Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
by
The case involves Kholkar Vishveshwar Ganpat, an Indian citizen, who contracted malaria while working as a crew member on a Liberian-flagged ship managed by Eastern Pacific Shipping Pte., Limited (EPS), a Singaporean company. Ganpat alleges that EPS failed to adequately provision the ship with antimalarial medication for its voyage to Gabon, a high-risk malaria area in Africa. Ganpat's illness resulted in gangrene, amputation of several toes, and a 76-day hospitalization. He filed a lawsuit against EPS in the United States, seeking relief under the Jones Act and the general maritime law of the United States. He also asserted a contractual claim for disability benefits.The district court initially deferred making a choice-of-law ruling. However, after discovery, the court ruled that the law of the United States (the Jones Act and general maritime law) governs Ganpat’s tort claims and claim for breach of the collective bargaining agreement. EPS appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court disagreed with the district court's assessment of the Lauritzen-Rhoditis factors, which are used to determine whether maritime claims are governed by the law of the United States or the conflicting law of a foreign nation. The appellate court found that none of the factors that the Supreme Court has deemed significant to the choice-of-law determination in traditional maritime shipping cases involve the United States. The court concluded that Ganpat’s maritime tort and contract claims should be adjudicated under the substantive law of Liberia, the flag state of the ship on which Ganpat was working when he contracted malaria. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "Ganpat v. Eastern Pacific Shipping" on Justia Law

by
This case revolves around a series of maritime accidents caused by the breakaway of a drillship, the DPDS1, owned by Paragon Asset Company, during Hurricane Harvey in Port Aransas, Texas. Paragon had hired two tugboats owned by Signet Maritime Corporation to keep the vessel moored to the dock during the storm. However, the DPDS1 broke from its moorings, collided with both Signet tugs, and ran aground in the Corpus Christi ship channel. It later refloated and collided with a research pier owned by the University of Texas.The district court found Paragon solely liable for the breakaway, applying maritime negligence law. It concluded that Paragon had unreasonably relied on inaccurate reports about the strength of its mooring system and failed to call for an evacuation when it was the prudent course of action. The court also found that Signet and Paragon were equally liable for the damages suffered by the University of Texas due to the failure of a third tug, supplied by Signet, to prevent the vessel's collision with the pier.Paragon appealed, arguing that the court should have applied a "towage law" standard of duty to Signet's services and contested the district court's rejection of a force majeure defense. Paragon also disputed the court's determination regarding which contract between the parties governed Signet's services.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. It found no error in the application of maritime negligence law, rejected Paragon's force majeure defense, and agreed with the lower court's determination that Signet's Tariff governed the services provided during Hurricane Harvey. View "Paragon Asset v. American Steamship" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around a dispute over the eligibility of a dredging barge, the DB AVALON, to operate in U.S. waters. Federal law stipulates that only vessels "built in the United States" can dredge in U.S. waters, a determination made by the U.S. Coast Guard. Curtin Maritime Corporation sought the Coast Guard's ruling that the AVALON, which incorporated foreign-made spuds and a crane, could operate in U.S. waters. The Coast Guard ruled that the AVALON would be considered U.S.-built. Diamond Services Corporation, a competitor of Curtin, challenged this ruling as arbitrary and capricious.The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The district court deferred to the Coast Guard's interpretation of its own regulations and granted the Coast Guard summary judgment. Diamond Services Corporation appealed this decision.The case was then reviewed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The court affirmed the lower court's decision, agreeing that the Coast Guard's interpretation of its own regulations was reasonable. The court found that the regulations were genuinely ambiguous as to whether the crane was part of the AVALON’s superstructure. The court also found that the Coast Guard's interpretation fell within the regulatory zone of ambiguity and was reasonable. The court concluded that the Coast Guard's ruling was made by the agency, implicated the agency’s substantive expertise, and reflected fair and considered judgment. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's decision to grant summary judgment for the Federal Defendants. View "Diamond Services v. Maritime" on Justia Law

by
This case involves a maritime personal injury claim brought by Plaintiff Shanon Roy Santee against his employer, Oceaneering International, Inc., and two other companies, Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling, Inc. and Chevron USA, Inc. Santee was a remote-operated vehicle (ROV) technician working on a drillship, the Deepwater Conqueror. He sustained an injury while replacing a part on one of the ROVs and subsequently sued the three companies under the Jones Act, general maritime law, and the Saving to Suitors Clause.The defendants removed the case to the Southern District of Texas, arguing that the federal court had jurisdiction under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). Santee moved to remand the case to state court, arguing he was a "seaman" under the Jones Act. The district court denied the motion and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The appellate court agreed that Santee was not a seaman under the Jones Act, so his Jones Act claims were fraudulently pleaded. The court also found that the district court had original jurisdiction under the OCSLA because the drillship was on the Outer Continental Shelf at the time of Santee's injury. Consequently, Santee's only remedy was under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act.The court also found no error in the district court's decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the defendants on Santee's negligence and unseaworthiness claims. It concluded that the defendants did not breach their duties to Santee, and Santee failed to show that additional discovery would have created a genuine issue of material fact. View "Santee v. Oceaneering Intl." on Justia Law

