Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries
Ingram Barge v. Ratcliff
Appellant worked as a barge cleaner for T.T. Barge Services, which provides barge cleaning services to Ingram Barge Company. Appellant asserted negligence claims against Ingram after Appellant was injured by caustic soda that he was cleaning up on Ingram Barge 976, which was moored to one of T.T.’s work barges at the time of his injury. After Ingram filed a district court complaint to limit liability, Appellant counterclaimed and asserted claims of negligence against Ingram. T.T. also filed a claim for contribution and indemnity against Ingram. The district court granted summary judgment (1) as to Appellant’s lack of seaman status under the Jones Act and (2) as to all of Appellant’s negligence claims against Ingram. The district court then dismissed the case with prejudice. Appellant challenged the district court’s orders. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that T.T.’s Cleaning Barge is semi-permanently and indefinitely attached to land by steel cables, except for rare moves during repairs or to accommodate nearby dredging operations. Therefore, the district court did not err in finding that T.T.’s Cleaning Barge lacked vessel status at summary judgment. Further, the court explained that to qualify as a Jones Act seaman, a plaintiff must satisfy two requirements. First, an employee’s duties must ‘contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission. Second, that employee must have a connection to a vessel in navigation that is substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature. Here, Ratcliff lacks a substantial connection to Ingram’s barges. View "Ingram Barge v. Ratcliff" on Justia Law
Ranger v. Alamitos Bay Yacht Club
Plaintiff fell while stepping from a dock to a boat. He sued his employer—a yacht club in Long Beach—under federal admiralty law. The trial court sustained the club’s final demurrer to the second amended complaint. The court ruled there was no admiralty jurisdiction. The Second Appellate District affirmed the court’s ruling without deciding about admiralty jurisdiction. The court explained that Congress in 1984 specified employees covered by state workers’ compensation law working at a “club” are covered by state workers’ compensation law and not federal law if they are eligible for state workers’ compensation. The court wrote that Plaintiff concedes the yacht club is a “club.” Federal law thus makes California state workers’ compensation law paramount, which means Plaintiff’s exclusive remedy is workers’ compensation. The court wrote that a core part of the state workers’ compensation bargain is that injured workers get speedy and predictable relief irrespective of fault. In return, workers are barred from suing their employers in tort. Thus, the trial court correctly dismissed Plaintiff’s tort suit against his employer. View "Ranger v. Alamitos Bay Yacht Club" on Justia Law
Matson Navigation Company, Inc. v. DOT
The United States Maritime Administration (“MARAD”) approved a shipping company’s request to replace two vessels operating in the Pacific trade within the Maritime Security Program. Matson Navigation Co., a competitor in the Pacific, petitions for review of the replacements. As a source of jurisdiction, Matson points to the Hobbs Act, under which the DC Circuit had original jurisdiction over some acts of MARAD. The DC Circuit reversed two orders of the district court, consolidated with these petitions, that held jurisdiction over Matson’s claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) and was exclusive in the court of appeals. The court wrote that Matson was not a “party” to the replacement proceedings for either vessel, therefore, the court denied the petitions for direct review. The court explained that whether a case begins in district court or is eligible for direct review in the court is a policy decision that is for “Congress rather than us to determine.” The court wrote that as Matson’s counsel stated at oral argument, the company is just “trying to get review.” Because sending limited comments based on limited information to an informal agency proceeding does not confer “party” status under the Hobbs Act, that review starts in the district court. View "Matson Navigation Company, Inc. v. DOT" on Justia Law
Judith Willis v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD.
Plaintiff brought a three-count maritime negligence action against Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. (“Royal Caribbean”) after she fell aboard one of its cruise ships. She alleged that during the ship’s muster drill, a Royal Caribbean employee rushed her down a set of stairs—causing her to fall and severely injure her neck. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Royal Caribbean. First, on Count I (general negligence) and Count II (negligent failure to warn), the district court found that Plaintiff failed to show that Royal Caribbean had notice of the dangerous conditions that allegedly caused her fall. Second, on Count III (general negligence against Royal Caribbean for its employee’s conduct under a theory of vicarious liability), the district court determined that Plaintiff put forth insufficient evidence of medical causation. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that looking to Florida negligence law: non-readily observable injuries require expert medical evidence to prove causation. The court concluded that Plaintiff failed to adduce sufficient medical evidence to satisfy proximate cause. And because proximate cause must be satisfied for each of Plaintiff’s three negligence-based claims to prevail, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Royal Caribbean. View "Judith Willis v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD." on Justia Law
Skanska USA Civil Southeast, Inc. and Skanska USA v. Bagelheads, Inc., et al.
