANY, L.L.C., Defendant-Appellee UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Intervenor-Appellee

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

For AMERICAN COMMERCIAL LINES, L.L.C., Plaintiff - Appellant: Glenn G. Goodier, Richard David Bertram, Esq., Jones Walker LLP, New Orleans, LA; John A. V. Nicoletti, Esq., Terry Lee Stoltz, Esq., Nicoletti, Hornig & Sweeney, New York, NY.

For D.R.D. TOWING COMPANY, L.L.C., Defendant - Appellee: Randolph Jean Waits, Waits, Emmett & Popp, L.L.C., New Orleans, LA.

For UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Intervenor - Appellee: Sarah Susan Keast, Esq., Trial Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC; Michael Anthony DiLauro, Esq., Trial Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Division Torts Branch, Washington, DC.

Before JOLLY, GARZA, and HIGGINSON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 551

EMILIO M. GARZA, Circuit Judge:

American Commercial Lines (" ACL" ) sought a declaratory judgment that certain vessel chartering agreements with D.R.D. Towing Company, LLC (" DRD" ) were void ab initio . The district court dismissed the action pursuant to the equitable doctrine of judicial estoppel. It found that ACL's position in the declaratory judgment action--that the charters were void ab initio --clearly contradicted its earlier position in a related proceeding that the charters were valid, which had been accepted by the district court. ACL appeals from the district court's dismissal and seeks remand with instructions to declare the charters void ab initio .

I

ACL is a marine transportation enterprise that operates a fleet of barges and tugboats. ACL contracted with DRD to operate some of its tugs, including the MEL OLIVER.[1] This contractual relationship was created and governed by two charter agreements. Under the " Bareboat Charter," ACL chartered its tugboat to DRD at the rate of $1 per day. Then, under the " Fully Found Charter," DRD agreed to crew the tug and charter its services to ACL.

In the early morning of July 23, 2008, the MEL OLIVER was pushing an ACL

Page 552

barge, loaded with fuel oil, along the Mississippi River near the City of New Orleans. The DRD steersman operating the tug was unlicensed, in violation of Coast Guard regulations. As it moved towards its destination, the MEL OLIVER veered off course and collided with the tanker M/V TINTOMARA. The force of the impact separated the tug from the barge, which floated downriver and sank upstream of the Crescent City Connection Bridge. Three hundred thousand gallons of fuel oil were discharged into the Mississippi.

Several lawsuits followed. The United States brought an action against ACL under the Oil Pollution Act, 33 U.S.C. § 2701, et seq . DRD pleaded guilty to criminal charges for its role in the collision. ACL, DRD, and entities with interests in the M/V TINTOMARA (" the TINTOMARA interests" ) each filed interpleader actions to limit, or preclude, their liability arising out of the collision under general maritime law. These limitations actions were consolidated and tried together (" the limitations action" ). Lastly, ACL filed the instant declaratory judgment action to have the charter agreements with DRD declared void ab initio . Relying on DRD's admissions in its ...


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