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Buccina v. Grimsby

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

April 27, 2018

Nancy Buccina; Scot A. Buccina, Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellants,
v.
Linda Ann Grimsby, Defendant-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Toledo. No. 3:14-cv-02434-James G. Carr, District Judge.

          Brian T. Winchester, Jesse M. Schmidt, MCNEAL SCHICK, ARCHIBALD & BIRO, CO., LPA, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

          Christopher D. Kuebler, RAY ROBINSON LAW CO., LPA, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellees/Cross-Appellants.

          Before: BATCHELDER, SUTTON, and WHITE, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          SUTTON, Circuit Judge.

          Linda Ann Grimsby invited her friend Nancy Buccina to take a boat trip on Lake Erie. Toward the end of the voyage, the boat hit a wave, jarring the passengers and injuring Nancy. Nancy and her husband Scot sued. A jury found that Grimsby was not negligent. But the district court granted Nancy and Scot's motion for a new trial on the ground that the evidence did not support the verdict. Grimsby filed an interlocutory appeal, and the Buccinas cross-appealed. Both sides think we may entertain their appeals thanks to an interlocutory exception to the final judgment rule that applies to admiralty cases. But the exception does not apply because the Buccinas chose to pursue their claims under ordinary civil procedures, as the relevant rule and case law permits. We dismiss the appeals for lack of jurisdiction.

         I.

         In June 2012, Linda Ann Grimsby invited Nancy Buccina and one other friend to join her on a 17-foot motor boat to waterski on Lake Erie. After skiing, the group decided to take a trip down the Maumee River, which runs into the lake at Toledo. Grimsby navigated the vessel while Nancy sat in the front. The vessel hit an unexpected wave, likely caused by the wake of other boats. Nancy bounced up from her seat and came down hard on it. Grimsby steered the boat to a local Coast Guard station where Nancy received medical attention.

         Nancy and her husband Scot Buccina sued Grimsby in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio for personal injury and loss of consortium, invoking the court's diversity and admiralty jurisdiction. At the same time, they pleaded that "this action is not to be deemed an 'admiralty and maritime claim' within the meaning of" Rule 9 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a choice that guaranteed them a jury trial as opposed to the bench trial that defendants may force plaintiffs to undergo in admiralty cases. R.1 at 1-2.

         The trip through federal court has taken much longer than their voyage. It has prompted nearly a half-dozen district court opinions, a jury trial, and (to date) two opinions from our court. In 2015, the district court held that the incident fell within the court's admiralty jurisdiction, meaning that federal maritime law controlled the duty of care. In 2016, the court held that a boat hitting a wave did not count as a "collision" under the Coast Guard Navigation Rules. The district court certified the question for interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). But there was no "substantial ground for a difference of opinion" about the answer that would justify an interlocutory appeal, we determined, and thus we opted not to accept the appeal. In re Buccina, 657 Fed.Appx. 350, 351 (6th Cir. 2016).

          On remand, a jury ruled for Grimsby, finding that she was not negligent. The Buccinas moved for a new trial under Civil Rule 59(a) or judgment notwithstanding the verdict under Civil Rule 50(b). The district court granted the motion for a new trial.

         Grimsby appealed, and the Buccinas cross-appealed.

         II.

         Appellate jurisdiction typically extends only to final judgments. 28 U.S.C. § 1291. The district court's new-trial decision is the epitome of a non-final order. The case will not end until after the new trial. See ...


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