Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

by
Clarence Ceasar, Jr. injured his neck and back while working as a longshoreman for Sea-Land Services, Inc. in 1997. Because of those injuries, Ceasar was unable to work and had to undergo several medical procedures. Thirteen years later, Ceasar and Sea-Land reached a settlement, under which Ceasar received a lump sum instead of continuing disability payments. Sea-Land remained on the hook for Ceasar’s ongoing medical expenses. Ceasar was cleared to return to longshoreman duties in 2010 with no restrictions, despite chronic neck and lower back pain. Ceasar started working for Universal Maritime Service Company ("UMS") and was injured again a year later when a coworker lowered a cargo container onto his hands. Sea-Land petitioned the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for review of an order of the Benefits Review Board (“BRB”) which upheld the determination of an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) that Ceasar did not aggravate his 1997 injury at Sea-Land while working for UMS in 2011. After review, the Fifth Circuit determined the BRB did not err, denying Sea-Land's petition. View "Sea-Land Services, Inc. v. DOWCP, et al." on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions and sentences under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA). Defendants were convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute over five kilograms of cocaine while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and possession with intent to distribute over five kilograms of cocaine while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. The court rejected defendants' constitutional challenges to the MDLEA where the court has previously held that the MDLEA is a valid exercise of Congress's power under the Felonies Clause as applied to drug trafficking crimes without a "nexus" to the United States; the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause does not prohibit the trial and conviction of aliens captured on the high seas while drug trafficking because the MDLEA provides clear notice that all nations prohibit and condemn drug trafficking aboard stateless vessels on the high seas; and because the MDLEA's jurisdictional requirement goes to the subject matter jurisdiction of the courts and is not an essential element of the MDLEA substantive offense, it does not have to be submitted to the jury for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Furthermore, the court held that the district court properly exercised jurisdiction over defendants and their offenses under the MDLEA. The court rejected Defendant Guagua-Alarcon's challenges to his presentment for a probable cause hearing; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant Palacios-Solis's motion in limine; sufficient evidence supported defendants' convictions; and because Palacios-Solis failed to show a Brady violation, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying his motion for a mistrial. Finally, the court also rejected defendants' claims of sentencing errors. View "United States v. Cabezas-Montano" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff was employed by defendant Grand Palais Riverboat L.L.C. as a technician on the Grand Palais riverboat casino, and was injured when the gangway attached to the boat malfunctioned and collapsed. Plaintiff filed a petition for damages, alleging that the Grand Palais was a vessel under general maritime law, 1 U.S.C. 3, and that he was a seaman under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. 30104, et seq., at the time of the accident. The Grand Palais was built as a riverboat casino in conformity with the requirements of Louisiana law which authorize gaming activities to be conducted on riverboat casinos that sail on designated waterways. In 2001, the Grand Palais was moored to its current location by nylon mooring lines and steel wire cables, pursuant to La. R. S. 27:65(B)(1)(c), which allowed riverboat casinos to conduct gaming activities while docked if the owner obtained the required license and paid the required franchise fees. The Grand Palais had not moved since March 24, 2001. Necessary services for the Grand Palais’s operation as a casino were provided via shore-side utility lines, which supply electricity, water, sewage, cable television, telephone and internet services. These utility lines have not been disconnected since 2001. Additionally, the casino computer systems, including the slot machines, are located on land. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari to review an appellate court's decision granting plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and holding the Grand Palais Casino was indeed a “vessel” for purposes of general maritime law. The Court determined this decision contradicted the court’s earlier decision in Benoit v. St. Charles Gaming Company, LLC, 233 So. 3d 615, cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 139 S. Ct. 104, 202 L. Ed. 2d 29 (2018), which held the Grand Palais was not a vessel. After a de novo review of the record, the Louisiana Court concluded the Grand Palais was a not vessel under general maritime law. Therefore, it reversed the judgment of the court of appeal and granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing plaintiff’s suit. View "Caldwell v. St. Charles Gaming Co d/b/a Isle of Capri Casino-Lake Charles" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-Appellant Roger Hill appealed a district court's dismissal of his complaint for failure to state a claim (Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)) -- specifically for lack of prudential standing. Hill was a fly fisherman who preferred to fish at a favorite spot in the Arkansas River. Defendants-Appellees Mark Everett Warsewa and Linda Joseph (Landowners) contended they owned the Arkansas riverbed up to its centerline at the spot at which Hill preferred to fish. Hill contended this segment of the river was navigable for title at the time Colorado was admitted to the United States and that title to the riverbed consequently vested in the state at admission under Article IV of the Constitution and the Equal Footing Doctrine. According to Hill, the state holds this title in trust for the public, subject to an easement for public uses such as fishing. Defendant-Appellee State of Colorado agreed with the Landowner-Appellees that this segment of the river was non-navigable for title at statehood and was privately owned. The district court found that Hill lacked prudential standing because he asserted a generalized grievance and rested his claims on the rights of the state. The Tenth Circuit reversed. Hill alleged he had a specific, legally protected right to fish resulting from alleged facts and law. "The other parties and amici may ultimately be correct that Colorado law does not actually afford Mr. Hill the right to fish that he asserts, even if he can prove navigability as a factual matter. But in this regard 'far-fetchedness is a question to be determined on the merits.'" The Court assumed Hill’s claim had “legal validity” and concluded that he asserted his own rights, not those of Colorado, for prudential standing purposes. View "Hill v. Warsewa" on Justia Law

