Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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The case involves Century Aluminum Company and its subsidiaries (Century), and Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London (Lloyd's). Century uses river barges to transport alumina ore and other materials for its aluminum smelting operations. In 2017, the Army Corps of Engineers closed key locks on the Ohio River, causing Century to seek alternative transportation. Century filed a claim with Lloyd's, its maritime cargo insurance policy provider, for the unanticipated shipping expenses. While Lloyd's paid $1 million under the policy's Extra Expense Clause, it denied coverage for the rest of the claim.The case was first heard by the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. Century sought a declaration that its denied claims were covered by the insurance policy and requested damages for Lloyd's alleged breach of contract among other violations of Kentucky insurance law. Lloyd's sought summary judgment, arguing that the policy did not cover the claims. The district court sided with Lloyd's.The appeal was heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Century argued that the policy's All Risks Clause, Risks Covered Clause, Shipping Expenses Clause, and Sue and Labour Clause required Lloyd's to cover the additional shipping expenses. The court rejected these arguments, affirming the district court's ruling. The court held that under the All Risks Clause and Risks Covered Clause, Century's alumina did not suffer any physical loss or damage. As for the Shipping Expenses Clause, it covered the risk of a failed delivery, not an untimely one. Lastly, under the Sue and Labour Clause, Century was required to mitigate Lloyd's exposure under the policy, but it did not obligate Lloyd's to pay anything for reducing losses that fall outside the policy. View "Century Aluminum Co. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London" on Justia Law

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In a maritime insurance dispute between Great Lakes Insurance, a German company, and Raiders Retreat Realty, a Pennsylvania company, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that choice-of-law provisions in maritime contracts are presumptively enforceable under federal maritime law, with certain narrow exceptions not applicable in this case.The dispute originated when Raiders Retreat Realty's boat ran aground, and Great Lakes Insurance denied coverage, alleging that Raiders breached the insurance contract by failing to maintain the boat’s fire-suppression system. The insurance contract contained a choice-of-law provision that selected New York law to govern future disputes. Raiders argued that Pennsylvania law, not New York law, should apply. The District Court ruled in favor of Great Lakes, finding that the choice-of-law provision was presumptively valid and enforceable under federal maritime law. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals vacated this decision, holding that choice-of-law provisions must yield to the strong public policy of the state where the suit is brought.The Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit's decision, emphasizing the importance of uniformity and predictability in maritime law. The Court concluded that choice-of-law provisions allow maritime actors to avoid later disputes and the ensuing litigation and costs, thus promoting maritime commerce. Therefore, such provisions are presumptively enforceable under federal maritime law. The Court further clarified that exceptions to this rule exist but are narrow, and none of them applied in this case. View "Great Lakes Insurance SE v. Raiders Retreat Realty Co." on Justia Law

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In this case heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the plaintiff's wife died during a scuba and snorkeling tour from Lahaina Harbor to Molokini Crater, an atoll off the coast of Maui, Hawaii. Before the tour, the plaintiff and his wife each signed a waiver document releasing their rights to sue the defendants. The plaintiff's claims were based on gross negligence and simple negligence. The defendants argued that the waiver and release were an affirmative defense to the claims based on simple negligence. However, the district court struck the defense, stating that the liability waivers were void under 46 U.S.C. § 30527(a), which prohibits certain liability waivers for vessels transporting passengers between ports in the United States or between a port in the United States and a port in a foreign country.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order and held that the term "between ports in the United States" in 46 U.S.C. § 30527(a) refers to transportation between at least two separate ports in the United States. Therefore, the statute does not apply to vessels that transport passengers away from and back to a single port without stopping at any other port. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "EHART V. LAHAINA DIVERS, INC." on Justia Law

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In this case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the central issue was whether a contract for the inspection and repair of lifeboats on an oil platform, located on the Outer Continental Shelf, could be considered a maritime contract. The relevance of this classification was that it would determine whether indemnity might be owed by one corporate defendant, Palfinger Marine USA, Inc., to another, Shell Oil Company, for payments to third parties. The lower district court had ruled that the contract was not maritime. However, the Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the contract was indeed a maritime one. The case was related to a tragic accident in 2019 when a lifeboat detached from an oil platform, resulting in the deaths of two workers and injury to another. The platform was owned and operated by Shell Oil Company and its affiliates. The lifeboats were serviced by Palfinger Marine USA, Inc. under a contract which included indemnity provisions. After the accident, lawsuits were filed against both companies by the injured worker and the families of the deceased workers. These claims were settled separately, but Palfinger's claim for indemnity from Shell under the contract was preserved for appeal. The decision of the district court to classify the contract as non-maritime was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that the contract was maritime, as it was related to the repair and maintenance of lifeboats facilitating offshore drilling and production of oil and gas, which constituted maritime commerce. The lifeboats were found to play a substantial role in the contract, making it a traditionally maritime contract. View "Palfinger Marine U S A v. Shell Oil" on Justia Law

