Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Admiralty & Maritime 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

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Plaintiff, acting as the representative for her deceased husband, filed a suit in federal court seeking damages under a wrongful death theory from entities who manufactured, sold, and distributed asbestos-containing products to which her husband could have been exposed. Her husband worked as an outside machinist onboard a ship at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. His duties included removing and installing piping insulation, gaskets, and other parts that may have contained asbestos in various compartments throughout the ships. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma on February 20, 2015, and he died on July 3, 2015.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of a wrongful death claim under admiralty jurisdiction and remanded for reconsideration of Plaintiff’s claims in light of the court’s holding that the statute of limitations began to accrue on the date of her husband’s death. The court held that a wrongful death claim in admiralty can only accrue on or after the death of the seaman, and not before. The court applied federal law and distinguished wrongful death claims from survival statutes permitting personal injury claims of an injured individual after death. Thus, the accrual of the three-year statute of limitations for maritime torts, 46 U.S.C. Sec. 30106, began to run on the date of death of her husband and not on the date of discovery of the injury or illness that ultimately resulted in his death. View "SHERRI DEEM V. THE WILLIAM POWELL COMPANY" on Justia Law

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N&W filed a maritime limitation action in federal district court after Plaintiff was injured on a ship owned by N&W Marine Towing. The district court initially stayed Plaintiff from prosecuting claims against N&W in other forums, however, the court lifted its stay after Plaintiff made certain stipulations.The Fifth Circuit reasoned that under the Limitation of Liability Act, shipowners “may bring a civil action in a district court of the United States for limitation of liability.” The Limitation Act allows shipowners to limit their liability for an array of incidents, as long as the incident giving rise to liability occurred without the p knowledge of the owner.Here, after N&W filed its limitation action, three parties filed claims: Wooley, Turn Services, and RCC. However, RCC and N&W settled, and Turn Services assigned its claims to Plaintiff, leaving him as the only remaining claimant. The court found that Plaintiff’s stipulation both recognized the district court’s exclusive jurisdiction over the limitation proceeding and stated that Plaintiff would not seek to enforce a damage award greater than the value of the ship and its freight until the district court had adjudicated the limitation proceeding. Thus, the court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion by lifting the stay and allowing Plaintiff to pursue remedies in other forums. Further, the court found that N&W’s arguments regarding removal are not relevant to the issue of whether the district court abused its discretion by lifting the stay. View "Wooley v. N&W Marine Towing" on Justia Law