Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

By
Plaintiff and his wife filed suit against the Government under the third-party liability provision of the Longshore and Harborworkers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), 33 U.S.C. 905(b), after plaintiff was injured while aboard a public vessel owned by the Government and operated by its agents. Plaintiff was inspecting the vessel in connection with his employer's bidding on repair work. The district court concluded that, because the Government's negligent failure to safely illumine the stairwell was the factual and legal cause of plaintiff's accidental fall and its disabling consequences, the Government was fully liable for his resulting harm and disability, even though his preexisting conditions made the consequences of the Government's negligence more severe than they would have been for an ordinary victim. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not apply the wrong legal standard in this case with regard to plaintiff's preexisting medical conditions; the district court did not err in holding that the accident was the sole cause of plaintiff's damages; and the district court did not abuse its discretion by limiting the testimony of the Government's expert witness. View "Koch v. United States" on Justia Law

By
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit asked the Louisiana Supreme Court: “What is the meaning of ‘good faith’ as that term is used in the Louisiana Environmental Quality Act, Louisiana Revised Statutes 30:2027?” Eric Borcik was employed by Crosby Tugs, L.L.C. (Crosby) as a deckhand. In July 2010, he was transferred to the M/V NELDA FAYE. Borcik claims that the lead captain of the NELDA FAYE ordered him to dump waste oil into navigable waters and otherwise violate environmental laws over a period of three years. He further claims that he followed these orders. In May 2013, Borcik emailed Crosby’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). His email communicated that he had “concerns” that he stated “have all fallen on deaf ears” and expressed “fear [of] some form of retaliation.” He later met with the CAO in person. Borcik was transferred to another boat and later fired. Borcik contends he was fired in retaliation for his complaints; Crosby contends that Borcik was fired for insubordination. Borcik sued Crosby in October 2013, alleging retaliatory termination in violation of Louisiana Environmental Quality Act (“LEQA”), specifically claiming that Crosby violated the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Act. The Supreme Court answered the certified question: the term “good faith,” as used in R.S. 30:2027, means an employee is acting with an honest belief that a violation of an environmental law, rule, or regulation occurred. View "Borcik v. Crosby Tugs, LLC" on Justia Law

By
Plaintiff filed suit under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201 et seq., against Defendants Galliano Marine Service and C-Innovation, seeking to recover unpaid wages for overtime worked during his employment at C-Innovation. Defendants run a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) business for offshore applications and employed plaintiff as an ROV Technician and ROV Supervisor. The district court granted summary judgment against plaintiff. The court concluded that the district court erred in granting defendant's motion for summary judgment because it has not been established as a matter of law that the seaman exemption applies. In this case, competing testimonial evidence regarding whether plaintiff was a master or subject to the authority, direction, and control of the master aboard a vessel precludes summary judgment. Furthermore, the district court must determine what proportion of plaintiff's time is spent on seaman's work. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Halle v. Galliano Marine Service, LLC" on Justia Law

By
Regulations promulgated by the National Marine Fisheries Service require that commercial fishermen must, on occasion, be accompanied on their vessels by at-sea monitors to ensure accountability with respect to catch limits. The regulations require that the fishermen bear the costs of the at-sea monitors. Plaintiff, a New Hampshire fisherman subject to the industry funding requirement for the at-sea monitoring program, brought suit in federal district court claiming that the industry funding requirement violated several laws and was unconstitutional. Plaintiff was joined in the proceedings by a group of commercial fishermen also subject to the industry funding requirement. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the government, concluding that the action was untimely filed. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff’s suit was not filed within the applicable statute of limitations. View "Goethel v. U.S. Department of Commerce" on Justia Law

By
This consolidated case under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. 883, and general maritime law, involved an accident on a barge in the navigable waterways of Louisiana. Defendant, the barge owner, appealed the district court's judgment for plaintiffs. The court held that evidence supported the district court's award to plaintiff McBride for pre-death fear and conscious pain and suffering, and the district court's award of damages for loss of past and future support was not clearly erroneous. The court also concluded that the district court's award of future cure until plaintiff Touchet reaches maximum medical improvement and for future medical expenses beyond Touchet's maximum medical improvement was not reversible error. Finally, the district court did not clearly err in finding that Touchet was permanently disabled and by awarding damages for lost earnings. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "McBride v. Estis Well Service, LLC" on Justia Law

