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Century Resorts International Ltd. v. M/V Nova Star

United States District Court, D. Maine

September 28, 2016

CENTURY RESORTS INTERNATIONAL LTD., Claimant
v.
M/V NOVA STAR, in rem, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS REGARDING TAXATION OF CUSTODIAL CHARGES TO CLAIMANT

          John H. Rich III, United States Magistrate Judge.

         On October 30, 2015, at the request of now-terminated plaintiff Portland Pilots, Inc. (“Portland Pilots”), the court issued a warrant for the arrest of defendant vessel M/V Nova Star (“the vessel”) and placed her in the care of substitute custodian National Maritime Services (“NMS”). See ECF Nos. 10, 12. The vessel remained under arrest, in the care of NMS, until November 30, 2015, when the court issued an order, without objection, vacating all warrants for her arrest and discharging the substitute custodian effective at midnight that day. See ECF No. 149.

         Presently before the court is the motion of the vessel's owners, Singapore Technologies Marine Ltd. (“Owners”), to tax all custodial charges for the period after November 25, 2015, to claimant Century Resorts International LTD. (“Century”) on the basis that the vessel was detained after that time solely for Century's convenience. See Motion To Tax or Otherwise Allocate Custodial Charges to Century Resorts (“Owners' Motion”) (ECF No. 165).[1] Century objects, arguing that the court should deny the Owners' Motion or assess at most nominal custodial charges. See [Motion To Dismiss] (“Century's Motion”) (ECF No. 145) (incorporated within Century Resorts International LTD.'s Status Update (“Status Update”) (ECF No. 137)); Response to Singapore Technologies Ltd.'s Motion To Tax Costs (“Century's Response”) (ECF No. 279) at 1-2, 8.[2]

         For the reasons that follow, I grant the Owners' cross-motion and deny that of Century, taxing 100 percent of all custodial charges for the five-day period from November 26-30, 2015, to Century.

         I. Applicable Legal Standard

         “It is well established that admiralty courts may award storage charges on equitable grounds.” Mullane v. Chambers, 438 F.3d 132, 138 (1st Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). “The district court has wide discretion in determining whether equitable relief in admiralty cases is appropriate.” Id. (citations omitted).

         II. Factual Background

         On November 11, 2015, Century filed a combined statement of right or interest in seized property and motion to remove seized property. See Verified Statement of Right or Interest in Seized Property and Motion To Remove Seized Property (ECF No. 41) at 1. It explained that it sought to retrieve from the vessel property that it had supplied pursuant to a contract with vessel operator Nova Star Cruises Ltd., including casino gaming equipment, a surveillance system, and office furniture. See Id. ¶¶ 2, 6-10. Two days later, the Owners filed their verified statement of Regardless, I would not tax such charges for November 25, 2015: even absent Century's objection to the vessel's release, she would not have been released prior to midnight that day. right or interest for purposes of defending the instant action and seeking release of the vessel. See ECF No. 52. A number of other entities and individuals either intervened as plaintiffs or filed claims seeking to recover monies assertedly owed in connection with the vessel's operation. See, e.g., ECF Nos. 18, 20, 33, 35-36, 64-66, 68, 81, 99, 120.

         On November 17, 2015, the Owners filed a motion to extend their deadlines to answer the plaintiff's complaint and to respond to or answer all other pending motions and lien claims, explaining that they intended to post a special bond to secure release of the vessel and negotiate the settlement of some or all lien claims. See ECF No. 67. On the same day, Edward MacColl, an attorney for the Owners, emailed Evelyn Levine, an attorney for Century, stating:

The ship owners would like to discuss with your client the possibility of leasing the equipment on an ongoing basis. We are hoping to bond off all claims and secure the release of the vessel within the next week. With whom should the vessel owners speak concerning a potential lease for the equipment?

         Exh. A (ECF No. 280-1) to Owners' Response. Attorney Levine replied:

We have spoken with our client. They do not want to enter into a lease agreement. They want their property back immediately.

Id.

         Further negotiations ensued. On November 19, 2015, David Bischoff, an attorney for Century, emailed John Bass, an attorney for the Owners:

This follows our recent telephone conversations relating to a method pursuant to which Century Resorts may offload its property located onboard the Nova Star. As we have discussed, Century Resorts is unable to commence such an offload until November 29th; they expect the offload to require one to two days to complete. While I understand that your client is not willing to commit to hold the vessel through the November 29th to December 1st timeline that Century Resorts will require to offload its property, I appreciate and would like to continue our discussions about possible solutions to the problem. For example, I would like to discuss terms of an agreement whereby your client would ensure that my client was afforded access to the vessel to remove its property even if the vessel is released prior to November 29th. Similarly, I would like to discuss your client's intentions with respect to obtaining a replacement charter, its route, etc. so that we may be ...

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