Summary of Columbus-America v. Atlantic Mutual Ins. Co. (1992), U.S. Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit, 974 F.2d 450, cert. denied, 507 U.S. 1000
P, Appellee= Columbus-America Group
D, Appellant= Atlantic Mutual Insurance Co.
Procedural history: D sought review of the judgments of the U.S. District Court, one granting P’s petition for declaration of ownership of gold shipments recovered from a shipwreck in the Atlantic Ocean, and another which denied pre-trial discovery to other interveners when they intervened on the eve of trial.
Facts: P discovered the exact location of an 1857 shipwreck in the Atlantic Ocean that contained personal and commercial gold shipments. P filed a petition in the district court to be declared the owner of the gold under marine salvage law. D (underwriters and their predecessors) had originally paid off claims for the gold shipments that were on board, and contested the petition. On the eve of trial, others intervened and claimed that P had utilized information they had developed to find the wreck and that they were entitled to a share of any recovery. The district court found that the underwriters had abandoned their ownership claims and granted title in the wreckage and its contents to P. The district court found that P had not utilized the information of the interveners.
Issues: Does the evidence show that D affirmatively abandoned their interest in the gold when their predecessors destroyed the paperwork? >Yes.
Did trial court err in not allowing sufficient time for interveners’ discovery? >Yes.
Holding: The evidence did not sufficiently show that the underwriters had affirmatively abandoned their interests in the gold. The court also held that the district court abused its discretion when it did not afford sufficient time for discovery.
Judgment: Remanded, and district court is to apply the law of salvage and determine what percentage the salvor and each underwriter is entitled to.
Rationale: Only evidence available is that after 134 years, some documents which did exist may no longer be able to be located. Law requires clear and convincing evidence, and this was not presented. Interveners have their right to discovery in the case after the intervention is allowed.