Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendants pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, while on board a stateless vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, in violation of the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act, 46 U.S.C. 70501 et seq. The Second Circuit dismissed the indictment, because the government failed to demonstrate, as required by section 70504, that the vessel was subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. In this case, the indictment should have been dismissed upon the government's failure to demonstrate at the pretrial hearing that the vessel was subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Furthermore, the error was not cured by defendants' subsequent defective guilty pleas. Accordingly, the court vacated the convictions. View "United States v. Prado" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied Wood Group's petition for review of the Board's conclusion that Wood Group's employee satisfied the situs and status requirements for coverage under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. In this case, the employee was injured while unloading a vessel on a platform customarily used for that task. The court held that the Board correctly applied the plain language of the Act and affirmed its conclusion that the employee met the situs requirement. Furthermore, because the employee's injury occurred when he was loading/unloading a vessel, and because he regularly loaded/unloaded vessels, the status requirement was satisfied. View "Wood Group Production Services v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs" on Justia Law

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Batterton was working on a Dutra vessel when a hatch blew open and injured his hand. Batterton sued Dutra, asserting various claims, including unseaworthiness, and seeking general and punitive damages. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of Dutra’s motion to dismiss the claim for punitive damages: The Supreme Court reversed. A plaintiff may not recover punitive damages on a claim of unseaworthiness. Precedent establishes that the Court “should look primarily to . . . legislative enactments for policy guidance” when exercising its inherent common-law authority over maritime and admiralty cases. Overwhelming historical evidence suggests that punitive damages are not available for unseaworthiness claims. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (Jones Act) codified the rights of injured mariners by incorporating the rights provided to railway workers under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA); FELA damages were strictly compensatory. The Court noted that unseaworthiness in its current strict-liability form is the Court’s own invention, coming after enactment of the Jones Act. A claim of unseaworthiness is a duplicate and substitute for a Jones Act claim. It would exceed the objectives of pursuing policies found in congressional enactments and promoting uniformity between maritime statutory law and maritime common law to introduce novel remedies contradictory to those provided by Congress in similar areas. Allowing punitive damages on unseaworthiness claims would also create bizarre disparities in the law and would place American shippers at a significant competitive disadvantage and discourage foreign-owned vessels from employing American seamen. View "Dutra Group v. Batterton" on Justia Law

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In this personal injury Jones Act case, the Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not err by failing to act on an allegation that defendant provoked plaintiff's attorney to withdraw. In this case, all evidence in the record indicated that the attorney made a showing of good cause and provided reasonable notice to his client; the district court took procedural care in resolving the withdrawal motion; and plaintiff's claims to the contrary failed. However, the court held that the district court erroneously granted summary judgment to defendant because plaintiff lacked expert medical evidence of causation. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Gowdy v. Marine Spill Response Corp." on Justia Law

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The Virgin Islands is a U.S. territory that can set and receive proceeds from duties, Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) is authorized to “determine, fix, alter, charge, and collect reasonable rates, fees, rentals, ship’s dues and other charges.” Since 1968, VIPA has set wharfage and tonnage fees for Virgin Islands ports. Customs collected those fees from 1969-2011, deducting its costs. The remaining funds were transferred to VIPA. In 1994, the Virgin Islands and Customs agreed to “the methodology for determining the costs chargeable to [the Virgin Islands] . . . for operating various [Customs] activities.” The agreement cited 48 U.S.C. 1469c, which provides: To the extent practicable, services, facilities, and equipment of agencies and instrumentalities of the United States Government may be made available, on a reimbursable basis, to the governments of the territories and possessions of the United States. Customs increased collection costs, which outpaced the collection of the disputed fees starting in 2004, leaving VIPA without any proceeds. After failed efforts to resolve the issue, VIPA notified Customs in February 2011, that VIPA would start to collect the fees in March 2011. VIPA sued Customs to recover approximately $ 10 million in disputed fees that Customs collected from February 2008 to March 1, 2011. The Federal Circuit affirmed a judgment in favor of Customs. Customs had authority to collect the disputed fees during the time at issue under the 1994 agreement, in combination with 48 U.S.C. 1469c. View "Virgin Islands Port Authority v. United States" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff slipped and fell as he stepped down from a landing located on the outer deck of a cruise ship operated by NCL, he filed suit alleging that NCL negligently failed to warn passengers of the step down, and negligent failed to maintain and inspect the lighting in the area. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in striking a portion of the expert's First Supplemental Report and the entirety of the Second Supplemental Report. However, the court held that plaintiff raised a genuine issue of material fact regarding NCL's prior notice of the dangerous condition posed by the step down. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded the district court's ruling regarding the failure to warn claim. Finally, the court affirmed as to the negligent maintenance claim and held that the district court did not err in concluding that plaintiff failed to create a triable issue of fact on whether NCL had notice of the allegedly dangerous condition posed by the unilluminated lightbulb. View "Guevara v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd." on Justia Law

