Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiffs Michael and Crystal Haytasingh appealed a judgment entered in favor of defendants, City of San Diego (City) and Ashley Marino, a City lifeguard. Plaintiffs sued defendants after an incident that occurred at Mission Beach in San Diego in August 2013, while Michael Haytasingh was surfing and defendant Marino was operating a City-owned personal watercraft. Plaintiffs alleged Marino was operating her personal watercraft parallel to Haytasingh, inside the surf line, when she made an abrupt left turn in front of him. In order to avoid an imminent collision with Marino, Haytasingh dove off of his surfboard and struck his head on the ocean floor. Haytasingh suffered serious injuries. Plaintiffs alleged that Marino was negligent in her operation of the personal watercraft. Prior to trial, the trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ negligence cause of action, finding Government Code section 831.7 provided complete immunity to defendants on the plaintiffs’ negligence cause of action. After that ruling, plaintiffs amended their complaint to allege they were entitled to relief pursuant to two statutory exceptions to the immunity provided in section 831.7. The case proceeded to trial, and a jury ultimately found in favor of defendants. On appeal, plaintiffs contended the trial court erred in concluding that the immunity granted to public entities and their employees under section 831.7 barred plaintiffs from pursuing a cause of action for ordinary negligence against the City and Marino. Plaintiffs also contended the trial court erred when it concluded, prior to instructing the jury, that the City and its lifeguards were not required to comply with the state’s basic speed law set forth in Harbors and Navigation Code section 655.2. Plaintiffs contended the court’s instructional error with respect to the speed limit issue constituted reversible error because the state’s basic speed law was relevant to the standard of care that Marino was obliged to meet, and was therefore relevant to whether Marino’s conduct constituted an extreme departure from the standard of care. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court did not err in determining that section 831.7 provided defendants with complete immunity with respect to the plaintiffs’ cause of action for ordinary negligence, given that Haytasingh’s injuries arose from his participation in a hazardous recreational activity on public property. However, the Court also concluded the trial court erred in determining that Harbors and Navigation Code section 655.2’s five mile per hour speed limit did not apply to City lifeguards, and in instructing the jury that all employees of governmental agencies acting within their official capacities were exempt from the City’s five mile per hour speed limit for water vessels that are within 1,000 feet of a beach under San Diego Municipal Code. This error, the Court held, was prejudicial. It therefore reversed judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Haytasingh v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Zen-Noh purchased grain shipments. Sellers were required to prepay barge freight and deliver the product to Zen-Noh’s terminal but were not required to use any specific delivery company. Ingram, a carrier, issued the sellers negotiable bills of lading, defining the relationships of the consignor (company arranging shipment), the consignee (to receive delivery), and the carrier. Printed on each bill was an agreement to "Terms” and a link to the Terms on Ingram’s website. Those Terms purport to bind any entity that has an ownership interest in the goods and included a forum selection provision selecting the Middle District of Tennessee.Ingram updated its Terms and alleges that it notified Zen-Noh through an email to CGB, which it believed was “closely connected with Zen-Noh,” often acting on Zen-Noh's behalf in dealings related to grain transportation. Weeks after the email, Zen-Noh sent Ingram an email complaining about invoices for which it did not believe it was liable. Ingram replied with a link to the Terms. Zen-Noh answered that it was “not party to the barge affreightment contract as received in your previous email.” The grains had been received by Zen-Noh, which has paid Ingram penalties related to delayed loading or unloading but has declined to pay Ingram's expenses involving ‘fleeting,’ ‘wharfage,’ and ‘shifting.’” Ingram filed suit in the Middle District of Tennessee. