Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

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After plaintiff's boat was stolen, Geico denied coverage based on plaintiff's misrepresentation that he was in possession of the boat. On appeal, plaintiff argued that the district court erred in applying the doctrine of uberrimae fidei.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Geico and denial of plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment. The court held that plaintiff's misrepresentation voided his policy ab initio. Based on the record, the court concluded that plaintiff's initial policy, by its terms, expired on May 5, 2018, because he did not pay the required premium for the new policy period. Therefore, plaintiff's boat was uninsured between May 5, 2018, and when he first called Geico on May 25, 2018. Although plaintiff is correct that the doctrine of uberrimae fidei applies only when an insurer issues a policy, not when a policy is already in full force, his policy was not in full force on May 25th because it had expired. The court also concluded that plaintiff's statements were material to Geico's issuance of coverage on May 25, even if by renewal and backdating. Therefore, the district court properly applied the doctrine of uberrimae fidei and correctly held that plaintiff's renewal policy was void ab initio. View "Quintero v. Geico Marine Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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After he sustained an ankle injury by stepping on a chafed stern line while he was a seaman aboard a tugboat owned by Kirby, plaintiff filed a Jones Act negligence claim against Kirby. The district court concluded that Kirby was negligent, based on an order by its vessel's captain to replace the stern line in unfavorable weather. Furthermore, plaintiff was contributorily negligent for placing the removed stern line near him and subsequently stepping on it while carrying out that order, reducing his damages award in proportion to his fault.The Fifth Circuit concluded that changing out the chafed line fell within the class of ordinary "heavy lifting" plaintiff performed routinely, and thus the district court was not precluded, as a matter of law, from reducing his award proportional to his fault. The court explained that the district court did not clearly err in finding that plaintiff was negligent in stepping on the chafed line, but the district court did err in finding him negligent for failing to move it. In this case, Kirby did not present any evidence showing that plaintiff placed the chafed line on the deck in an imprudent manner and the tugboat's captain, who gave plaintiff the order, watched the entire procedure, testifying that there were no irregularities in how the task was performed. Therefore, in the absence of any evidence, the district court's finding of fifty percent negligence based on plaintiff's placement of the chafed stern line is clearly erroneous. Finally, the court upheld the general damages award and concluded that the district court did not clearly err in awarding $60,000. The court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Knight v. Kirby Offshore Marine Pacific, LLC" on Justia Law

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Southern Recycling brought a petition for exoneration or limitation of liability under the Limitation of Liability Act. The petition arose from an accident during shipbreaking operations that killed one worker and injured another. Claimants moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of admiralty jurisdiction, and the district court granted the motion.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court explained that the jurisdictional question of whether DBL 134 is a vessel is antecedent to the merits in a limitation action, rather than intertwined with the merits, and thus the district court did not err in applying the usual Rule 12(b)(1) standard and resolving factual disputes about the physical characteristics of the structure. The court also concluded that Southern Recycling failed to demonstrate that, based on its physical characteristics, DBL 134 had no been removed from navigation. Therefore, the district court did not err in concluding that DBL 134 was not longer a "vessel," but instead was a "dead ship." Finally, Southern Recycling has not shown why it needed further discovery or what material evidence further discovery could have produced that was not already available to it. View "Southern Recycling, LLC v. Aguilar" 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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Siemens shipped two electrical transformers from Germany to Kentucky. K+N arranged the shipping, retaining Blue Anchor Line. Blue Anchor issued a bill of lading, in which Siemens agreed not to sue downstream Blue Anchor subcontractors for any problems arising out of the transport from Germany to Kentucky. K+N subcontracted with K-Line to complete the ocean leg of the transportation. Siemens contracted with another K+N entity, K+N Inc., to complete the land leg of the trip from Baltimore to Ghent. K+N Inc. contacted Progressive, a rail logistics coordinator, to identify a rail carrier. They settled on CSX. During the rail leg from Maryland to Kentucky, one transformer was damaged, allegedly costing Siemens $1,500,000 to fix.Progressive sued CSX, seeking to limit its liability for these costs. Siemens sued CSX, seeking recovery for the damage to the transformer. The actions were consolidated in the Kentucky federal district court, which granted CSX summary judgment because the rail carrier qualified as a subcontractor under the Blue Anchor bill and could invoke its liability-shielding provisions. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A maritime contract, like the Blue Anchor bill of lading, may set the liability rules for an entire trip, including any land-leg part of the trip, and it may exempt downstream subcontractors, regardless of the method of payment. The Blue Anchor contract states that it covers “Multimodal Transport.” It makes no difference that the downstream carrier was not in privity of contract with Siemens. View "Progressive Rail Inc. v. CSX Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a wrongful death action alleging that PAE failed to properly service and maintain the F-16 that her husband was flying when it crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. The district court granted summary judgment for PAE.The Eleventh Circuit agreed with the district court that the Death on the High Seas Act does not require a maritime nexus and that the Act applies whenever a death occurs on the high seas. The court held that the Act governs plaintiff's action; the Act provides plaintiff's exclusive remedy; and the Act preempts plaintiff's breach-of-warranty and breach-of-contract claims. The court also held that PAE is entitled to protection pursuant to the government-contractor defense. In this case, plaintiff failed to produce evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact that PAE violated government procedures. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of PAE. View "LaCourse v. Defense Support Services LLC" on Justia Law

