Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Roen Salvage Co. v. Sarter
Sarter drowned after a vessel capsized in Lake Superior. His employer Roen, which owned the vessel, asked the court to limit its liability to $25,000, its interest in the vessel, under 46 U.S.C. 30505(a) (Limitations Act). It also asked for exoneration from all liability, citing the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims, 4F. A federal court has exclusive jurisdiction of Limitation Act claims, 28 U.S.C. 1333(1), “saving to suitors in all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled.” After a vessel’s owner seeks Limitation Act protection, a plaintiff often files a concession that the federal court’s decision about the owner’s maximum liability will control even if a state court sets a higher figure in a Saving-to-Suitors action. Sarter's spouse made a Limitations Act concession but declined to make a concession concerning total exoneration. The district court declined to enjoin Sarter's state suit.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No federal statute entitles a vessel owner to have a federal judge determine exoneration. Under the common law of admiralty, when there is one claimant, or when the total demanded by multiple claimants does not exceed the value set by the Limitation Act, a federal court may permit substantive claims to proceed in state court. When multiple state court claims exceed the likely value of the vessel the federal judge may retain all aspects of the litigation and decide whether the owner is entitled to exoneration. In other situations, it is enough for the federal court to set the maximum amount of recovery that a state court may allow. Sarter is the only plaintiff. The district court can set a maximum level of liability based on section 30505(a). View "Roen Salvage Co. v. Sarter" on Justia Law
Vesuvius USA, Corp. v. American Commercial Lines, LLC
In 2014, Vesuvius and ACBL entered into a shipping contract to transport olivine sand from New Orleans to Vesuvius’s Wurtland, Kentucky facility by river barge. The January 2015 shipment arrived at the discharge port on February 20. Vesuvius’s employees inspected the cargo, found it damaged by excess moisture, and notified ACBL. ACBL arranged for a surveyor to perform an inspection that same day. The surveyor found no structural defect in the barge and concluded that the sand was wet when it was loaded. In transit, some of that water evaporated, condensed on the overhead portion of the cargo space, and dripped back onto the sand. The surveyor filed his report with ACBL on February 23. ACBL promptly contacted Vesuvius to disclaim any liability. On February 1, 2017, Vesuvius filed suit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the case. The contract contained a clear limitations provision requiring the parties to bring disputes within four months of an incident. Standing on its own, the limitations provision might be ambiguous, but read in context with the rest of the contract, there is no question that Vesuvius was required to file suit no later than four months after it discovered the damage. View "Vesuvius USA, Corp. v. American Commercial Lines, LLC" on Justia Law
Alexander v. Ingram Barge Co.
At 5:33 p.m. on April 18, 2013, a 14‐barge tow pushed by the M/V Dale Heller on the Illinois River was sucked into a powerful cross‐current and broke up. Some of the barges crashed (allided) into the Marseilles Dam; some sank; some were saved. The accident happened during record‐breaking rains and high water. A day later, the nearby town of Marseilles experienced significant flooding. Flood Claimants sued to recover for their flood damage. The district court ruled that the United States, which manages the Dam through its Army Corps of Engineers, was immune from suit for its role in the allision, and that the Corps was solely responsible for the accident. Flood Claimants appealed, arguing that the company that owns and operates the Dale Heller shared some of the blame because of its failure to follow inland navigation rules and its more general negligence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed; the facts found by the district court were not clearly erroneous, and those facts support the court’s assignment of sole responsibility to the Corps. Because of the discretionary function exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act, the Corps cannot be sued for the actions of its lockmaster, however negligent or inexplicable they may have been. View "Alexander v. Ingram Barge Co." on Justia Law