Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

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In a maritime insurance dispute between Great Lakes Insurance, a German company, and Raiders Retreat Realty, a Pennsylvania company, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that choice-of-law provisions in maritime contracts are presumptively enforceable under federal maritime law, with certain narrow exceptions not applicable in this case.The dispute originated when Raiders Retreat Realty's boat ran aground, and Great Lakes Insurance denied coverage, alleging that Raiders breached the insurance contract by failing to maintain the boat’s fire-suppression system. The insurance contract contained a choice-of-law provision that selected New York law to govern future disputes. Raiders argued that Pennsylvania law, not New York law, should apply. The District Court ruled in favor of Great Lakes, finding that the choice-of-law provision was presumptively valid and enforceable under federal maritime law. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals vacated this decision, holding that choice-of-law provisions must yield to the strong public policy of the state where the suit is brought.The Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit's decision, emphasizing the importance of uniformity and predictability in maritime law. The Court concluded that choice-of-law provisions allow maritime actors to avoid later disputes and the ensuing litigation and costs, thus promoting maritime commerce. Therefore, such provisions are presumptively enforceable under federal maritime law. The Court further clarified that exceptions to this rule exist but are narrow, and none of them applied in this case. View "Great Lakes Insurance SE v. Raiders Retreat Realty Co." on Justia Law

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In this case heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the plaintiff's wife died during a scuba and snorkeling tour from Lahaina Harbor to Molokini Crater, an atoll off the coast of Maui, Hawaii. Before the tour, the plaintiff and his wife each signed a waiver document releasing their rights to sue the defendants. The plaintiff's claims were based on gross negligence and simple negligence. The defendants argued that the waiver and release were an affirmative defense to the claims based on simple negligence. However, the district court struck the defense, stating that the liability waivers were void under 46 U.S.C. § 30527(a), which prohibits certain liability waivers for vessels transporting passengers between ports in the United States or between a port in the United States and a port in a foreign country.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order and held that the term "between ports in the United States" in 46 U.S.C. § 30527(a) refers to transportation between at least two separate ports in the United States. Therefore, the statute does not apply to vessels that transport passengers away from and back to a single port without stopping at any other port. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "EHART V. LAHAINA DIVERS, INC." on Justia Law

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This case involves a lawsuit against the United States for allegations of negligence in a search-and-rescue mission by the U.S. Coast Guard. The plaintiffs, the estate of Aaron Greenberg (who drowned in a boating accident), Adrian Avena (who survived the accident), and AA Commercial, LLC, claimed that the Coast Guard was negligent in its response to the distress signal from their capsized vessel. They argued that the Coast Guard broadcasted incorrect information about the vessel in distress and did not deploy the closest helicopter for the rescue mission.The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the case, stating that the United States was immune from such a suit. According to the court, the plaintiffs failed to show how the Coast Guard's alleged negligence "increased the risk of physical harm" to Greenberg. The court noted that under the "Good Samaritan" doctrine, the Coast Guard would only be liable if its actions increased the risk of harm or if harm was suffered because of the plaintiffs' reliance on the Coast Guard. In this case, the court found that even if the Coast Guard had done nothing, the outcome would have been the same, thus the Coast Guard did not increase the risk of harm to Greenberg.Furthermore, the court denied the plaintiffs' motion for leave to amend their complaint, stating it would be futile as they had not identified any set of facts that could demonstrate how the Coast Guard's actions increased the risk of physical harm to Greenberg. View "Avena v. Avena" on Justia Law

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In a personal injury lawsuit, Carelyn Fylling sued Royal Caribbean Cruises for negligence after she tripped, fell, and hit her head while entering a deck on one of their cruise ships. The case was tried before a jury in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. During the trial, the court became aware that one of the jurors had a niece who worked for Royal Caribbean. Despite this potential conflict of interest, the court did not remove or question this juror about any potential bias, and allowed her to participate in deliberations. The jury found Royal Caribbean negligent, but also found Fylling comparative-negligent, reducing her recovery by ninety percent. Fylling appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, arguing that the lower court abused its discretion by not investigating the potential bias of the juror related to an employee of the defendant.The Eleventh Circuit agreed with Fylling. The court held that the district court abused its discretion by not investigating whether the juror could impartially discharge her responsibilities once it became aware of her potential bias. The court explained that when a district court becomes aware of potential juror bias, it is required to develop the factual circumstances sufficiently to make an informed judgment as to whether bias exists. A district court's obligation to protect the right to an impartial jury does not end when the jury is impaneled and sworn. The Eleventh Circuit therefore reversed the judgment and remanded the case for a new trial. View "Fylling v. Royal Carribean Cruises, Ltd." on Justia Law

