Colby Wallace, Esq. Bernstein Shur Sawyer & Nelson
Elizabeth Mitchell, Esq. Mitchell & Davis
D. Warren Justice
the court is a motion for summary judgment by defendant
Portland Fish Exchange.
judgment should be granted if there is no genuine dispute as
to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law. In considering a motion for summary
judgment, the court is required to consider only the portions
of the record referred to and the material facts set forth in
the parties' Rule 56(h) statements. E.g., Johnson v.
McNeil, 2002 ME 99 ¶ 8, 800 A.2d 702. The facts
must be considered in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. Id. Thus, for purposes of summary
judgment, any factual disputes must be resolved against the
movant. Nevertheless, when the facts offered by a party in
opposition to summary judgment would not, if offered at
trial, be sufficient to withstand a motion for judgment as a
matter of law, summary judgment should be granted.
Rodrigue v. Rodrigue, 1997 ME 99 ¶ 8, 694 A.2d
Fish Exchange raises two alternative defenses: the federal
statute of limitations for maritime torts and the Maine Tort
Claims Act statute of limitations. The federal statute of
limitations for maritime torts states that a civil action for
personal injury arising out of a maritime tort must be
brought within 3 years. 46 U.S.C. § 30106. On the maritime
statute of limitations issue, there are no disputed facts,
and the motion turns on issues of law.
it is undisputed for purposes of summary judgment that
plaintiff Joshua Doughty is bringing this action for injuries
he suffered when he was struck by crates that fell from the
Fish Exchange Pier in Portland on October 8, 2009. At the
time Doughty was employed by a commercial fisherman and was
standing on the deck of a commercial fishing boat that had
pulled up next to the pier. Defendant's SMF ¶¶
1-2 (admitted). Immediately after the incident, Doughty's
boss wanted to call rescue. Defendant's SMF ¶ 4
did not commence this action until 2015, when he served the
defendant on July 30, 2015 and filed the complaint on August
6, 2015. Defendant's SMF ¶ 6 (admitted).
first question is whether federal maritime law applies. Under
the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Jerome B.
Grubart v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S.
527 (1995), there is a two-part test to determine maritime
jurisdiction. The first Grubart test (the
"location" test) is whether the injury occurred on
navigable water or whether the injury was caused by a vessel
on navigable water. 513 U.S. at 534. The injury occurred on
navigable water in this case.
second Grubart test (the "connection"
test) is whether the incident had a potentially disruptive
impact on maritime commerce and whether the general character
of the activity giving rise to the incident has a substantial
relationship to traditional maritime activity. Id.
at 534, 539. On the issue of whether an injury to a seaman,
as occurred in this case, would have a potentially disruptive
impact on maritime commerce,  federal courts appear to have
concluded that such an injury would meet this criteria.
E.g., Florio v. Olson, 129 F.3d 678, 680
(1st Cir. 1997) (finding connection test satisfied
although location test was not); Alderman v. Pacific
Northern Victor, 95 F.3d 1061, 1064 (11th
Cir. 1996); Coats v. Penrod Drilling Corp., 61 F.3d
1113, 1119 (5th Cir. 1995); Butler v. American
Trawler Co., 887 F.2d 20, 20-21 (1st Cir.
1989) (Breyer, J.). Moreover, the court concludes that there
can be no dispute that the incident here arose out of
traditional maritime activity.
court therefore concludes that federal maritime law applies.
Doughty's only argument to the contrary is limited to the
cursory assertion that he is not alleging a maritime tort but
rather a state law claim for which there is
jurisdiction. However, Doughty's primary argument is
that, assuming that federal maritime law applies, he is not
subject to the three-year statute of limitations because of
the "saving to suitors" clause in 28 U.S.C. §
"saving to suitors" clause has been interpreted to
give state courts jurisdiction over certain claims that would
otherwise be within the exclusive admiralty jurisdiction of
federal courts. However, it has not been interpreted to
relieve plaintiffs of the three-year statute of limitations
applicable to maritime torts that was formerly set forth in
46 U.S.C. App. § 763a and is now contained in 46 U.S.C.
§ 30106. Butler v. American Trawler Co., 887
F.2d at 21. In Butler Judge Breyer concluded that in
enacting 46 U.S.C. App. § 763a Congress had intended to
preclude the application of different statutes of limitations
that might be applicable under state law.
argues that under federal admiralty law, the equitable
doctrine of laches - rather than the three-year deadline in
46 U.S.C. § 30106 - governs. Doughty is correct that
ordinarily under admiralty law the doctrine of laches
applies. Under that doctrine the most analogous statute of
limitations is used as a benchmark. If a plaintiff files suit
after that statutory period, the burden of proving that the
delay was nevertheless reasonable and did not result in any