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In this case, Defendant-Appellee Martin Andersson purchased an insurance policy for his vessel from Plaintiff-Appellant Great Lakes Insurance SE. The vessel ran aground off the coast of the Dominican Republic, and Great Lakes brought a declaratory judgment action to determine coverage under the policy. Andersson filed counterclaims for breach of contract and equitable estoppel. Great Lakes' motion for summary judgment was denied, and Andersson was granted partial summary judgment on his breach of contract claim. Great Lakes appealed, claiming the district court erred in refusing to apply the policy's definition of seaworthiness.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that under the absolute implied warranty of seaworthiness, the insured vessel must be seaworthy at the policy's inception, and if not, the policy is void. The court affirmed the district court's ruling, stating that Great Lakes' argument that the absolute implied warranty required the vessel to carry up-to-date charts for all geographic areas covered by the policy in order to be considered seaworthy was unsupported by admiralty case law and was unreasonable.Additionally, the court held that Great Lakes' argument that the express terms of the policy required updated paper charts for every location that could be navigated under the entirety of the policy coverage area was unsupported by the express language of the policy itself. The court found no precedent supporting the claim that updated paper charts for every location covered by the policy were required to be onboard the vessel at the inception of the policy. As a result, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision in favor of Andersson. View "Great Lakes Insurance SE v. Andersson" 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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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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The Reefer arrived at the Port of Wilmington, Delaware for what its owner, Nederland, expected to be a short stay. Upon inspection, the Coast Guard suspected that the vessel had discharged dirty bilge water directly overboard and misrepresented in its record book that the ship’s oil water separator had been used to clean the bilge water prior to discharge. Nederland, wanting to get the ship back to sea as rapidly as possible, entered into an agreement with the government for the release of the Reefer in exchange for a surety bond to cover potential fines. Although Nederland delivered the bond and met other requirements, the vessel was detained in Wilmington for at least two additional weeks.Nederland sued. The Delaware district court dismissed the complaint, holding that Nederland’s claims had to be brought in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims because the breach of contract claim did not invoke admiralty jurisdiction a claim under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) failed because of sovereign immunity. The Third Circuit reversed. The agreement is maritime in nature and invokes the district court’s admiralty jurisdiction. The primary objective of the agreement was to secure the vessel's departure clearance so that it could continue its maritime trade. APPS explicitly waives the government’s sovereign immunity. View "Nederland Shipping Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Zen-Noh purchased grain shipments. Sellers were required to prepay barge freight and deliver the product to Zen-Noh’s terminal but were not required to use any specific delivery company. Ingram, a carrier, issued the sellers negotiable bills of lading, defining the relationships of the consignor (company arranging shipment), the consignee (to receive delivery), and the carrier. Printed on each bill was an agreement to "Terms” and a link to the Terms on Ingram’s website. Those Terms purport to bind any entity that has an ownership interest in the goods and included a forum selection provision selecting the Middle District of Tennessee.Ingram updated its Terms and alleges that it notified Zen-Noh through an email to CGB, which it believed was “closely connected with Zen-Noh,” often acting on Zen-Noh's behalf in dealings related to grain transportation. Weeks after the email, Zen-Noh sent Ingram an email complaining about invoices for which it did not believe it was liable. Ingram replied with a link to the Terms. Zen-Noh answered that it was “not party to the barge affreightment contract as received in your previous email.” The grains had been received by Zen-Noh, which has paid Ingram penalties related to delayed loading or unloading but has declined to pay Ingram's expenses involving ‘fleeting,’ ‘wharfage,’ and ‘shifting.’” Ingram filed suit in the Middle District of Tennessee. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Zen-Noh was neither a party to nor consented to Ingram’s contract and is not bound to the contract’s forum selection clause; the district court did not have jurisdiction over Zen-Noh. View "Ingram Barge Co., LLC v. Zen-Noh Grain Corp." on Justia Law

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In this dispute between a boat owner and his insurance company, the First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court in favor of the insurer, holding that the district court properly applied the doctrine of uberrimae fidei in this case.When Defendant applied for an insurance policy for his yacht from an entity later acquired by Plaintiff he failed to disclose that he had grounded a forty-foot yacht in Puerto Rico. Plaintiff later sought a declaratory judgment voiding the policy on the grounds that Defendant had failed to honor his duty of utmost good faith, known as uberrimae fidei in maritime law, in acquiring the policy and had therefore breached the warranty of truthfulness contained in the policy. The district court concluded that Plaintiff was entitled to void the policy. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court correctly concluded that the uberrimae fidei doctrine entitled Plaintiff to a declaration that the policy was void. View "QBE Seguros v. Morales-Vazquez" on Justia Law