If It Can Be Towed, Then It’s a Vessel: The Eleventh Circuit Reveals Flaws In the Overinclusive Definition of “Vessel” for Maritime Liens in City of Riviera Beach v. That Certain Unnamed Gray Vessel

Courtney Collins | Note

Fane Lozman lived in his gray, two-story houseboat for nearly seven years until April 20, 2009, when the United States Marshal arrested the defendant houseboat after the City of Riviera Beach filed an admiralty complaint against it. By doing so, the City sought to foreclose a maritime lien for unpaid dockage provided to the houseboat by the City marina. Lozman purchased the defendant houseboat in 2002 and towed it approximately 200 miles to North Bay Village, Florida, where he lived on it for the next three years. In March 2006, after Hurricane Wilma struck, Lozman had the houseboat towed to the city marina, where he entered into an agreement with the City to pay a monthly dockage fee to keep the houseboat in the marina. The houseboat was Lozman’s primary residence and remained at the marina until its arrest in 2009.

The conflict leading to the defendant houseboat’s arrest arose after the city council unanimously passed a revised dockage agreement for the city marina that called for new insurance and vessel requirements. The city marina sent out letters requiring execution of the new dockage agreement by a certain date; Lozman failed to execute the new agreement by that date and did not satisfy the new requirements. Lozman also owed dockage and fees amounting to about $3000. The City subsequently informed Lozman of its intent to enforce the maritime lien for necessaries, and the defendant vessel was arrested on April 20, 2009. The City filed a complaint seeking to foreclose its maritime liens for dockage at the marina, a “necessary,” pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 31342.

Following the arrest of the defendant houseboat, Lozman filed a pro se emergency motion to dismiss on August 21, 2009, which was denied shortly thereafter. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that the defendant was subject to admiralty jurisdiction because the houseboat was a “vessel” and that the City was entitled to $3053.26 to be satisfied by the sale of the defendant houseboat. City of Riviera Beach v. That Certain Unnamed Gray Vessel, 649 F.3d 1259, 2011 AMC 2891 (11th Cir. 2011).