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The owner of a lawful bridge may be found comparatively negligent for an allision even absent an affirmative legal duty to alter the bridge's configuration. DM&E filed suit against Ingram for damages stemming from a barge accident. The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment for DM&E for the full amount sought, and held that the district court erred by concluding that DM&E could not be assigned any share of fault because it had no legal duty to remove or alter the lawfully permitted bridge. Accordingly, the court remanded for the district court to determine whether DM&E was in fact comparatively negligent. View "Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railway, Corp. v. Ingram Barge Co." on Justia Law

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Orion filed a limitation action under the Shipowner's Limitation of Liability Act. Claimants moved to dismiss the action, arguing that Orion had received adequate notice of the claims against it more than six months before it filed, that the action was therefore time-barred, and thus the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of claimants' motion to dismiss. The court held that the Act's section 30511(a)'s six-month filing deadline does not erect a jurisdictional barrier to suit. Rather, section 30211(a)'s six-month filing deadline is a non-jurisdictional claim process rule. The court also held that, in order to trigger the six-month filing period, a claimant (not someone else) must provide the shipowner or its agent (not someone else) with written (not oral) notice that reveals a reasonable possibility that his claim will exceed the value of the vessel(s) at issue. Furthermore, a shipowner does not incur a duty to investigate known or potential claims immediately upon receipt of a claimant's notice, and the duty to investigate arises only if the notice reveals the required "reasonable possibility." Finally, the court held that Orion did not receive the statutorily required written notice—revealing a reasonable possibility of claims that would exceed the value of its barges—more than six months before it filed its limitation action. Therefore, Orion's suit was timely filed. View "Orion Marine Construction, Inc. v. Dawson" on Justia Law

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Manufacturers produced equipment for three Navy ships. The equipment required asbestos insulation or asbestos parts to function as intended, but the manufacturers did not always incorporate the asbestos into their products, so the Navy later added the asbestos. Two Navy veterans, exposed to asbestos on the ships, developed cancer. They sued the manufacturers. The manufacturers argued that they should not be liable for harms caused by later-added third-party parts. The Supreme Court affirmed the Third Circuit in rejecting summary judgment for the manufacturers. The Court adopted a rule between the “foreseeability” approach and the “bare-metal defense,” that is "especially appropriate in the context of maritime law, which has always recognized a ‘special solicitude for the welfare’ of sailors." Requiring a warning in these circumstances will not impose a significant burden on manufacturers, who already have a duty to warn of the dangers of their own products. A manufacturer must provide a warning only when it knows or has reason to know that the integrated product is likely to be dangerous for its intended uses and has no reason to believe that the product’s users will realize that danger. The rule applies only if the manufacturer directs that the part be incorporated; the manufacturer makes the product with a part that the manufacturer knows will require replacement with a similar part; or a product would be useless without the part. View "Air & Liquid Systems Corp. v. DeVries" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order dismissing plaintiff's complaint against Princess Cruise Lines. Plaintiff's action stemmed from injuries he suffered while he was a passenger on a cruise ship operated by Princess. The court held that the lack of a reporter's transcript did not require affirmances based on an inadequate record; although plaintiff's action was not filed "in a forum outside this state," the statutes governing forum non conveniens motions apply here to determine the enforceability of the forum selection clause; the forum selection clause in this case was mandatory and required that suit be brought in federal court; and the court rejected plaintiff's claims that the enforcement of the mandatory selection clause would be unreasonable. View "Korman v. Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd." on Justia Law