SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge side-lined a class action challenging excessive docking fees levied against commercial boat owners in San Francisco on Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar denied a motion for class certification brought by lead plaintiff Lil’ Man in the Boat, a private yacht company that has been running chartered excursions in the San Francisco Bay aboard the yacht “Just Dreaming” since 2006, using the north side dock of Pier 40’s South Beach Harbor as its pick-up and drop-off point.
In 2016, the city raised its landing fee for commercial vessels from $160 a day to $220, and also imposed a new requirement that commercial vessel operators hand over 7 percent of their gross monthly revenues when the revenue fee exceeds the base landing fee under a new landing agreement, which also forced operators to sign a waiver saying they wouldn’t sue the city.
Lil’ Man in the Boat filed a federal class action against the city in 2016 after it refused to sign the agreement and was locked out of South Beach Harbor. Tigar nixed some of the company’s claims in 2017, but the case was allowed to proceed under the theory that the fees violated the Tonnage Clause, which restricts states from imposing taxes on cargo, and the Rivers and Harbors Act, which prohibits fees greater than the cost of the upkeep of the harbor.
Lil’ Man in the Boat next sought to certify two classes of commercial vessel operators consisting of those who were asked to sign the agreement and those who paid the fees it required. But Tigar found that there are not enough class members in either of the proposed classes, and that if the vessel operators want to pursue their challenge, they can each do so separately.
He also rejected the company’s claim that the operators cannot sue individually out of fear that that the city will retaliate against them. Lil’ Man in the Boat had said that the class members were too fearful to even submit declarations supporting the lawsuit, so could not possibly be expected to sue under their own names.
"The only evidentiary support for this is the hearsay declaration of Lawrence Murray, the president of Plaintiff Lil’ Man in the Boat. These hearsay statements are insufficient to establish a likelihood of retaliation,” Tigar wrote.
David Ongaro, an attorney representing Lil’ Man in the Boat, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
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