by
In a dispute between Conti 11 Container Schiffarts-GMBH & Co. KG M.S. and MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A., the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana lacked personal jurisdiction over the case and reversed the district court's decision. The dispute arose from an incident where three chemical tanks exploded onboard a cargo vessel chartered by Conti to MSC, causing extensive damage and three deaths. After Conti won a $200 million award from a London arbitration panel, Conti sought to confirm the award in the Eastern District of Louisiana. MSC argued that the court lacked personal jurisdiction. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court’s assessment that when confirming an award under the New York Convention, a court should consider contacts related to the underlying dispute, not just those related to the arbitration itself. However, the Fifth Circuit disagreed with the district court's ruling that MSC waived its personal jurisdiction defense through its insurer’s issuance of a letter of understanding. The court also disagreed with the district court's finding that the loading of the tanks in New Orleans conferred specific personal jurisdiction over MSC, as this contact resulted from the actions of other parties not attributable to MSC. Therefore, the Fifth Circuit reversed the lower court's decision and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss it for lack of personal jurisdiction. View "Conti 11. Container Schiffarts-GMBH & Co. KG M.S. v. MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co. S.A." on Justia Law

by
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

by
In this case, Trey Wooley filed a state court action against N&W Marine Towing (N&W) and others based on injuries he suffered while serving as a deckhand on the Mississippi River. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that Wooley had improperly joined N&W in the state court action in violation of a district court's stay order and the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, which effectively ceased all claims and proceedings against N&W outside of a federal limitation action that N&W had previously filed. Therefore, N&W was dismissed as a defendant in the state court action. The court further held that, after dismissing N&W, there were no live claims remaining in the state court action because Wooley had previously settled his claims against the other defendants. Consequently, the court severed Wooley's state court action from the limitation action and dismissed it without prejudice. The court retained jurisdiction over the limitation action but stayed it to allow Wooley to pursue any viable claims against N&W in state court. The court concluded that the district court properly denied Wooley's motion to remand, as it had diversity jurisdiction over the case once N&W was dismissed. View "Wooley v. N&W Marine Towing" on Justia Law

by
In a collision between two vessels on the Mississippi River, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that Louisiana law, not general maritime law, governs the burden of proof for the pilot's error.On January 3, 2019, the M/V STRANDJA, piloted by Captain Robert Johnson, drifted from its anchorage into the middle of the river, colliding with the M/V KIEFFER E. BAILEY, owned by Marquette Transportation Company Gulf-Inland LLC. The collision caused damage to both vessels. Marquette brought claims against STRANDJA's owner, Balkan Navigation Ltd, and manager, Navigation Maritime Bulgare JSC (collectively referred to as "Balkan"), alleging their negligence caused the collision.A jury found that Marquette was not negligent and that Balkan and Captain Johnson were each 50% at fault. The jury awarded Marquette $114,000 in damages and awarded Balkan $0 in damages. Both Balkan and Captain Johnson appealed the judgment.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgment that Marquette was not negligent, and therefore not liable for the accident. However, the court found that the district court erred in instructing the jury to apply general maritime law, which only requires a finding of ordinary negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, to the claim against Captain Johnson. Instead, the court held that Louisiana law, which requires clear and convincing evidence of gross negligence or willful misconduct, should have been applied.As a result, the court vacated the judgment against Balkan and Captain Johnson and remanded the case for a new trial, applying the correct standard of proof under Louisiana law. The court also ordered Marquette to amend its complaint within 14 days to allege admiralty jurisdiction as the jurisdictional basis for its claim against Balkan. View "Marquette Transportation Company Gulf-Inland, L.L.C. v. Navigation Maritime Bulgare" on Justia Law

by
In 2023, the State of Texas, under the direction of Governor Greg Abbott, installed a floating barrier in the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, Texas. The United States government filed a civil enforcement action against Texas, alleging that the installation of the barrier violated the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899 (“RHA”). The United States sought a preliminary injunction, which was granted by the district court, ordering Texas to cease work on the barrier and to relocate it to the Texas riverbank. Texas appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The Court of Appeals found that the United States demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of its RHA claims. The court determined that the part of the Rio Grande where the barrier was installed was a navigable waterway and that the barrier constituted an obstruction to this waterway. The court also found that the barrier was a structure as defined by the RHA and that it had been constructed without necessary authorization.In addition, the court found that the United States had demonstrated that it was likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief. The court noted that the barrier strained diplomatic relations with Mexico, interfered with the ability of the International Boundary and Water Commission to implement the provisions of a treaty concerning the allocation of waters in the Rio Grande, and posed a risk to human life.The court also held that the balance of equities favored the United States and that the issuance of a preliminary injunction was in the public interest. Specifically, the court noted that the barrier threatened navigation and federal government operations on the Rio Grande, and also posed a potential threat to human life.Taking all of these factors into account, the court ruled that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting a preliminary injunction ordering Texas to cease work on the barrier and to relocate it. View "USA v. Abbott, No. 23-50632 (5th Cir. 2023)" on Justia Law

by
N&W Marine Towing (N&W) filed in federal district court a verified complaint in limitation (the Limitation Action), pursuant to the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 (Limitation Act) and Rule F of the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims. The complaint filed in N&W’s Limitation Action alleged that on February 29, 2020, the M/V Nicholas, which is owned by N&W, was towing six barges up the Mississippi River when the wake of a cruise ship, the Majesty of the Seas, caused one of the Nicholas’s face wires to break. After dismissing N&W from the case, no claims remained in the State Court Petition because Wooley had settled his claims against the other defendants. Therefore, the district court severed Wooley’s State Court Petition from the Limitation Action and dismissed it. The district court retained jurisdiction over the Limitation Action but stayed and administratively closed it to allow Wooley to pursue any claims available to him against N&W in Louisiana state court pursuant to the saving to suitors clause. N&W and Wooley cross-appealed.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court determines that a nondiverse defendant was improperly joined, the improperly joined defendant’s citizenship may not be considered for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, and that defendant must be dismissed without prejudice. After determining that N&W had been improperly joined, the district court correctly considered only the citizenship of the properly joined State Court Petition defendants. As they were diverse from Wooley, removal based on diversity jurisdiction was permitted. View "Wooley v. N&W Marine Towing" on Justia Law