Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional 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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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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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

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This dispute arose from injuries sustained by a platform worker employed by Vertex. Continental appealed the district court's final judgment in favor of Tetra and Maritech, requiring Continental and its codefendant insured, Vertex, to indemnify them. The court concluded that the summary judgment record is inadequate to determine whether the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), 43 U.S.C. 1333(a)(1), (a)(2)(A), requires the adoption of Louisiana law as surrogate federal law where the court cannot determine whether there is an OCSLA situs, the court cannot determine whether federal maritime law applies, and the Louisiana Oilfield Indemnity Act (LOIA), La. Rev. Stat. Ann. 9:2780, is consistent with federal law. Accordingly, the court concluded that neither party is entitled to summary judgment as to whether LOIA must be adopted as surrogate federal law under OCSLA. The court remanded to the district court to determine the dispositive issue of whether Louisiana law must be adopted as surrogate federal law. View "Tetra Tech. v. Vertex Servs." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the City and its officers under 42 U.S.C.1983, federal maritime law, and state law, alleging that defendants seized his sailboat and destroyed it without justification and without notice. The district court dismissed plaintiff's claims. The court concluded that the district court should not have placed a “heightened pleading” burden on plaintiff for his section 1983 claims. The court also concluded that the district court erred to the extent that it dismissed the federal constitutional claims in Counts I, II, and V, and the maritime claims in Counts III and IV, based on the contents of the incident reports. On remand, the court instructed the district court to assess the sufficiency of the procedural due process, search and seizure, and takings claims without reliance on the disputed portions of the incident reports. The court further instructed that the district court should assume that the sailboat was not derelict, and that plaintiff was never given adequate notice that it was derelict and subject to removal and destruction. The court further concluded that the district court erred with respect to the procedural due process claim in Count I and the Fourth Amendment claim in Count II. In this case, all plaintiff needed to do to establish municipal liability was allege a policy, practice, or custom of the City which caused the seizure and destruction of his sailboat, which he did. Further, defendants cannot point to any post-Leatherman v. Tarrant Cnty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit Supreme Court or circuit cases - and the court has not been able to locate any - holding that a complaint asserting a section 1983 municipal liability claim must, as a Rule 8(a) pleading matter, always specifically identify the municipality’s final policymaker by name. Finally, plaintiff also sufficiently stated a claim for an unconstitutional seizure under the Fourth Amendment. However, the court agreed with the district court that plaintiff failed to state a substantive due process claim. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Hoefling, Jr. v. City of Miami" on Justia Law

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In 2000 the Port Authority signed a 30-year lease for the largest marine terminal at Port Elizabeth (445 acres including structures and berthing) with Maher, which handles cargo. The Lease requires “Basic Rental,” (in 2012, $50,413 per acre, totaling $22,433,612) plus “Container Throughput Rental,” based on the type and volume of cargo at Maher’s terminal. For eight years, Maher was exempted from Throughput Rental. Since 2008 the first 356,000 containers are exempted; for containers 356,001 to 980,000, Maher paid $19.00 per container in 2012; and for each additional container, Maher paid $14.25. Maher must handle a minimum amount of cargo to maintain the Lease and pay an annual guaranteed minimum Throughput Rental. Maher paid $12.5 million in Throughput Rental in 2010, and expected the 2012 amount to be $14 million. Maher claims the Port Authority profits from the Lease and uses the revenue to fund harbor improvements and projects unrelated to services provided to Maher or vessels. In 2012 Maher sued, alleging violations of the Constitution’s Tonnage Clause; the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act, 33 U.S.C. 5(b); and the Water Resources Development Act, 33 U.S.C. 2236. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal, agreeing that Maher lacked standing to bring its Tonnage Clause and RHA claims because it was not a protected vessel and did not adequately plead that fees imposed on vessels were not for services rendered. Maher’s WRDA claim failed because Maher had not shown that the Authority imposed fees on vessels or cargo and because the WRDA did not prohibit use of Lease revenue to finance harbor improvements. View "Maher Terminals LLC v. Port Auth. of NY" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were two Yemeni-born Muslim seamen who were United States citizens. Their civil rights action concerned a tanker ship owned by the United States Maritime Administration but operated by a private company under a contract. The first seaman alleged that the human resources director of the companying operating the ship ordered that he be fired because of his national origin. The second seaman alleged that he was not hired to work aboard the ship because of his religion and national origin. Both plaintiffs named the human resources director as a defendant but not the United States. The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of jurisdiction. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that because Plaintiffs’ claims both involved a contract for employment or potential employment aboard a public vessel of the United States and had a sufficient maritime connection, they were required to bring those claims against the United States. View "Ali v. Rogers" on Justia Law

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The states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island each tax the transfer of real estate. In separate actions, the Town of Johnston, Rhode Island and the Commissioners of Bristol County, Massachusetts (the municipalities) brought actions against Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency (collectively, the entities), seeking declaratory judgments that the entities owed transfer taxes as well as money damages and equitable relief to recover the unpaid taxes. Federal district courts granted the entities’ motions to dismiss based on statutory exemptions from taxation. The municipalities appealed, arguing that a real property exception in the entities’ tax exemptions applies to the transfer taxes and that the exemptions themselves are unconstitutional. The First Circuit affirmed the dismissal of all claims, holding (1) the transfer taxes are not included in the real property exception to the entities’ tax exemptions; and (2) the tax exemptions are a constitutional exercise of Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause and do not violate the Tenth Amendment. View "Town of Johnston v. Fed. Housing Fin. Agency" on Justia Law

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The Parishes filed suit against BP and others involved in the "Deepwater Horizon" oil spill, seeking to recover penalties under The Louisiana Wildlife Protection Statute, La. R.S. 56:40:1. On appeal, the Parishes challenged the denial of its motion to remand to state court and dismissal of its claims as preempted by federal law. The court concluded that the state law claims were removable pursuant to the broad jurisdictional grant of section 1349 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), 43 U.S.C. 1349. The court also concluded that the district court correctly concluded that the Parishes' claims were preempted by the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1321, as interpreted in International Paper Co v. Ouellette, and that Congress did not reject that interpretation explicitly or by negative implication in the CWA or when it passed the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), 33 U.S.C. 2718(c). Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "In Re: Deepwater Horizon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, the crew of an Ecuadorian fishing boat, filed suit against the United States, alleging that the United States harmed plaintiffs and their property when the Coast Guard boarded the boat in search of drugs. The court held that, on the evidence submitted by the parties, reciprocity with Ecuador existed; the discretionary function exception applied generally to plaintiffs' claims because most of the actions by the Coast Guard were discretionary; the government could have violated its non-discretionary policy of paying damages to the owner of the boat; and to the extent that plaintiffs could establish that the United States violated that mandatory obligation, sovereign immunity did not bar this action. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Tobar v. United States" on Justia Law