Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Admiralty & Maritime 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

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Nadella Corporation bought a ship, the MV Falcon Carrier, for scrap from Falcon Carrier Shipping Limited. Unbeknownst to Nadella, the ship was encumbered by a $368,000 debt. To recover that debt, the debt holder “arrested” Nadella’s new ship. Nadella then tried to recover that debt from the ship’s seller Falcon Carrier Shipping. Newbrook Shipping—the owner of those two ships arrested by Nadella—sued Nadella in South Africa and was considering another lawsuit in Nevis. Newbrook applied in Maryland federal court for an ex parte order under Sec. 1782 authorizing discovery from Nadella’s purported parent company, Global Marketing Systems. The district court rejected discovery for the speculative “proceeding” in Nevis but then granted the full application.On appeal, Global Marketing argues that the district court substantively erred in granting the entire application and approving service of process. The court stated that Sec. 1782 identifies four mandatory conditions that must be satisfied before an application can be granted. Here, the last condition, that the evidence sought must be “for use” in a foreign proceeding, is not fully satisfied.The court held that Section 1782 gives litigants access to federal courts to obtain discovery for use in international litigation. But that access is not unlimited. The district court erred by granting the full application when it held the speculative proceeding in Nevis did not provide a basis for Sec. 1782 discovery. The court remanded for the district court to consider Global Marketing’s arguments. View "In re: Application of Newbrook" on Justia Law

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Epic Companies, LLC ("Epic") was a general contractor specializing in the decommissioning of oil platforms. Epic hired the vessel Nor Goliath to lift oil platform components out of the water. These components were then transported to shore by tugboats, which were owned by various other companies.When Epic went bankrupt, the company's suppliers filed suit in the district court to recoup their costs. Several towing companies joined in the suit, asserting maritime liens under the Commercial Instruments and Maritime Liens Act ("CIMLA") against the Nor Goliath. The towing companies claimed that they provided "necessary services" by towing the barges ashore. The district court granted summary judgment in Nor Goliath's favor.The Fifth Circuit affirmed. CIMLA provides that those who provide "necessary services" to a vessel obtain a maritime lien against the vessel and may bring a civil claim to enforce this lien. Under 46 U.S.C. Sec. 31301(4), necessary services include repairs, supplies, towage, and the use of dry dock or marine railway. Here, the Nor Goliath's role was to lift platform components out of the water and place them on barges. Thus, the Nor Goliath's necessaries were the goods and services used to accomplish this task, but not those related to Epic's larger goal of decommissioning oil platforms. Thus, the Fifth Circuit held that the towing companies did not perform necessary services to the Nor Goliath. View "Central Boat Rentals v. M/V Nor Goliath" on Justia Law

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Curtin Maritime Corp. (Curtin) filed suit against its competitor, Pacific Dredge and Construction, LLC (Pacific), asserting one cause of action for violation of the Unfair Competition Law. The parties operated dredging vessels, and competed for contracts awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). In its complaint, Curtin alleged Pacific was ineligible for two contracts it was awarded over Curtin because its vessel was not “entirely” built in the United States, a violation of the federal Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (commonly referred to as the Jones Act), and Pacific defrauded the Coast Guard in its successful application for certification that the vessel was U.S.-built. These allegations served as the sole basis for Curtin’s UCL claim. In response to the complaint, Pacific brought a motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 to strike Curtin’s claim, asserting it arose from protected speech and that Curtin could not show a probability of prevailing on the merits of its claim. The trial court agreed with Pacific that the claim arose from protected activity, but concluded Curtin had met its burden at this early stage of litigation to show the claim had minimal merit and denied the motion. Pacific appealed the ruling, contending the trial court erred because the claim was preempted by the Jones Act. After Pacific filed its notice of appeal, Curtin dismissed the underlying lawsuit and moved to dismiss the appeal as moot. Pacific opposed the motion, asserting the appeal was viable since reversal of the trial court’s order would provide Pacific the opportunity to seek attorney fees under the anti-SLAPP statute. The Court of Appeal agreed with Pacific that the appeal was not moot, and dismissal of the appeal was not appropriate. Further, the Court concluded Curtin did not show a probability of prevailing on the merits of its claim. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s order denying Pacific’s motion to strike, and directed the trial court to reinstate the case and issue an order granting the anti-SLAPP motion and striking Curtin’s claim. View "Curtin Maritime Corp. v. Pacific Dredge etc." on Justia Law

