Boca Grande Club, Inc. v. Florida Power & Light Co.

PETITIONER: Boca Grande Club, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Florida Power & Light Co.
LOCATION: U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute

DOCKET NO.: 93-180
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 511 US 222 (1994)
ARGUED: Jan 11, 1994
DECIDED: Apr 20, 1994

ADVOCATES:
David F. Pope - on behalf of the Petitioner
Ronald J. Mann - on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Respondent
Stuart C. Markman - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Boca Grande Club, Inc. v. Florida Power & Light Co.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 11, 1994 in Boca Grande Club, Inc. v. Florida Power & Light Co.

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 93-180, the Boca Grande Club, Inc., v. Florida Power & Light Company.

Mr. Pope.

David F. Pope:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

The previous case considered the relationships in a maritime tort system between the claimants and the nonsettling tortfeasors.

In this case, we're going to consider the relationship in a maritime tort system between the settling tortfeasor and the nonsettling tortfeasors.

This proceeding arises from a limitation of liability case filed as a result of an accident which occurred on the navigable waters of the United States.

The accident was a collision between a sailboat and an electric power line in a place called Gasparilla Pass on the West Coast of Florida.

Boca Grande Club was the owner of the sailboat.

Florida Power & Light Company was the owner of the power line.

The sailboat had been rented to Dr. Robert Polackwich, who was a member of the club, and his stepson, Jonathan Richards.

Both Dr. Polackwich and Mr. Richards died from electrocution as a result of the collision.

Boca Grande Club started this limitation case, and claims were filed in the action by the Polackwich and Richards personal representatives, relatives of the deceased, Florida Power & Light Company, and O'Day Corporation, the sailboat's manufacturer.

Boca Grande Club filed a motion for summary judgment with the district court as to all claims, based on the contention that the collision was solely caused by the fact that Florida Power & Light Company did not erect and maintain the power line at the minimum height above the navigable waters as required by the Army Corps of Engineers permit.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Mr. Pope, I suppose the disposition of this case will depend in large part on the disposition of the case we've just heard.

David F. Pope:

I would agree, Your Honor.

The choice between a proportionate credit rule and a pro tanto or dollar-for-dollar deduction rule would, if the Court selects a proportional credit rule, basically eliminate any claim for contribution as an operation of law.

The claim would not arise.

The district court in this case granted Boca Grande Club summary judgment as to the contribution claims of Florida Power & Light Company following settlement with the Polackwich and Richards Claimants.

The basis of the summary judgment granted by the district court was the decision of the Eleventh Circuit in Self v. Great Lakes, which had recognized the settlement bar rule with respect to contribution claims.

The Eleventh Circuit decided a subsequent case, styled Great Lakes v. Tanker, before the time to appeal the summary judgment had expired.

Boca Grande... excuse me.

The Great Lakes case held that the settlement bar rule announced in Self was dicta, and said that both settling and nonsettling tortfeasors could sue for contribution.

The Great Lakes Tanker case does not place a limitation as to whether the party bringing the contribution claim is one who himself has settled, or one who is seeking contribution from a party who already settled.

Florida Power & Light Company appealed the summary judgment, and the Eleventh Circuit reversed on the basis of its decision in Great Lakes.

The relief Boca Grande Club seeks is reversal of the ruling by the Eleventh Circuit and establishment of a rule in this case that will allow it to be protected from contribution claims.

This relief can be accomplished regardless of which settlement credit the Court may adopt as a result of the McDermott case.

John Paul Stevens:

May I ask you, Mr. Pope, just so... has there been a determination in the litigation as to the proportionate responsibility of the co-defendants?

David F. Pope:

There has been a... Your Honor, there has been no determination of Boca Grande Club's contributory fault for the collision.

Your question will require me to go outside the record to state that in the State court trial between the Polackwich claimants and Florida Power & Light Company, there was a determination of proportionate fault between those parties and the allocation of fault was 65 percent for Florida Power & Light and 35 percent for the Polackwich-Richards claimants.

John Paul Stevens:

So there would not be an issue on remand as to what the--