Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

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A yacht owned by Raiders ran aground. Raiders had insured the vessel with GLI, which denied coverage stating the yacht’s fire-extinguishing equipment had not been timely recertified or inspected notwithstanding that the vessel’s damage was not caused by fire. GLI sought a declaratory judgment that Raiders’ alleged failure to recertify or inspect its fire-suppression equipment rendered the policy void from its inception. Raiders responded with five counterclaims, including three extra-contractual counterclaims arising under Pennsylvania law for breach of fiduciary duty, insurance bad faith, and breach of Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.Concluding the policy’s choice-of-law provision mandated the application of New York law and precluded Raiders’ Pennsylvania law-based counterclaims, the district court dismissed those claims. The court rejected Raiders’ argument that applying New York law would contravene Pennsylvania public policy, thereby making the choice-of-law provision unenforceable under Supreme Court precedent (Bremen (1972)), which held that under federal admiralty law a forum-selection provision is unenforceable “if enforcement would contravene a strong public policy of the forum in which suit is brought.” The Third Circuit vacated. Bremen’s framework extends to the choice-of-law provision at issue; the district court needed to consider whether Pennsylvania has a strong public policy that would be thwarted by applying New York law. View "Great Lakes Insurance SE v. Raiders Retreat Realty Co LLC" on Justia Law

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Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (“NYK”), incorporated and headquartered in Japan, is a major global logistics company that transports cargo by air and sea. On June 17, 2017, the ACX Crystal, a 730-foot container ship chartered by NYK, collided with the destroyer USS Fitzgerald in Japanese territorial waters. Personal representatives of the seven sailors killed sued NYK in federal court, asserting wrongful death and survival claims under the Death on the High Seas Act.  In both cases, the plaintiffs alleged that NYK, a foreign corporation, is amenable to federal court jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(k)(2) based on its “substantial, systematic and continuous contacts with the United States as a whole. The district court granted NYK’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2).   The Fifth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Plaintiffs’ invitation to craft an atextual, novel, and unprecedented Fifth Amendment personal jurisdiction standard. The court explained that under the Supreme Court’s reigning test for personal jurisdiction, the district court did not err in absolving NYK from appearing in federal court. The court wrote that general jurisdiction over NYK does not comport with its Fifth Amendment due process rights. NYK is incorporated and headquartered in Japan. As a result, exercising general jurisdiction over NYK would require that its contacts with the United States “be so substantial and of such a nature to render [it] at home” in the United States. Here, NYK’s contacts with the United States comprise only a minor portion of its worldwide contacts. View "Douglass v. Nippon Yusen Kabushiki" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court in favor of Defendants in this action brought against the owners of a fishing vessel on which Plaintiff was a seaman alleging that the owners breached a federal common law obligation under admiralty law known as the "duty of cure," holding that the district court's holding rested on an impermissible ground for distinguishing Gauthier v. Crosby Marine Service, Inc., 752 F.2d 1085 (5th Cir. 1985).Plaintiff alleged that Defendants failed adequately to pay him for the costs of the medical care he received after falling ill from an infection he acquired while working on their vessel and that, even if Defendants' various payments to Plaintiff and his private health insurer satisfied their duty of cure, their delay in paying him warranted an award of compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney's fees. The district court entered judgment for Defendants. The First Circuit largely vacated the judgment, holding (1) the district court's holding rested on an impermissible ground for distinguishing Gauthier and did not otherwise explain why Gauthier did not apply; and (2) Defendants' proposed alternative ground for affirming the district court's grant of judgment to Defendants on Plaintiff's breach-of-the-duty-of-cure claim failed. View "Aadland v. Boat Santa Rita II, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendants in three consolidated cases were convicted of conspiring to distribute cocaine on board a vessel, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute on board a vessel, and aiding and abetting. They challenged the district court’s denial of their pre-trial motions to dismiss the indictment. Defendants also argue that the prosecutor committed misconduct in his closing argument. The Defendants made individual claims as well.   