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Zen-Noh was neither a party to nor consented to Ingram’s contract and is not bound to the contract’s forum selection clause; the district court did not have jurisdiction over Zen-Noh. View "Ingram Barge Co., LLC v. Zen-Noh Grain Corp." on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit held that maritime complaints seeking exoneration from or limitation of liability pursuant to the Limitation of Liability Act must contain sufficient factual matter to satisfy the plausibility standard applicable to pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). The court concluded, however, that petitioner's Second Proposed Amended Complaint met that standard, and thus the district court exceeded its discretion in denying the motion for leave to amend.In this case, petitioner sought exoneration from or limitation of liability pursuant to 46 U.S.C. 30511 et seq. in connection with a fatal boating accident. The district court dismissed the maritime complaint for failure to allege sufficient factual matter to state a plausible claim for exoneration or limitation, and denied his motion for leave to amend. The court affirmed the judgment to the extent that it dismissed the initial complaint and denied petitioner's first motion for leave to amend, but reversed the judgment to the extent it denied the second motion for leave to amend on grounds of futility and bad faith. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Bensch v. Estate of Umar" on Justia Law

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James Boudreaux was injured during his employment by Owensby & Kritikos, Inc. as an equipment-testing technician on platforms located on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Plaintiff's injury resulted from an automobile accident on his way to his work for Owensby on the OCS. Primarily at issue in this case is whether, in light of Pacific Operators Offshore, LLP v. Valladolid, 565 U.S. 207 (2012) (establishing substantial-nexus test), an onshore injury en route to a rig platform on the OCS is recoverable under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), as extended by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). The ALJ determined that Boudreaux's injury arose out of, and occurred in the course of, his employment by Owensby; and, Boudreaux's injury had a substantial nexus to extractive operations on the OCS. The BRB affirmed.The Fifth Circuit applied the substantial-nexus test in Valladolid, holding that Boudreaux's injury is covered under OCSLA. Among the facts relevant to the court's inquiry, the court found persuasive Boudreaux's: being compensated by Owensby for both time and onshore mileage while traveling to and from the OCS; being on-the-job when he was injured; necessarily traveling to an intermediary pickup location to be transported from onshore to the OCS; and transporting his testing equipment in his vehicle. Furthermore, Owensby had another employee pick up Boudreaux's testing equipment to take it to the OCS after his accident. Therefore, each of these factors support Boudreaux's injury occurring as the result of operations conducted on the OCS. The court denied Owensby's petition for review, dismissed Boudreaux's cross-application based on lack of jurisdiction, and granted Boudreaux's request for reasonable attorney's fees incurred in defending against the petition, pending the court's decision on the amount to be awarded. View "Owensby & Kritikos, Inc. v. Boudreaux" on Justia Law

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The district court held on summary judgment that, under Eleventh Circuit precedent, federal maritime law requires strict compliance with captain and crew warranties in a marine insurance policy. The district court concluded that, because Ocean Reef breached those warranties, there was no coverage for the loss of its yacht under a policy issued by Travelers.The Eleventh Circuit applied Wilburn Boat Co. v. Firearm’s Fund Ins. Co., 348 U.S. 310, 316 (1955), and concluded that there does not exist entrenched federal maritime rules governing captain or crew warranties in this case. Therefore, Florida law applies to determine the effect of Ocean Reef's breaches. The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Travelers Property Casualty Company of America v. Ocean Reef Charters LLC" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted a petitioner for review of the BRB's decision upholding the ALJ's award of attorney's fees and costs under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), in an action brought by petitioner for death benefits.The panel held that aspects of the decisions under review constitute legal error and are not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, the panel held that the ALJ improperly rejected the fee applicant's evidence of prevailing market rates, erroneously established a paralegal's hourly rate by reference to other ALJ decisions rather than evidence of prevailing market rates in the relevant community, and improperly denied fees for hours reasonably expended. Furthermore, the ALJ and the BRB erred in concluding that the LHWCA does not authorize an award of interest on costs. Therefore, the panel remanded to the BRB for further proceedings and ordered the BRB to reassign this matter to a different ALJ on remand. View "Seachris v. Brady-Hamilton Stevedore Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against NCL, alleging that its medical staff failed to diagnose and properly manage his status and failed to evacuate him from a cruise ship he was aboard. The district court granted NCL's motion for a directed verdict and the jury found NCL negligent, awarding non-economic damages, future medical expenses, and lost services.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed and concluded that the cruise-line medical negligence claims are cognizable in admiralty jurisdiction; the district court did not err by excluding testimony from plaintiff's expert economist and granting a directed verdict on loss earning capacity where the testimony was unreliable and plaintiff failed to prove the amount of his loss-earning-capacity damages; NCL is not entitled to a new trial where the district court correctly instructed the jury and sufficient evidence supported the verdict against NCL. View "Buland v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd." on Justia Law