By
Allan Tabingo was seriously injured while working aboard a fishing trawler owned and operated by American Seafoods Company LLC and American Triumph LLC (collectively American Seafoods). Tabingo alleged the lever used to operate a hatch on the trawler's deck broke when an operator tried to stop the hatch from closing. The hatch closed on Tabingo' s hand, leading to the amputation of two fingers. He brought numerous claims against American Seafoods, including a general maritime unseaworthiness claim for which he requested punitive damages. American Seafoods argued that as a matter of law, punitive damages were unavailable for unseaworthiness claims. The issue of whether punitive damages were available for a claim of unseaworthiness was a question of first impression for both the United States and Washington State Supreme Courts. The United States Supreme Court recently held that punitive damages were available for maintenance and cure, another general maritime claim. The Court held that because both the claim and the damages were historically available at common law and because Congress had shown no intent to limit recovery of punitive damages, those damages were available. Here, the Washington Court followed the United States Supreme Court's rationale and found that, like maintenance and cure, punitive damages were available for a general maritime unseaworthiness claim. The Washington Court reversed the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Tabingo v. Am. Triumph LLC" on Justia Law

By
This appeal stemmed from a dispute over a contract to perform flow-back services to improve the performance of an offshore natural-gas well when performance eventually required the use of a crane barge. At issue was the applicability of maritime or state law. The court agreed with the district court, applied the approach in Davis & Sons, Inc. v. Gulf Oil Corp., and concluded that the oral work order was the relevant contract and that it is a maritime contract. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Larry Doiron, Inc. v. Specialty Rental Tools & Supply" on Justia Law

By
Plaintiffs used ocean common carriers to transport vehicles between foreign countries and the United States. Direct purchaser plaintiffs made arrangements with and received vehicles directly from the carriers, while indirect purchaser plaintiffs obtained the benefit of the carrier services by ultimately receiving vehicles transported from abroad. In 2012, law enforcement raided the offices of Defendants, ocean common carriers, in connection with antitrust investigations. Several Defendants pleaded pleaded guilty to antitrust violations based on price-fixing, allocating customers, and rigging bids for vehicle carrier services. Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that Defendants entered into agreements to fix prices and reduce capacity in violation of federal antitrust laws and state laws. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of the case. Defendants allegedly engaged in acts prohibited by the Shipping Act of 1984, 46 U.S.C. 40101, which both precludes private plaintiffs from seeking relief under the federal antitrust laws for such conduct and preempts the state law claims under circumstances like those at issue. The Act responds to “the need to foster a regulatory environment in which U.S.-flag liner operators are not placed at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis their foreign-flag competitors.” The Federal Maritime Commission has regulatory authority displacing private suits. View "In re: Vehicle Carrier Services Antitrust Litigations" on Justia Law

By
Jamie Rogers, a seaman, was injured on a fishing vessel owned and operated by Block Island Fishing, Inc. Block Island made some “maintenance and cure” payments to Rogers. Block Island then brought this suit against Rogers to dispute the duration and amount of maintenance and cure payments that it owed. Block Island filed a motion for summary judgment. The district court found that November 18, 2014 was the date on which Block Island’s obligations ended and reserved for a jury to determine the exact sum that Block Island owed Rogers for his living expenses. The court then ruled that Block Island had overpaid Rogers and that Block Island could offset the sum of overpayment against any damages award that Rogers might win at trial. The First Circuit affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part, holding (1) the district court erred by sua sponte replacing Block Island’s proposed date of July 31, 2014 with its own date without giving Rogers sufficient notice of opportunity to make his case against the new date; and (2) Block Island may offset any overpayment against Rogers’ potential damages award but may not sue for the sum in an independent action. View "Block Island Fishing, Inc. v. Rogers" on Justia Law

By
A barge exploded in 2005, while under way between Joliet and Chicago with a cargo of slurry oil. Deckhand Oliva did not survive. Claiming that Egan, master of the tug that had been pushing the barge, told Oliva to warm a pump using a propane torch, the United States filed a civil suit. Open flames on oil carriers are forbidden by Coast Guard regulations. The judge determined that the government did not prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Oliva was using a propane torch at the time of the incident. There was no appeal. Two years later, the government charged Egan under 18 U.S.C.1115, which penalizes maritime negligence that results in death, plus other statutes that penalize the negligent discharge of oil into navigable waters. The judge found that the prosecution had established, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Egan gave the order to Oliva, that the torch caused the explosion, and that Oliva died and that the barge released oil as results. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court has said that the outcome of a civil case has preclusive force in a criminal prosecution. If the government could not prove a claim on the preponderance standard, it cannot show the same thing beyond a reasonable doubt. View "United States v. Egan" on Justia Law