Daniel J. Vecchio is a guest author and a member of GSB's Litigation Practice Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 206.816.1348.
Can a Bankruptcy Court order the sale of a vessel “free and clear” of a seaman’s maritime lien for maintenance and cure under Bankruptcy Code § 363? According to the Ninth Circuit’s recent ruling in Barnes v. Sea Hawaii Rafting, No. 16-15023 (Mar. 28, 2018), the answer is no: absent a lienor’s consent, only a court sitting in admiralty has the power to extinguish a maritime lien.
A Shipboard Accident Leads to Litigation and Bankruptcy
In Barnes, the plaintiff in the court below was the captain of the vessel M/V Tehani, a 25-foot rigid hull inflatable boat used for sightseeing and snorkeling voyages out of Honokohau Harbor in Hawaii. In July 2012, a faulty fuel tank caused an explosion aboard the Tehani, and the captain suffered serious injuries requiring extensive medical treatment. Lacking insurance through his employer, the captain sued the boat’s owner, Sea Hawaii Rafting, LLC (“Sea Hawaii”), and its owner/manager, Kris Henry for maintenance and cure under federal admiralty law, and also sued the Tehani in rem. All three defendants answered the plaintiff’s complaint, and the parties proceeded to litigate for some fifteen months.
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