Barges around Pensacola Bay were slammed around during Hurricane Sally, leading to significant damage—including to the Pensacola Bay Bridge, which was closed for months. Skanska, the construction company that owned the barges (and was working on replacing the Bay Bridge) faced hundreds of potential lawsuits. Some were directly related to property damage, but most were economic loss claims from nearby businesses that lost customers during the months-long closure of the bridge. Skanska filed what are called petitions for limitation of liability, one for each of its 28 barges. These petitions invoked the Limitation Act. the district court decided that Skanska could not limit its liability because its own corporate officials were responsible for the negligent acts that led to the barges getting loose in the storm. It dismissed the Limitation Act petitions—freeing the claimants to pursue litigation in state court. Skanska says the district court acted too fast and also disputed several of the district court’s other decisions. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Limitation Act allows a federal court to take over all negligence claims to preserve the vessel owner’s right to limit its liability and then proportionally distribute the available assets to the successful claimants. But only to the extent necessary to protect the right to limitation; it does not create an independent right to have the full merits of each individual claim decided in federal court when no limitation is available. Further, the court concluded that it saw no reversible error in the district court’s evidentiary rulings, its findings of fact, or its spoliation sanctions. View "Skanska USA Civil Southeast, Inc. and Skanska USA v. Bagelheads, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
South Carolina State Ports Authority v. NLRB
A collective-bargaining agreement between the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and the United States Maritime Alliance (USMX), an association of carriers and other employers, earmarks all container loading and unloading work on the East and Gulf Coasts for the union’s members. So when USMX-affiliated ships docked at a new South Carolina terminal that used non-union lift operators, the union sued USMX and its carrier members for damages. Soon enough, USMX’s carrier members stopped calling at that terminal. At issue is whether the ILA’s lawsuit—and a separate provision of its contract with USMX—violate the National Labor Relations Act. The National Labor Relations Board held that they don’t, and the South Carolina State Ports Authority petitioned for review. The Fourth Circuit agreed with the Board and denied the petition. The court agreed that USMX and the ILA haven’t made an agreement that violates Section 8(e). Moreover, the court explained that the Board rationally held that the ILA’s lawsuit against USMX sought to preserve its coastwide jurisdiction over loading and unloading work, so it didn’t violate the Act. And the Board and ALJ correctly concluded that Section 7(b) of the Master Contract didn’t constitute an illegal hot-cargo provision, whether by its text or by tacit agreement. View "South Carolina State Ports Authority v. NLRB" on Justia Law
Johnson v. Cooper T. Smith Stevedoring
Plaintiff worked as a longshoreman as early as 1998 and worked regularly for Cooper from 2008 through the date of his injury on June 22, 2018, never going more than a week and a half without working. He performed various jobs including operating a front-end loader and track hoe, flagging cranes, and loading barges. Employer classified Plaintiff as a non-assigned employee, meaning he was not assigned to a specific vessel. Employer has other employees who are assigned to vessels.Plaintiff was hurt when he fell to the deck of a ship he was working on. He filed suit against Employer in federal district court in November 2020, alleging that he was a seaman and a member of the crew, and bringing claims of Jones Act negligence, failure to pay maintenance and cure, and unseaworthiness. In the alternative, Plaintiff alleged that if he was not a seaman and was covered by the LHWCA.The District Court found Plaintiff failed to cite evidence that showed a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether he was a seaman and, alternatively, as to vessel negligence.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, finding that Plaintiff did not have a connection to the ship he was working on at the time he was injured, and that he could not establish vessel negligence. View "Johnson v. Cooper T. Smith Stevedoring" on Justia Law
Smith v. Crounse Corp.
