DMR asks Harrison County court to dismiss boat suit

jphampton@sunherald.comAugust 30, 2013 

BILOXI -- The state Department of Marine Resources wants a circuit judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a company that is trying to recoup some of the more than $93,000 it says it is owed for repairs, refitting, storage and maintenance of the Laura C, a boat the agency says it does not own.

A suit filed by Competition Marine of Gulfport says DMR employees delivered the boat there to be repaired and refitted, but the DMR says the suit does not name the necessary parties to the suit -- the person or people who told Competition to repair the boat and the owner of the boat.

A Baton Rouge man, who has since died, donated the boat in 2009 to YADA, a nonprofit headed by David Harris of Ocean Springs, according to a letter from Harris. His wife, YADA officer Melba Harris, said the group accepted the 44-foot aluminum-hull boat at the request of Bill Walker.

At the time, Walker was DMR's director but also headed a foundation with a similar name, the Mississippi Marine Resources Foundation. Melba Harris said Walker could not accept the donation because he was still working on nonprofit status for his organization.

Nonprofit status allows donors to take tax write-offs for gifts.

In its answer to the suit, which it filed Friday, the DMR denies it ever owned or leased the boat.

In that answer, the DMR "asserts that the plaintiff is aware that David Harris and/or a company named "YADA" in Ocean Springs, MS, has some potential interest in the vessel. Further, defendant asserts that the plaintiff is aware that Dr. Louis Capozzoli may be the last known owner of the subject vessel."

In its suit, Competition says it has "diligently searched for the owner of the Laura C and has been unable to locate any such owner or responsible party."

DMR in its response also "demands strict proof that the alleged repairs were made as claimed" and wants Competition to pay all costs related to the suit.

Competition wants the court to find it has a valid lien against the boat and to direct Harrison County Sheriff Melvin Brisolara to seize the boat and auction it, using the proceeds to cover at least a portion of Competition's costs. Competition says it is owed $93,325 for the refitting and repairs plus storage and maintenance fees and legal costs.

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