Defendants argued that even if outrageous government conduct does not require dismissal of the indictment, the district court should have used its supervisory powers to provide the same remedy, asserting that the government should tread lightly in international waters, and the court should not condone mistreatment of foreigners with no connection to the United States. The Ninth Circuit wrote that pursuant to United States v. Matta-Ballesteros, 71 F.3d 754 (9th Cir. 1995), that is not a sufficient reason to hold that the district court abused its discretion by not dismissing the indictment. The court, therefore, affirmed the district court’s denial of the defendants’ motions to dismiss the indictment.   Further, the court held that a court has the power to dismiss an indictment for egregious violations of Rule 5, and that the proper inquiry is whether transportation to the United States as a whole was unnecessarily delayed, rather than whether there was some other district in the United States in which the defendant could have been brought before a magistrate judge more quickly. The court held that the district court did not clearly err in its determination that 23 days was not an unreasonable delay. View "USA V. SEGUNDO DOMINGUEZ-CAICEDO" on Justia Law

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This dispute concerned whether an international trader of bunker fuel was entitled to a maritime lien on a vessel under the Commercial Instrument and Maritime Lien Act (CIMLA). The M/V LILA SHANGHAI (the Vessel) was a gross tonnage bulk carrier owned by Autumn Harvest Maritime Co. Autumn Harvest time-chartered the Vessel to Bostomar Bulk Shipping Pte Ltd. (Bostomar). The contract foreclosed charterers from unilaterally placing liens on the Vessel; in the event of "any dispute" between Autumn Harvest and Bostomar about the Vessel and their respective obligations, the parties would refer the matter to arbitration. Bostomar sub-chartered the Vessel to Medmar Inc. (Medmar). While sailing to India, the Vessel needed bunkers to complete its journey. Costas Mylonakis, an employee of Windrose Marine, contacted Appellant Sing Fuels Pte. Ltd. (Sing Fuels) to order the Vessel’s bunkers. Sing Fuels transmitted its bunker contract only to Mylonakis’s e-mail address affiliated with Windrose Marine. Mylonakis never returned any memorialized document from Medmar. Sing Fuels exclusively communicated with Mylonakis for this transaction, considered Mylonakis to be Medmar’s fuel broker, and never spoke directly with Medmar. Mylonakis also never communicated with Medmar, he conferred instead with a mysterious entity called M.A.C. Shipping. Medmar returned the Vessel to Bostomar in August 2019, with Sing Fuels still awaiting payment for July bunkers. By October 2019, payment for the July bunkers was still outstanding, so Sing Fuels sent Autumn Harvest a notice of nonpayment; Autumn Harvest refused to pay. In the wake of collapsed negotiations, Sing Fuels paid the physical supplier of the July bunkers. Without knowing where to turn after Medmar’s payment default on the bunkers, and its discussions with Autumn Harvest exhausted, Sing Fuels waited until the Vessel docked in the United States and then availed itself of US courts to recoup payment. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the bunker trader failed to show that it procured the vessel’s fuel “on the order of the owner or a person authorized by the owner,” under CIMLA, therefore, it affirmed the district court’s judgment denying the maritime lien. View "Sing Fuels Pte Ltd. v. M/V LILA SHANGHAI" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant XL Insurance America, Inc. (“XL”), as subrogee of Boh Bros. Construction Co., L.L.C. (“Boh Bros.”), challenged the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Defendant-Appellee Turn Services, L.L.C. (“Turn”).   On appeal, Turn devotes significant ink to its contention that Boh Bros.’s responsibility for repairing the dolphin does not equate to a proprietary interest in it.   The Ninth Circuit vacated and remanded. The court held that Robins Dry Dock is not implicated by the $1.2 million that XL paid Boh Bros. to cover the repairs. The court explained that for nearly a century, Robins Dry Dock & Repair Co. v. Flint, 275 U.S. 303 (1927), has limited plaintiffs’ ability to recover “purely economic claims . . . in a maritime negligence suit.”1 “[A]bsent physical injury to a proprietary interest”—or one of a few other limited exceptions—plaintiffs asserting such claims are out of luck. The court explained the “spectre of runaway recovery lies at the heart of the Robins Dry Dock rubric.”   Further, the court concluded that it is clear that the doctrine would be inapplicable here if XL had paid the money directly to Plains because Plains had a proprietary interest in the damaged dolphin. That the money passes through the hands of an intermediary—here, Boh Bros.