Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries
Mays v. Chevron Pipe Line Co.
After James Mays was killed in an explosion on an offshore platform owned by Chevron, Mays' widow and children filed suit against Chevron for state law wrongful death. Mays was directly employed by Furmanite, a Chevron subcontractor, which serviced valves on Chevron's platforms. At issue was whether Mays' accident was covered by the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). The jury found that Mays' death was caused by Chevron's Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) activities, and thus the LHWCA applied and Chevron did not enjoy state immunity. The Fifth Circuit affirmed and rejected Chevron's argument that the district court erred by instructing the jury to consider Chevron's OCS operations in answering the substantial nexus question. The court held that the district court did not misapply Pacific Operators Offshore, LLP v. Valladolid, 565 U.S. 207 (2012), by instructing the jury to determine whether there was a substantial nexus between Mays' death and Chevron's—as opposed to Furmanite's—OCS operations. The court also rejected Chevron's argument that the evidence linking its OCS operations to Mays' death failed to meet the substantial nexus test as a matter of law. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to reduce the jury's $2 million loss-of-affection award to Mrs. Mays. View "Mays v. Chevron Pipe Line Co." on Justia Law
Power Authority of the State of New York v. M/V Ellen S. Bouchard
The Authority appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants, two vessels and their corporate owners, in an action brought under the federal Oil Pollution Act (OPA) and state law. The claims arose from the release of thousands of gallons of oil from a submarine power-transmission cable into Long Island Sound, which the Authority alleges was caused by the defendant vessels dropping anchor. The Second Circuit vacated the district court's order and held that the submarine cable is indeed "used for" one of the enumerated "purposes" in the OPA's definition of "facility." Consequently, the panel found that the cable system is used for at least one of the enumerated purposes in the statute. Therefore, the district court erred in dismissing the Authority's OPA claims and in concluding that the Authority's New York Oil Spill Law claims had to be brought in the parallel proceeding on that basis. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Power Authority of the State of New York v. M/V Ellen S. Bouchard" on Justia Law
DeRoy v. Carnival Corp.
After injuring her foot on a rug while onboard a Carnival ship, plaintiff filed suit against Carnival in both state and federal court, seeking damages for the injuries she allegedly suffered onboard the ship. In this case, plaintiff entered into a contract with Carnival that contained a forum-selection clause. Under the forum-selection clause's plain language, when jurisdiction for a claim could lie in federal district court, federal court is the only option for a plaintiff. The court held that plaintiff's claim for negligence at sea falls well within the walls of the federal court's admiralty jurisdiction. Even without explicitly invoking admiralty jurisdiction, the court held that plaintiff's complaint is subject to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(h)'s provision rendering her claim an admiralty or maritime claim. View "DeRoy v. Carnival Corp." on Justia Law
Martin Energy Services, LLC v. Bourbon Petrel M/V
After Martin delivered free fuel to three support vessels owned by CGG, the support vessels then carried the fuel in their cargo tanks to refuel three other vessels. Martin filed suit after CGG failed to pay for the fuel. The Fifth Circuit held that the district court's conclusion that Martin had a maritime lien on the support vessels unduly expanded the court's maritime lien precedents. Under the Commercial Instruments and Maritime Liens Act, a person may obtain a maritime lien against a vessel by providing it with "necessaries." The court explained that fuel may be necessary to a vessel if it fuels the vessel, but the fuel transported by the support vessels in this case was for refueling other vessels. Therefore, the court held that the fuel was not necessary to the support vessels and reversed the district court's judgment. View "Martin Energy Services, LLC v. Bourbon Petrel M/V" on Justia Law
Amy v. Carnival Corp.
Plaintiff filed a maritime negligence action against Carnival on her daughter's behalf after her daughter, three years old at the time, either fell over or through a guard rail on one of Carnival's cruise ships. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Carnival negligently created and maintained the guard rail, and failed to warn of the danger posed by the guard rail. The district court granted summary judgment to Carnival. The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred when it concluded that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to Carnival's notice of the alleged risk-creating condition because it failed to view the evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiff and to draw reasonable inferences in her favor. In this case, a witness testified that Carnival warned passengers not to climb up rails, try to sit on them, or try to get selfies or lean over them because accidents can happen and passengers have fallen off. The court also held that the district court erred when it resolved the failure-to-warn claim on a basis that Carnival did not raise, without providing plaintiff notice or an opportunity to respond. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Amy v. Carnival Corp." on Justia Law
Caldwell v. St. Charles Gaming Company
The Court of Appeal granted summary judgment to plaintiff St. Charles Gaming Company d/b/a Isle of Capri Casino Lake Charles ("Grand Palais"), holding the casino was a :vessel" for the purposes of general maritime law. The decision contradicted Benoit v. St. Charles Gaming Company, LLC, 233 So. 3d 615, cert. denied, 139 S. Ct. 104 (2018), which held the Grand Palais was not a vessel. Plaintiff Don Caldwell worked for Grand Palais Riverboat, LLC, and was injured when the gangway attached to the riverboat malfunctioned and collapsed. Plaintiff petitioned for damages, alleging the Grand Palais was a vessel under general maritime law, and that he was a seaman under the Jones Act at the time of the accident. After a de novo review of the record, the Louisiana Supreme 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 Company" on Justia Law
Troutman v. Seaboard Atlantic Ltd.
