Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the Board's order awarding benefits to claimant under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. The court held that claimant was on navigable waters at the time of injury and thus his case was controlled by Dir., OWCP, U.S. Dep't of Labor v. Perini N. River Assocs., 459 U.S. 297, 299 (1983). In this case, because claimant was regularly employed by MMR on navigable waters and, under Perini, meets the "employee" definition, it follows that MMR had at least one employee engaged in maritime employment. View "MMR Constructors, Inc. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs" on Justia Law

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Bomin filed suit asserting an in rem claim for a maritime lien against a ship to which it supplied fuel bunkers under a contract with one of the affiliates of O.W. Bunker. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to ING and DryLog. The court held that Bomin did not have a maritime lien, because it was not acting on the orders of either the vessel's owners or their authorized agent when it supplied the fuel. View "ING Bank, N.V. v. Bulk Finland M/V, No. 9691577" on Justia Law

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The Inganamorts docked their 65-foot fishing vessel behind their part-time Boca Raton, Florida residence. In 2011, while they were at their New Jersey home, the ship sank enough to sustain serious damage. They reported the loss to their insurer, Chartis, with whom they had an all-risk policy. Chartis sent a claims specialist, who reported three inches of standing water in the starboard forward cabin bilge and multiple potential sources of water ingress, including a hole in the hull the size of a screw. He found that the electrical breakers were severely rust-stained and blackened from an electrical failure; subsequent testing revealed obvious water intrusion. The final review confirmed the initial findings and identified that the battery charger was not working; without a source of power, the ship’s bilge pumps had ceased functioning. Chartis sought a declaratory judgment that it was not liable for the damage and claimed that the Inganamorts were liable for misrepresentation. The Inganmorts neither filed a statement of facts nor opposed Chartis’s statement of undisputed facts. The district court treated Chartis’s statement of facts as undisputed and granted Chartic summary judgment, finding that the Inganamorts “ha[d] no evidence to demonstrate a fortuitous loss[.]” The Third Circuit affirmed. An insured bears the burden of proving fortuity; the Inganamorts did not meet that burden. View "Chartis Property Casualty Co. v. Inganamort" on Justia Law

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After a seaman's hands were injured on a commercial fishing vessel out on the Gulf of Mexico and he ultimately loss some of his fingers due to infection, he filed suit against the vessel's owner and the production company that was filming a reality TV show on the vessel. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the production company, holding that the production company was not liable under the Jones Act because plaintiff was not an "employee" or a "borrowed servant" to the production company. The court declined to construe the borrowed servant doctrine in the maritime context to impose a duty upon passengers and observers on a vessel to undertake acts inconsistent with the orders of the vessel's captain. The court also held that the production company was not liable under maritime tort law because there were not genuine issues of material fact as to whether the production company had a "special relationship" with plaintiff, the production company's rescue attempts were grossly negligent, and the production company acted negligently in taking charge of a "helpless" person. View "McHenry v. Asylum Entertainment Delaware, LLC" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was injured when he tripped on a pipe welded to the deck of a jacked-up offshore drilling rig, he filed a negligence action against Smart Fabricators under the Jones Act. The district court denied plaintiff's motion to remand to state court, granting Smart Fabricator's motion for summary judgment. The Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not err in holding that plaintiff was not a Jones Act seaman. The court affirmed the district court's reasoning in distinguishing Naquin v. Elevating Boats, LLC, a 2014 case in which the court considered the "substantial nature" component of the seaman test. In this case, plaintiff's duties are readily distinguishable from Naquin's because plaintiff worked on drilling rigs only "while they were jacked up on the sea floor, with the body of the rig out of the water and not subject to waves, tides, or other water movement." Furthermore, while Naquin's workplace remained subject to the vicissitudes of a navigable waterway, plaintiff's workplace was stable, flat, and well above the water. Moreover, plaintiff did not perform "tasks requiring operating or navigating the rigs." Rather, the court explained that plaintiff was a welder, and he was injured when he tripped on a pipe welded to the floor, a circumstance unrelated to any perils of the sea. View "Sanchez v. Smart Fabricators of Texas, LLC" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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