Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
EHART V. LAHAINA DIVERS, INC.
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
USA V. MARIN
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed two defendants’ convictions for violating the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA), which prohibits the possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute while on board a covered vessel. The defendants were arrested after their speedboat, which was carrying at least 1,000 kilograms of cocaine, was intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard off the coast of Ecuador. The vessel carried no nationality flag, but both defendants verbally claimed Ecuadorian nationality for the vessel. The Ecuadorian government neither confirmed nor denied the nationality. The United States treated the vessel as stateless and exercised jurisdiction. The defendants challenged the government’s jurisdiction, arguing that the relevant provision of the MDLEA under which jurisdiction was exercised is unconstitutional because it conflicts with international law regarding when a vessel may be treated as stateless. The court held that the definition of “vessel without nationality” under the MDLEA does not conflict with international law, and thus affirmed the lower court’s denial of the defendants’ motion to dismiss the indictment. View "USA V. MARIN" on Justia Law
Williams Sports Rentals Inc. v. Willis
In the case involving Williams Sports Rentals Inc. (WSR) and Marian Latasha Willis, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled on the scope of an injunction under the Shipowner’s Limitation of Liability Act. The case stemmed from a fatal accident involving a jet ski owned by WSR. Anticipating a lawsuit, WSR filed a complaint under the Limitation Act, which allows a vessel owner to limit its liability for accidents. The district court granted an injunction against all other lawsuits related to the accident, and the case reached the Ninth Circuit after the district court reinstated the injunction when new claims arose. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court had the authority to grant an injunction since the limitation fund was insufficient to cover all pending claims, but found the injunction to be overly broad. The court ruled that under the Anti-Injunction Act, the district court could only bar claims against the owner (WSR), not claims against other parties. Therefore, the court vacated and remanded the case with instructions to narrow the injunction so that it only barred claims against WSR. View "Williams Sports Rentals Inc. v. Willis" on Justia Law
WESTERN TOWBOAT COMPANY V. VIGOR MARINE, LLC
Vigor Marine, LLC hired Western to tow a drydock, which was damaged in a storm off the coast of California. In an attempt to bring the drydock to shelter in Monterey Bay, Western’s tug towed the drydock into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where it capsized and sank. Western sued Vigor, seeking recovery of the towing fee under its contract with Vigor and a declaratory judgment that it would not be liable for any damages or penalty sought by the government under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA). Vigor counterclaimed for breach of contract and negligence by Western. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in all respects but one the district court’s judgment after a bench trial in an admiralty action brought by Western against Vigor Marine; vacated an award of prejudgment interest; and remanded. The panel affirmed the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment to Vigor on the grounds that Western was negligent as a matter of law in allowing the drydock to sink in the Sanctuary, and there were no material issues of fact regarding Western’s lack of awareness of the legal consequences of allowing the drydock to sink there. After a trial on the remaining claims, the district court denied both parties’ contract claims and held that both had been negligent. Vacating the district court’s award of prejudgment interest on the $40,000 award against Western, the panel held that interest should run from the date of Vigor’s expenditures rather than the date the drydock sank. The panel remanded to allow the district court to recalculate the prejudgment interest based on the correct date. View "WESTERN TOWBOAT COMPANY V. VIGOR MARINE, LLC" on Justia Law
USA V. SEGUNDO DOMINGUEZ-CAICEDO
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
WILLIAM MARTZ V. ANDREW HORAZDOVSKY
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
SHERRI DEEM V. THE WILLIAM POWELL COMPANY
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
Martin v. Sundial Marine Tug and Barge Works, Inc.
The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for review of the BRB's decision affirming an IJ's award of benefits to claimant under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). In this case, claimant sought disability and medical benefits under the LHWCA after injuring both knees while working for Sundial.The panel held that the ALJ did not err in applying section 910(a) of the LHWCA to calculate claimant's average weekly wage at the time of injury. The panel explained that the section 910(a) formula presumptively applies to calculating a five-day workers' average weekly wage, and the statutory presumption is not rebutted as a matter of law simply because section 910(a) would slightly underestimate earning capacity because the claimant worked in excess of 260 days. Rather, the statute plainly contemplates some inaccuracy in calculating the average weekly wage, and it does not provide that section 910(a) is inapplicable if more than 260 days were worked. Nor does the fact that claimant worked 264 days by itself make use of the section 910(a) formula unreasonable or unfair. In this case, claimant is incorrect that the section 910(a) formula entirely fails to account for his increased earnings, as the starting point for the section 910(a) calculation is the total amount of compensation earned in the previous year. Furthermore, the legislative history of the Act suggests that Congress did not envision application of section 910(c) under these circumstances. View "Martin v. Sundial Marine Tug and Barge Works, Inc." on Justia Law
Seachris v. Brady-Hamilton Stevedore Co.
The Ninth Circuit granted a petitioner for review of the BRB's decision upholding the ALJ's award of attorney's fees and costs under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), in an action brought by petitioner for death benefits.The panel held that aspects of the decisions under review constitute legal error and are not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, the panel held that the ALJ improperly rejected the fee applicant's evidence of prevailing market rates, erroneously established a paralegal's hourly rate by reference to other ALJ decisions rather than evidence of prevailing market rates in the relevant community, and improperly denied fees for hours reasonably expended. Furthermore, the ALJ and the BRB erred in concluding that the LHWCA does not authorize an award of interest on costs. Therefore, the panel remanded to the BRB for further proceedings and ordered the BRB to reassign this matter to a different ALJ on remand. View "Seachris v. Brady-Hamilton Stevedore Co." on Justia Law
Pacific Gulf Shipping Co. v. Vigorous Shipping & Trading S.A.
In this admiralty case, Pacific Gulf, in possession of an arbitral award against Adamastos Shipping, tried to collect from Blue Wall and Vigorous Shipping on the grounds that they are either successors to or alter-egos of Adamastos. The district court dismissed the successor-liability claim and granted summary judgment to Blue Wall and Vigorous on the alter-ego claim.After determining that Pacific Gulf has standing, the panel applied federal common law and joined other courts in holding that maritime law requires a transfer of all or substantially all of the predecessor's assets to the alleged successor before successor liability will be imposed on that alleged successor. In this case, the panel concluded that Pacific Gulf has failed to plead that Blue Wall and its subsidiaries "comprise successor corporate business entities of" Adamastos. The panel explained that Pacific Gulf alleged no transfer of any assets (let alone all or substantially all) from Adamastos to Blue Wall or its subsidiaries. Therefore, because Pacific Gulf failed to plead a factual prerequisite to corporate successorship, the district court correctly dismissed the claim based on that theory.The panel also agreed with the district court that Pacific Gulf's discovery revealed nothing to allow a reasonable juror to rule in its favor on the alter-ego theory. Viewing the record as a whole, the panel considered the factors for determining whether a party has pierced the corporate veil and agreed with the district court that Pacific Gulf came away "empty handed" from discovery. Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to support a finding that either Blue Wall or Vigorous was operated as an alter-ego of Adamastos. View "Pacific Gulf Shipping Co. v. Vigorous Shipping & Trading S.A." on Justia Law