After plaintiff was injured while working as a longshoreman, he filed suit against Seaboard, seeking to hold them liable under the Longshore Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). Plaintiff fell from a walkway on the upper deck of the ship where he was working and sustained serious injuries. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Seaboard on plaintiff's negligence claim, holding that the exposed walkway was an open and obvious hazard that plaintiff could have avoided with the exercise of reasonable care. Therefore, the district court properly dismissed plaintiff's claim. View "Troutman v. Seaboard Atlantic Ltd." on Justia Law
Dantzler, Inc. v. S2 Services Puerto Rico, LLC
The First Circuit vacated the district court's order denying in part Defendants' motions to dismiss this suit brought Plaintiffs, a putative class of shippers who use the services of ocean freight carriers to import goods into Puerto Rico through the Port of San Juan, holding that Plaintiffs lacked standing to sue for a declaration that the collection of a fee from the carriers was unlawful. Plaintiffs' claims stemmed from a cargo scanning program implemented by the Puerto Rico Ports Authority (PRPA). Pursuant to that program, PRPA contracted with Rapiscan Systems, Inc. to provide the technology and services needed to scan all containerized inbound cargo. Rapsican assigned its rights and obligations to S2 Services Puerto Rico LLC (S2). PRPA charged ocean freight carriers a fee for their use of the of the scanning facilities at the maritime port. Plaintiffs sued PRPA, Rapiscan, and S2 (collectively, Defendants) alleging that, in response to the fee, the carriers were forced to be collection agents that collected fees from the shipper entities. The district court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motions to dismiss. The First Circuit remanded this case for dismissal on jurisdictional grounds, holding that Plaintiffs failed to set forth allegations that were sufficient to establish their standing. View "Dantzler, Inc. v. S2 Services Puerto Rico, LLC" on Justia Law
Luwisch v. American Marine Corp.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that American Marine was liable for most of plaintiff's injuries. Plaintiff was working as a seaman for American Marine when he was injured on board a vessel owned by the employer. The court held that American Marine has failed to demonstrate that the district court’s finding of unseaworthiness was clear error; American Marine failed to establish that plaintiff's accident was mostly his own fault where the district court clearly evaluated the evidence and made no inconsistent findings about causation, finding plaintiff 20 percent at fault; American Marine failed to carry its burden of demonstrating clear error in the district court's choice between competing experts; the district court's finding of diminished earning capacity was not clearly erroneous; in regard to the district court's award of past medical expenses because of American Marine's negligence, plaintiff's failure to prove that he was obliged to reimburse his attorneys for his medical expenses is irrelevant; and the district court did not clearly err in crediting plaintiff's testimony about his current condition. View "Luwisch v. American Marine Corp." on Justia Law
CITGO Asphalt Refining Co. v. Frescati Shipping Co.
CARCO sub-chartered an oil tanker from tanker operator Star, which had chartered it from Frescati. During the tanker’s journey, an abandoned ship anchor punctured the tanker’s hull, causing 264,000 gallons of heavy crude oil to spill into the Delaware River. The 1990 Oil Pollution Act, 33 U.S.C. 2702(a), required Frescati, the vessel’s owner, to cover the cleanup costs. Frescati’s liability was limited to $45 million. The federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund reimbursed Frescati for an additional $88 million in cleanup costs. Frescati and the government sued, claiming that CARCO had breached a clause in the subcharter agreement that obligated CARCO to select a berth that would allow the vessel to come and go “always safely afloat,” and that obligation amounted to a warranty regarding the safety of the selected berth. Finding that Frescati was an implied third-party beneficiary of the safe-berth clause, the Third Circuit held that the clause embodied an express warranty of safety. The Supreme Court affirmed. The safe-berth clause's unqualified plain language establishes an absolute warranty of safety. That the clause does not expressly invoke the term “warranty” does not alter the charterer’s duty, which is not subject to qualifications or conditions. Under contract law, an obligor is strictly liable for a breach of contract, regardless of fault or diligence. While parties are free to contract for limitations on liability, these parties did not. A limitation on the charterer’s liability for losses due to “perils of the seas,” does not apply nor does a clause requiring Star to obtain oil-pollution insurance relieve CARCO of liability. View "CITGO Asphalt Refining Co. v. Frescati Shipping Co." on Justia Law