Sunday, December 1, 2013

Broadley v. Mashpee Neck Marina, Inc. case brief

Broadley v. Mashpee Neck Marina, Inc. case brief summary
471 F.3d 272 (2006)

Plaintiff vessel owner appealed from the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, which entered summary judgment for defendant marina upon the owner's personal injury action alleging the marina's negligence. The district court narrowed the boilerplate exculpatory clause of the parties' contract for seasonal mooring, reforming the clause to limit it to ordinary negligence. As reformed, it barred the owner's suit.

The owner was injured at the marina when his foot became caught in a gap between the main dock and a floating dock. Because of its connection to maritime activities, the exculpatory clause was governed by federal admiralty law. The owner's main argument on appeal was that, under admiralty law, a party could not completely absolve itself of liability for ordinary negligence.


  • The court determined that contract clause was vastly overbroad and against public policy insofar as it purported to absolve the marina of liability for gross negligence, recklessness, and intentional wrongdoing. 
  • Those concerns led the court to reject the application of the contract's severability clause to rescue the overbroad exculpatory clause. 
  • In declining to narrow the exculpatory clause, the court relied on the extreme overbreadth of the clause and the plainness of its illegality, the boilerplate character of the contract and lack of negotiation, the absence of an explicit reference to negligence, and the attorney's fees clause. 
  • Although it could be argued that the overbreadth argument was not adequately developed on appeal, the court reversed the decision, ruling that invalidity was the more just result.

The court reversed the decision of the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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