Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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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

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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

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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

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal, for lack of jurisdiction, of an admiralty action seeking exoneration from or limitation of liability for a boating accident. The panel concluded that the alleged tort here did not occur on navigable waters and thus the complaint is not cognizable under the district court's admiralty jurisdiction. In this case, the accident occurred on Holter Lake, which is located on a stretch of the Missouri River that is completely obstructed by Hauser dam at one end and Holter dam at the other, precluding it from serving as an artery of interstate commerce. Therefore, Holter Lake is not navigable for purposes of admiralty jurisdiction, and a cause of action sounding in tort is not cognizable under admiralty jurisdiction unless the alleged wrong occurs on navigable waters. View "In the Matter of Caleb Garrett" on Justia Law

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The borrowed employee doctrine applies to employees under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. A maritime worker who has collected statutory workers' compensation for her injuries may not further recover against a borrowed employer.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for a general contractor in an admiralty action brought by an injured maritime worker. The panel held that the general contractor was immune from suit under the one recovery policy at the heart of the workers' compensation law. In this case, the maritime worker was the general contractor's borrowed employee where her work was subject to its direction and control at all times. Therefore, the maritime worker was barred from bringing tort claims against the general contractor. View "Cruz v. National Steel and Shipbuilding Co." on Justia Law

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Under 46 U.S.C. 31342(a), the bunker supplier would be entitled to a maritime lien if it provided necessaries to a vessel on the order of the owner or a person authorized by the owner. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment against Bunker Holdings, a supplier of bunkers (marine fuel) in the supplier's in rem action for a maritime lien against a container ship. The panel held that, under United States law, Bunker Holdings was not entitled to a maritime lien, because it did not provide the bunkers on the order of the owner or a person authorized by the owner of the vessel. View "Bunker Holdings, Ltd. v. Yang Ming Liberia Corp." on Justia Law

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In an action under maritime law, a boat owner filed suit against his friend, who was driving the boat when it crashed into a passenger ferry. After the friend died from his injuries, his wife filed suit against the owner and GGB, which owns the ferry. The owner filed a cross-claim against GGB and a counterclaim against the wife.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law to the owner. The panel applied maritime law and held that a boat owner who is a passenger on his boat has no duty to keep a lookout unless the owner-passenger knows that the person operating his boat is likely to be inattentive or careless or the owner-passenger was jointly operating the boat at the time of the accident. The panel also held that joint operation is not viewed over the course of the entire trip, but instead at the time immediately preceding and concurrent with the accident. View "Holzhauer v. Rhoades" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of a seaman's claims in admiralty against a vessel in rem. The panel held that the district court erred by denying the seaman's maintenance requests in full, staying the action, and dismissing the vessel; the district court obtained jurisdiction over the vessel when the seaman filed a verified complaint and defendants appeared generally and litigated without contesting in rem jurisdiction; the district court did not lose in rem jurisdiction while the vessel remained in its constructive custody; the district court's control over the vessel, once obtained, was exclusive; and the automatic bankruptcy stay did not affect the seaman's lien against the vessel and the bankruptcy court had no authority to dispose of the lien through the application of bankruptcy law. The court explained that when, as in this case, a seaman establishes his entitlement to maintenance and provides some evidence of his actual living expenses, the burden shifts to the vessel's owner to produce evidence that the seaman's actual costs were unreasonable. The panel issued a writ of mandamus to the district court to award the seaman maintenance for his undisputed actual and reasonable expenses subject to a potential increase after trial. View "Barnes v. Sea Hawaii Rafting, LLC" on Justia Law

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Punitive damages are awardable to seamen for their own injuries in general maritime unseaworthiness actions. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to strike a prayer for punitive damages. The panel held that Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U.S. 19 (1990), did not implicitly overrule the holding of Evich v. Morris, 819 F.2d 256 (9th Cir. 1987). Under Miller v. Gammie, 335 F.3d 889 (9th Cir. 2003), Evich remains good law. Under Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404 (2009), the panel reached the same conclusion Evich did, even if the panel were not bound by Evich. View "Batterton v. Dutra Group" on Justia Law

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Punitive damages are awardable to seamen for their own injuries in general maritime unseaworthiness actions. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to strike a prayer for punitive damages. The panel held that Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U.S. 19 (1990), did not implicitly overrule the holding of Evich v. Morris, 819 F.2d 256 (9th Cir. 1987). Under Miller v. Gammie, 335 F.3d 889 (9th Cir. 2003), Evich remains good law. Under Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404 (2009), the panel reached the same conclusion Evich did, even if the panel were not bound by Evich. View "Batterton v. Dutra Group" on Justia Law