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Manson owns heavy marine construction and dredging equipment, including 60 specialized vessels and over 50 barges. After the Contra Costa County Assessor’s Office assessed property taxes on the value of Manson’s vessels for tax years 2013 and 2014, Manson filed administrative appeals, claiming some of its vessels were exempt from taxation under the Vessel Use Exemption, which provides that “[v]essels of more than 50 tons burden in this State and engaged in the transportation of freight or passengers” “are exempt from property taxation,” Cal. Const. art. XIII, section 3(l). The Board denied Manson’s appeals.The trial court and court of appeal affirmed. Manson did not establish that anyone owned or controlled the sludge it dredged, or that the dredged material could be considered goods, delivered from a consignor to a consignee. The dump scows and barges were moved from the harbor to disposal sites for the purpose of being emptied out so that they could return to the harbor and continue to perform the work for which they were hired; the carrying of the dredged material from the harbor to the disposal sites was merely a necessary byproduct of, and incidental to, that dredging work. Manson’s vessels were engaged in dredging, not in the transportation of goods for hire. View "Manson Construction Co. v. County of Contra Costa" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a movie-making accident. After her father was injured diving in French Polynesia, Mira Chloe Prickett sued Bonnier Corporation and World Publications, LLC (collectively Bonnier) for compensatory and punitive damages under general maritime law. The trial court granted a judgment on the pleadings against her on the grounds that neither compensatory damages for loss of her father’s society nor punitive damages were available under general maritime law. Appellant Prickett did not cite on appeal any admiralty authority that would allow a child to recover loss of society damages for a nonfatal injury to a non-seaman on the high seas, and – without legislative impetus or compelling logic for such a result – the Court of Appeal declined to do so. The trial court's judgment was affirmed. View "Prickett v. Bonnier Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Section 431 of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, which requires all vessels arriving in the United States to maintain a manifest on which is recorded information about the just-completed voyage and an account of what is on board, requires aircraft entering the United States to make available for public disclosure such manifests detailing the journey and cargo aboard.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal in part of plaintiffs' complaint. The court considered the different tools of statutory interpretation and held that section 431(c)(1) continues to require the government to make available for public disclosure manifests only of vessels, meaning "water craft or other contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation in water, but...not...aircraft." The court considered plaintiffs' remaining arguments on appeal and concluded that they are without merit. View "Panjiva, Inc. v. United States Customs and Border Protection" on Justia Law

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After two barge towboats collided on the Mississippi River, the district court found the captains of both vessels negligent to varying degrees. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's apportionment of fault, rejecting Marquette's argument that the district court misinterpreted Inland Navigational Rule 14(d) when it held that the VANPORT was under no duty to propose the manner of passage. Because Marquette's arguments regarding Rules 5 through 8 flow from the district court's putative misreading of Rule 14(d), the court rejected these arguments too. Furthermore, the district court's holdings regarding Rules 5 through 8 were made alternatively to its determinations on ordinary negligence. The court further held that the district court did not err in assigning the VANPORT 30 percent of the liability for the collision. Finally, the court remanded to the district court to consider whether prejudgment interest is proper and, if so, in what amount. View "Deloach Marine Services LLC v. Marquette Transportation Co., LLC" on Justia Law