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Wells v. Kawasaki Motors Corp.

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

September 10, 2018

NICOLE WELLS, Plaintiff,
v.
KAWASAKI MOTORS CORP., U.S.A., KAWASAKI HEAVY INDUSTRIES LTD., H2O ZONE LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER OVERRULING [124] DEFENDANTS KAWASAKI MOTORS CORP., U.S.A. AND KAWASAKI HEAVY INDUSTRIES LTD'S OBJECTION TO MAGISTRATE JUDGE FURSE'S ORDER DENYING MOTION TO STRIKE ALLEGATIONS OF ADMIRALTY JURISDICTION

          David Nuffer United States District Judge.

         Defendants Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. (the “Kawasaki Defendants”), objected[1] under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a) to Magistrate Judge Evelyn J. Furse's April 26, 2018 Order[2] denying the Kawasaki Defendants' Motion to Strike Allegations of Admiralty Jurisdiction.[3] Specifically, the Kawasaki Defendants argue that the Order was contrary to law.[4] Plaintiff Nicole Wells responded[5]to the Objection. Based upon the following memorandum decision, the Objection is OVERRULED and the Order is AFFIRMED.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a) provides that “The district judge must consider timely objections [to a magistrate judge's nondispositive[6] order] and modify or set aside any part of the order that is contrary to law or clearly erroneous.”[7] When an objection asserts that an order is contrary to the law, as the Kawasaki Defendants have done here, a district judge may perform a plenary review as to matters of law.[8] The ultimate question to be resolved is whether the magistrate judge applied the wrong legal standard or applied the appropriate legal standard incorrectly.[9] But “Because a magistrate judge is afforded broad discretion in the resolution of non-dispositive ... disputes” a magistrate judge's order will only be overruled if the magistrate judge abused discretion.[10]

         Judge Furse determined in the Order that there was no basis to grant the Kawasaki Defendants' Motion and strike Plaintiff's allegations of admiralty jurisdiction.[11] The Kawasaki Defendants argue that this determination is contrary to law because “(1) the Order ignores the multifactorial test for connection . . . and (2) the Order errs in concluding . . . that merely falling off a [personal watercraft] on a navigable waterway involves admiralty jurisdiction.”[12] Magistrate Judge Furse reached this conclusion by applying the location and connection test for admiralty jurisdiction that the United States Supreme Court set forth in Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co.[13] The Order specifically mentions that the parties did not dispute that this was the correct test to use.[14]

         According to the Order, the parties agreed that the location portion of this test was satisfied as Lake Powell is a navigable water.[15] The parties also agreed that the incident at issue here involved the Plaintiff's fall off the back of a personal watercraft, that she was picked up by that same personal watercraft, and returned to the beach.[16] However, the parties disputed that the incident satisfied the requirements of the connection test.[17]

         The connection portion of the test for admiralty jurisdiction is satisfied if it can be determined that, after assessing the general features of the type of incident involved, the incident has a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce and whether the general character of the activity giving rise to the incident shows a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.[18] In determining that the incident here did satisfy the requirements of the connection test for admiralty jurisdiction, Judge Furse relied on the analysis of the Ninth Circuit in the case In Re Mission Bay Jet Sports, LLC.[19]

         That Ninth Circuit case also addressed whether admiralty jurisdiction existed over tort claims brought by individuals who were thrown off personal watercraft. After applying both prongs of the location and connection test, the Ninth Circuit concluded that

[T]he incident occurred on navigable waters. Its general features - harm by a vessel in navigable waters to a passenger-had a potential effect on maritime commerce [as falling overboard in navigable waters potentially implicates search and rescue efforts], and the general character of the activity-operation of a vessel in navigable waters - had a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity. Consequently, the federal district court had admiralty jurisdiction.[20]

         Given the factual similarity of In Re Mission Bay Jet Sports, LLC to the facts here, Judge Furse relied on the Ninth Circuit's analysis in its entirety and did not perform a separate, detailed application of the facts in this case to the provisions of the connection test before concluding that admiralty justification exists.[21]

         Judge Furse did not abuse her discretion or issue an order that is contrary to the law. Judge Furse did not fail to apply the appropriate legal test or standard. She applied, as the parties stipulated, the appropriate test to determine whether admiralty jurisdiction exists. Although Judge Furse's analysis is brief due to her wholesale reliance on In Re Mission Bay Jet Sports, LLC, due to the factual similarity of that case to the facts here Judge Furse did not apply the connection test incorrectly.

         One of the key determinations of In Re Mission Bay Jet Sports, LLC was that because “a vessel from which a passenger goes overboard in navigable waters would likely stop to search and rescue [and] call for assistance from others” the features “of an incident of this class could have a potentially disruptive impact” on maritime activity.”[22] The Ninth Circuit's determination is readily applicable to the incident at issue in this case. Judge Furse's decision to adopt the rationale of In Re Mission Bay Jet Sports, LLC is sound. The Objection is overruled.

         ORDER

         IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendants Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd.'s Objection[23] is OVERRULED and the ...


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