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In 2011, during the course and scope of his employment as a shipwright, Claimant Robert Arlet slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk on the premises of his employer, Flagship Niagara League (Employer), sustaining injuries. Employer had obtained a Commercial Hull Policy from Acadia Insurance Company (Insurer). Through the policy, Insurer provided coverage for damages caused by the Brig Niagara and for Jones Act protection and indemnity coverage for the “seventeen (17) crewmembers” of the Brig Niagara. Employer had also at some point obtained workers’ compensation insurance from the State Workers’ Insurance Fund (SWIF). Insurer paid benefits to Claimant under its Commercial Hull Policy’s “maintenance and cure” provision. Claimant filed for workers’ compensation benefits. Employer asserted Claimant’s remedy was exclusively governed by the Jones Act. Employer also filed to join SWIF as an additional insurer in the event the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) was deemed to supply the applicable exclusive remedy, and Employer was found to be liable thereunder. SWIF denied coverage, alleging Employer’s policy was lapsed at the time of Claimant’s injury. Thereafter, Claimant filed an Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund (UEGF) claim petition, asserting the fund’s liability in the event he prevailed, and Employer was deemed uncovered by SWIF and failed to pay. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) found that as a land-based employee, Claimant did not meet the definition of seaman under the Jones Act and was, therefore, entitled to pursue his workers’ compensation claim. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was one of first impression: the right of an insurer to subrogation under the WCA. The Supreme Court concluded Insurer’s Commercial Hull Policy did not cover Claimant, because Claimant was not a “seaman” or crew member. The WCA’s exclusive remedy applied, but Insurer was seeking subrogation for payment it made on a loss it did not cover. "[T]he 'no-coverage exception' to the general equitable rule precluding an insurer from pursuing subrogation against its insured comports with the purposes and public policy supporting the rule and hereby adopt it as the law of this Commonwealth. ... any equitable rule precluding an insurer from seeking subrogation against its insured is best tempered by the exception adopted herein today." View "Arlet v. WCAB (L&I)" on Justia Law

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Enacted after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), creates a comprehensive remedial scheme that governs—and apportions liability for—oil-removal costs. OPA holds oil spillers strictly liable upfront for oil-removal expenses and allows them, if they meet certain requirements, to avail themselves of one of three liability defenses and to seek contribution from other culpable parties. The M/V SAVAGE VOYAGER was transporting oil through a Mississippi waterway when an accident at a boat lift— operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—caused a rupture in the SAVAGE VOYAGER’s hull, through which thousands of gallons of oil poured into the river.The owners of the vessel sued the United States, not under the OPA, but under the common-law admiralty regime. They cited the Suits in Admiralty Act (SAA), a 1920 law by which Congress generally waived sovereign immunity for most admiralty claims. The interplay between the OPA and the SAA was an issue of first impression in the federal courts. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the vessel owner’s claims for removal costs. OPA authorizes no claim against the government for oil-removal damages and OPA’s comprehensive remedial scheme displaced the SAA’s more general sovereign-immunity waiver. View "Savage Services Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in an action concerning the allision between three vessels passing each other in the Hahnville Bar, a bend between mile markers 124.5 and 126 in the Mississippi River where a number of moorings are located. The court concluded that the district court did not err in allowing the parties' respective liabilities, in limiting the parties' liability, or in dismissing the personal injury claim. In this case, the district court did not clearly err in allocating liability as to the Elizabeth, the Loretta, or the Aris T. The court agreed with the district court's ruling that the Limitation of Liability Act does not allow the Elizabeth Interests or the Loretta Interest to limit liability in this case. Furthermore, the Aris T's negligence was attributable solely to the compulsory pilot, Pilot Leone, and therefore, the Aris T is only liable in rem. Finally, in regard to the personal injury claim, the court concluded that the proximate cause element was not satisfied where claimant's unforeseeable panic caused the accident. View "SCF Waxler Marine, LLC v. Genesis Marine, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court dismissing this suit brought under the Death on the High Seas Act and maritime law, see 46 U.S.C. 30301 et seq., for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that the issue presented were capable of judicial management without interfering with the military's judgment.A private contractor maintained a fleet of older Navy helicopters. In 2014, one of the helicopters crashed during a training exercise, killing three service members and injuring two others. Plaintiffs, the families of the deceased service members and one of the survivors, sued the contractor. The trial court dismissed the suit on the ground that questions of military judgment rendered the case nonjusticiable. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding that the political question doctrine did not deprive the state courts of jurisdiction over this case. View "Preston v. M1 Support Services, L.P." on Justia Law

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After SCF delivered its barge to a loading facility operated by Terral, the barge sank while secured at Terral's facility. Terral then filed suit against SCF, alleging general maritime negligence, unseaworthiness, breach of contract, and indemnity. Underlying Terral's claims is the allegation that a fracture on the barge preexisted delivery of the barge to Terral and is estimated to be two to four weeks old. In Terral's second amended complaint, it added contribution and salvage claims. SCF counterclaimed against Terral for negligence and breach of duty.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to SCF on all of Terral's claims, concluding that Terral cannot show that there is a genuine issue of material fact over an essential element of each of its claims for which it bears the burden of proof. In this case, the district court correctly determined that Terral bears the burden of proof for all of its claims. In regard to the non-salvage claims, the court concluded that Terral lacked sufficient evidence to show that the hull was fractured prior to the barge's delivery. The court also concluded that Terral's salvage claim is foreclosed because Terral had a preexisting duty as the barge's bailee, a duty of ordinary care owed to SCF. View "Terral River Service, Inc. v. SCF Marine Inc." on Justia Law