—is irrelevant to the concerns animating Robins Dry Dock. View "XL Insurance America v. Turn Services" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the order of the district court granting the government's motion to dismiss this lawsuit alleging improper termination and breach of contract for failure to state a claim on the grounds that the claims were time-barred, holding that there was no basis to disturb the district court's decision.This matter arose out of a contract for between J-Way Southern and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for dredging water waters in Menemsha Harbor, Martha's Vineyard. After USACE terminated the contract J-Way filed suit, alleging improper termination and breach of contract. The district court granted USACE's motion to dismiss, concluding that J-Way's claims were time-barred. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court had jurisdiction over this maritime contract dispute; and (2) the district court properly denied the government's motion to dismiss. View "J-Way Southern, Inc. v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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The case involves two ships, each of which was involved in an accident. The victims injured in the accident provided notice to the ship owners that they might be interested in pursuing litigation against the responsible parties. However, the ship owners failed to bring a limitation-of-liability action under the Shipowner's Limitation of Liability Act within six months. The district court determined that the letter constituted written notice of a claim, dismissing actions as untimely.The Ninth Circuit held that the six-month statute of limitations in § 30511(a) is a claims-processing rule rather than a jurisdictional rule, and thus, it may be addressed on summary judgment. Additionally, the court determined that “written notice of a claim” has three elements: the notice must (1) be in writing, (2) clearly state that the victim intends to bring a claim against the owner, and (3) include at least one claim that is reasonably likely to be covered by the Act.Thus, the Ninth Circuit held that neither claimant filed "written notice" to the vessel owner before filing suit. As a result, the ship owners' limitation-of-liability actions were timely. View "WILLIAM MARTZ V. ANDREW HORAZDOVSKY" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff slipped on a puddle of water and broke her hip shortly after boarding a Carnival cruise ship. She then sued the cruise line for negligence. The district court granted summary judgment for Carnival, holding that it lacked a duty to protect Plaintiff because its crewmembers had neither actual nor constructive notice of the particular puddle that caused her fall.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded to the district court, holding that the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Defendant on the basis that Defendant lacked notice was improper. The court found that the district court failed to faithfully follow Carroll. (Carroll v. Carnival Corp., 955 F.3d 1260, 1264 (11th Cir. 2020.) The relevant question, in this case, was whether Carnival “had actual or constructive knowledge that the pool deck where [Plaintiff] fell could be slippery (and therefore dangerous) when wet.” The fact that warning signs were “posted on the pool deck” in the general area of Plaintiff’s fall, when “viewed in the light most favorable to [Plaintiff], is enough to withstand summary judgment as to notice.” View "Mary Brady v. Carnival Corporation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and his wife were passengers on a cruise aboard a ship operated by Defendant. A verbal altercation between Plaintiff and another passenger ensued and while the security officer turned to speak to Plaintiff, the other passenger punched Plaintiff in the face.   Plaintiff alleged that Defendant was negligent because it failed to (a) reasonably and properly train security personnel; (b) have adequate security measures, including adequate security presence and surveillance cameras; (c) warn him of the danger of being physically assaulted while onboard the vessel; (d) promulgate and enforce policies and procedures designed to prevent passengers from physically assaulting other passengers; and (e) exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant, ruling that there was no evidence suggesting that Defendant had actual or constructive notice of the risk of harm.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment to Defendant and denied Plaintiff’s motion for sanctions. The court held that Plaintiff has not presented sufficient evidence to create an issue of fact as to whether Defendant had actual notice that any passengers would attack him. The court reasoned that in the context of passenger-on-passenger violence, a cruise line has a duty to warn and/or protect when it or its employees reasonably apprehend the danger such that the attack was foreseeable. However, while the presence of a security officer during disembarkation connotes some awareness of the importance of order, a verbal dispute does not provide actual notice that a physical assault is to follow. View "Reinier Fuentes v. Classica Cruise Operator Ltd, Inc." on Justia Law