by
Psara Energy appealed the district court's order granting a motion to refer to arbitration this action alleging breach of contract, fraudulent transfer and corporate succession theories against the Advantage Defendants. The Fifth Circuit dismissed the appeal based on lack of appellate jurisdiction because the district court's order, which administratively closed the case, is not a final, appealable order under the Federal Arbitration Act. In this case, the collateral order doctrine does not apply to orders concerning arbitration governed by the FAA, and 28 U.S.C. 1292(a)(3) is inapplicable to referrals to arbitration in admiralty cases that do not determine a party's substantive rights or liabilities. View "Psara Energy, Ltd. v. Advantage Arrow Shipping, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for review of the Board's decision affirming the ALJ's conclusion that plaintiff did not suffer more severe shoulder and back injuries for the purpose of receiving benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). The court held that the ALJ did not err in concluding that defendants' medical expert was more credible than plaintiff's treating physician, thus rebutting the presumption of a causal nexus. The court also held that the Board did not err in refusing to consider plaintiff's new argument, presented for the first time in his motion for reconsideration, that the 2017 shoulder surgery was intended to address an AC joint sprain. Finally, the court held that the ALJ's finding that plaintiff did not suffer from lumbar facet arthrosis was supported by substantial evidence. View "Bourgeois v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs" on Justia Law

by
Commercial-fishing associations challenged the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which was established by President Obama to protect distinct geological features and unique ecological resources in the northern Atlantic Ocean. The district court concluded that the President acted within his statutory authority in creating the Monument, dismissing the Fishermen's claims. The DC Circuit first drew a distinction between two types of claims: those justiciable on the face of the proclamation and those requiring factual development. The court determined that the Fishermens' first three claims could be judged on the face of the proclamation and resolved as a matter of law, and the last claim required factual allegations. As to the first three claims, the court held that Supreme Court precedent foreclosed the Fishermens' contention that the Antiquities Act does not reach submerged lands; ocean-based monuments are compatible with the Sanctuaries Act; and the federal government's unrivaled authority under both international and domestic law established that it controls the United States Exclusive Economic Zone. Finally, the court held that the Fishermens' smallest-area claim failed, because the complaint contained no factual allegations identifying a portion of the Monument that lacks the natural resources and ecosystems the President sought to protect. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association v. Ross" on Justia Law

by
Geico Marine filed suit seeking a declaration that a navigational limit in the policy with defendant that required the vessel to be north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, during hurricane season barred coverage. The district court ruled against Geico Marine and declared that the policy covered the loss. The Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the navigational limit barred coverage. In this case, the policy was not ambiguous about whether it contained a navigational limit when the loss occurred, and the plain language of the policy contained a navigational limit. Because the navigational limit was dispositive where the vessel suffered damage while outside the covered navigational area, the court need not address the breach of a duty of uberrimae fidei. View "Geico Marine Insurance Co. v. Shackleford" on Justia Law

by
Atlantic sought a declaratory judgment that the insurance policy it had issued to Coastal was void ab initio or, in the alternative, that there was no coverage for the loss of the barge or damage to an adjacent pier. District Court Judge Wexler passed away prior to issuing his findings of fact and conclusions of law. The case was transferred to Judge Azrack, who, after no party requested the recall of any witness under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 63, issued findings of fact and conclusions of law in her role as successor judge and entered judgment finding Atlantic liable to Coastal under the terms of the policy. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)(6), factual findings of successor judges who have certified their familiarity with the record are subject to the "clearly erroneous" standard of review. The Second Circuit also held that, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 63, a successor judge is under no independent obligation to recall witnesses unless requested by one of the parties. In this case, the court found no reversible error in Judge Azrack's findings of fact and conclusions of law, including findings that Coastal did not breach its duty of uberrimae fidei, and thus the policy was not void; Atlantic failed to prove that the vessel was unseaworthy; the loss of the vessel was due to a "peril of the sea" and was covered by the policy; Coastal was entitled to damages for contractual payments withheld by its contractor for repairs to a pier; and Coastal proved its damages using only a summary spreadsheet of invoices, as evidence. View "Atlantic Specialty Insurance Co. v. Coastal Environmental Group Inc." on Justia Law

by
After a shift foreman was injured and disabled while working on an oil and gas storage facility, he filed a claim with the Department under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. The ALJ found that the foreman fulfilled the Act's requirements, the Board affirmed the ALJ's findings, and IMTT petitioned for review. The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for review, holding that the foreman fulfilled the Act's situs requirement; he was engaged in maritime employment; he had not reached maximum medical improvement; and he adequately sought alternative employment. View "International-Matex Tank Terminals v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs" on Justia Law