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In a dispute between Conti 11 Container Schiffarts-GMBH & Co. KG M.S. and MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A., the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana lacked personal jurisdiction over the case and reversed the district court's decision. The dispute arose from an incident where three chemical tanks exploded onboard a cargo vessel chartered by Conti to MSC, causing extensive damage and three deaths. After Conti won a $200 million award from a London arbitration panel, Conti sought to confirm the award in the Eastern District of Louisiana. MSC argued that the court lacked personal jurisdiction. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court’s assessment that when confirming an award under the New York Convention, a court should consider contacts related to the underlying dispute, not just those related to the arbitration itself. However, the Fifth Circuit disagreed with the district court's ruling that MSC waived its personal jurisdiction defense through its insurer’s issuance of a letter of understanding. The court also disagreed with the district court's finding that the loading of the tanks in New Orleans conferred specific personal jurisdiction over MSC, as this contact resulted from the actions of other parties not attributable to MSC. Therefore, the Fifth Circuit reversed the lower court's decision and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss it for lack of personal jurisdiction. View "Conti 11. Container Schiffarts-GMBH & Co. KG M.S. v. MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co. S.A." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed two defendants’ convictions for violating the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA), which prohibits the possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute while on board a covered vessel. The defendants were arrested after their speedboat, which was carrying at least 1,000 kilograms of cocaine, was intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard off the coast of Ecuador. The vessel carried no nationality flag, but both defendants verbally claimed Ecuadorian nationality for the vessel. The Ecuadorian government neither confirmed nor denied the nationality. The United States treated the vessel as stateless and exercised jurisdiction. The defendants challenged the government’s jurisdiction, arguing that the relevant provision of the MDLEA under which jurisdiction was exercised is unconstitutional because it conflicts with international law regarding when a vessel may be treated as stateless. The court held that the definition of “vessel without nationality” under the MDLEA does not conflict with international law, and thus affirmed the lower court’s denial of the defendants’ motion to dismiss the indictment. View "USA V. MARIN" on Justia Law

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In the case involving Williams Sports Rentals Inc. (WSR) and Marian Latasha Willis, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled on the scope of an injunction under the Shipowner’s Limitation of Liability Act. The case stemmed from a fatal accident involving a jet ski owned by WSR. Anticipating a lawsuit, WSR filed a complaint under the Limitation Act, which allows a vessel owner to limit its liability for accidents. The district court granted an injunction against all other lawsuits related to the accident, and the case reached the Ninth Circuit after the district court reinstated the injunction when new claims arose. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court had the authority to grant an injunction since the limitation fund was insufficient to cover all pending claims, but found the injunction to be overly broad. The court ruled that under the Anti-Injunction Act, the district court could only bar claims against the owner (WSR), not claims against other parties. Therefore, the court vacated and remanded the case with instructions to narrow the injunction so that it only barred claims against WSR. View "Williams Sports Rentals Inc. v. Willis" on Justia Law

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In this case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the central issue was whether a contract for the inspection and repair of lifeboats on an oil platform, located on the Outer Continental Shelf, could be considered a maritime contract. The relevance of this classification was that it would determine whether indemnity might be owed by one corporate defendant, Palfinger Marine USA, Inc., to another, Shell Oil Company, for payments to third parties. The lower district court had ruled that the contract was not maritime. However, the Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the contract was indeed a maritime one. The case was related to a tragic accident in 2019 when a lifeboat detached from an oil platform, resulting in the deaths of two workers and injury to another. The platform was owned and operated by Shell Oil Company and its affiliates. The lifeboats were serviced by Palfinger Marine USA, Inc. under a contract which included indemnity provisions. After the accident, lawsuits were filed against both companies by the injured worker and the families of the deceased workers. These claims were settled separately, but Palfinger's claim for indemnity from Shell under the contract was preserved for appeal. The decision of the district court to classify the contract as non-maritime was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that the contract was maritime, as it was related to the repair and maintenance of lifeboats facilitating offshore drilling and production of oil and gas, which constituted maritime commerce. The lifeboats were found to play a substantial role in the contract, making it a traditionally maritime contract. View "Palfinger Marine U S A v. Shell Oil" on Justia Law

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In this case, Trey Wooley filed a state court action against N&W Marine Towing (N&W) and others based on injuries he suffered while serving as a deckhand on the Mississippi River. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that Wooley had improperly joined N&W in the state court action in violation of a district court's stay order and the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, which effectively ceased all claims and proceedings against N&W outside of a federal limitation action that N&W had previously filed. Therefore, N&W was dismissed as a defendant in the state court action. The court further held that, after dismissing N&W, there were no live claims remaining in the state court action because Wooley had previously settled his claims against the other defendants. Consequently, the court severed Wooley's state court action from the limitation action and dismissed it without prejudice. The court retained jurisdiction over the limitation action but stayed it to allow Wooley to pursue any viable claims against N&W in state court. The court concluded that the district court properly denied Wooley's motion to remand, as it had diversity jurisdiction over the case once N&W was dismissed. View "Wooley v. N&W Marine Towing" on Justia Law

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In this case, Defendant-Appellee Martin Andersson purchased an insurance policy for his vessel from Plaintiff-Appellant Great Lakes Insurance SE. The vessel ran aground off the coast of the Dominican Republic, and Great Lakes brought a declaratory judgment action to determine coverage under the policy. Andersson filed counterclaims for breach of contract and equitable estoppel. Great Lakes' motion for summary judgment was denied, and Andersson was granted partial summary judgment on his breach of contract claim. Great Lakes appealed, claiming the district court erred in refusing to apply the policy's definition of seaworthiness.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that under the absolute implied warranty of seaworthiness, the insured vessel must be seaworthy at the policy's inception, and if not, the policy is void. The court affirmed the district court's ruling, stating that Great Lakes' argument that the absolute implied warranty required the vessel to carry up-to-date charts for all geographic areas covered by the policy in order to be considered seaworthy was unsupported by admiralty case law and was unreasonable.Additionally, the court held that Great Lakes' argument that the express terms of the policy required updated paper charts for every location that could be navigated under the entirety of the policy coverage area was unsupported by the express language of the policy itself. The court found no precedent supporting the claim that updated paper charts for every location covered by the policy were required to be onboard the vessel at the inception of the policy. As a result, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision in favor of Andersson. View "Great Lakes Insurance SE v. Andersson" on Justia Law