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In this admiralty case, Pacific Gulf, in possession of an arbitral award against Adamastos Shipping, tried to collect from Blue Wall and Vigorous Shipping on the grounds that they are either successors to or alter-egos of Adamastos. The district court dismissed the successor-liability claim and granted summary judgment to Blue Wall and Vigorous on the alter-ego claim.After determining that Pacific Gulf has standing, the panel applied federal common law and joined other courts in holding that maritime law requires a transfer of all or substantially all of the predecessor's assets to the alleged successor before successor liability will be imposed on that alleged successor. In this case, the panel concluded that Pacific Gulf has failed to plead that Blue Wall and its subsidiaries "comprise successor corporate business entities of" Adamastos. The panel explained that Pacific Gulf alleged no transfer of any assets (let alone all or substantially all) from Adamastos to Blue Wall or its subsidiaries. Therefore, because Pacific Gulf failed to plead a factual prerequisite to corporate successorship, the district court correctly dismissed the claim based on that theory.The panel also agreed with the district court that Pacific Gulf's discovery revealed nothing to allow a reasonable juror to rule in its favor on the alter-ego theory. Viewing the record as a whole, the panel considered the factors for determining whether a party has pierced the corporate veil and agreed with the district court that Pacific Gulf came away "empty handed" from discovery. Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to support a finding that either Blue Wall or Vigorous was operated as an alter-ego of Adamastos. View "Pacific Gulf Shipping Co. v. Vigorous Shipping & Trading S.A." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a collective action on behalf of himself and others employed on All Coast's fleet of liftboats, alleging that, although they were hired for various maritime jobs, they spent most of their time doing something completely terrestrial: using cranes attached to the boats to move their customers' equipment on and off the boats, the docks, and the offshore oil rigs. All Coast classified plaintiffs as seamen and did not pay them overtime pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of All Coast. The court held that the district court's conclusion that the employees' work served the liftboats' operation "as a means of transportation" runs contrary to the regulatory language and the court's precedent interpreting it. Rather, the plain meaning of 29 C.F.R. 783.31, and the illustrative examples in sections 783.32 and 783.34, suggest the employees were not engaged in seamen's work when operating the cranes. Furthermore, the court's previous decision in Coffin v. Blessey Marine Servs., Inc., 771 F.3d 276, 279 (5th Cir. 2014), only reinforce that conclusion. In this case, plaintiffs were not doing seamen's work when they were operating the cranes. Finally, it follows that All Coast was not entitled to summary judgment as to the cooks either. View "Adams v. All Coast, LLC" on Justia Law

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Addax filed an in rem action against the vessel to enforce a maritime lien under the Commercial Instruments and Maritime Lien Act (CIMLA) and Supplemental Admiralty Rule C. The vessel asserted that Addax's right to a maritime lien was extinguished when Addax settled its breach of contract claim with the charterer in a separate proceeding.The Court of Appeal first concluded that the district court correctly rejected the vessel's affirmative defense that Addax was not the party legally entitled to bring this claim. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Addax, concluding that the settlement agreement did not extinguish Addax's right to a maritime lien, and that Addax was entitled to enforce that right in the district court. The court explained that the settlement agreement does not reference the maritime lien, and includes no language limiting the obligations of the vessel or Addax's ability to pursue an in rem action to satisfy the debt. The court also rejected the vessel's arguments regarding the value of the lien, the expenses awarded to Addax, and the vessel's due process rights. View "Addax Energy SA v. M/V Yasa H. Mulla" on Justia Law