Crounse delivered barges to Mulzer, which cleaned the barges, loaded them with Mulzer’s crushed stone, delivered the stone, cleaned the barges again, and released the barges to Crounse. Crounse’s barges were used by other companies to haul other materials. Barges carrying coal sometimes returned with as much as a foot of coal remaining in the hopper. Mulzer would clear the coal and sell it for a profit. Mulzer's employee, Smith, was operating a skid steer with a “blade” positioned at its lowest height to push coal to the front of the hopper for removal with a broom. The blade hit a "scab." Smith was propelled forward. Smith’s seatbelt failed; he was injured when he hit a safety bar. The hopper floor scab resulted from a split seam, 12-14 inches long, and a few inches tall. The barge was 24 years old. Crounse had procedures for regularly inspecting and repairing its barge, including the hopper. Crounse had received no reports of damage to the barge; 23 days before Smith’s accident, the barge had been cleaned by a blade without incident.Smith sued Crounse under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. 901, and general maritime law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Crounse. Smith lacked evidence that Crounse’s inspection and repair procedures were inadequate; that Crounse had actual knowledge or should have known of the defect in the exercise of ordinary care; and did not demonstrate that Crounse failed to comply with its turnover duties. View "Smith v. Crounse Corp." on Justia Law
In re: M/V MSC Flaminia
Deltech Corp. (“Deltech”), a chemical manufacturer, joins here with Stolt-Nielsen USA, Inc., and Stolt Tank Containers B.V. (together, “Stolt”), a shipping concern, to challenge the district court’s determination that they alone bear liability for damages caused by an explosion and fire that took place in June 2012 aboard the ocean-going vessel M/V MSC Flaminia. In the first phase of a three-part proceeding, the district court addressed the causes of the explosion. It determined that the decision to ship DVB-80 from New Orleans Terminal rather than a northeastern port, the early filling of the DVB-80 containers and their early transport to New Orleans Terminal, the conditions in which the tanks of DVB-80 were kept at New Orleans Terminal, and their placement and stowage onboard the Flaminia were the primary causes of the explosion. It exculpated other parties to the shipping transaction from legal liability. It is this decision that Deltech and Stolt challenge now in an interlocutory appeal. The Second Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court reversed the district court’s determination that Deltech and Stolt are strictly liable under Section 4(6) of the Carriage of Goods at Sea Act (“COGSA”), but the court affirmed its ruling that Deltech and Stolt are liable under a failure-to-warn theory pursuant to Section 4(3). As to the other defendants, the court affirmed the district court’s conclusion that the carrier and related shipowner interests were not negligent in their treatment of the shipment and that New Orleans Terminal too, was not negligent. The court also affirmed the district court’s determination that Stolt has not stated a claim against its subcontractor. View "In re: M/V MSC Flaminia" on Justia Law
United States v. Kenneth McKee
17 people were killed a commercial tourism duck boat operating on Table Rock Lake in the Ozarks, sank during a storm. The government charged the captain and the managers of the duck boat company, with felony counts of “seaman’s manslaughter” under 18 U.S.C. Section 1115 and misdemeanor counts of operating a vessel in a grossly negligent manner. The government alleged that the charged offenses occurred on “Table Rock Lake, a navigable water of the United States within the Western District of Missouri and within the admiralty jurisdiction of the United States.” The district court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss, adopting a report and recommendation that concluded the prescriptive reaches of Sections 1115 and 2302(b) is defined by admiralty law and do not cover the alleged conduct. The government appealed the dismissal. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that a review of the statute’s history leads to the conclusion that the origins of seaman’s manslaughter are in the admiralty jurisdiction of federal courts. Here, the government objected to the district court’s reliance on Edwards as binding precedent regarding the status of Table Rock Lake and argued that the evidence of commercial activity on Table Rock Lake presented, in this case, established that the lake is navigable in fact. However, before deferring to Edwards, the district court reviewed all of the evidence submitted by the parties and found that the nature and frequency of commercial shipping on the lake had not substantially changed since the Edwards decision. Thus, the court wrote that it detects no clear error in the district court’s finding or conclusion. View "United States v. Kenneth McKee" on Justia Law