Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

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Curtin Maritime Corp. (Curtin) filed suit against its competitor, Pacific Dredge and Construction, LLC (Pacific), asserting one cause of action for violation of the Unfair Competition Law. The parties operated dredging vessels, and competed for contracts awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). In its complaint, Curtin alleged Pacific was ineligible for two contracts it was awarded over Curtin because its vessel was not “entirely” built in the United States, a violation of the federal Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (commonly referred to as the Jones Act), and Pacific defrauded the Coast Guard in its successful application for certification that the vessel was U.S.-built. These allegations served as the sole basis for Curtin’s UCL claim. In response to the complaint, Pacific brought a motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 to strike Curtin’s claim, asserting it arose from protected speech and that Curtin could not show a probability of prevailing on the merits of its claim. The trial court agreed with Pacific that the claim arose from protected activity, but concluded Curtin had met its burden at this early stage of litigation to show the claim had minimal merit and denied the motion. Pacific appealed the ruling, contending the trial court erred because the claim was preempted by the Jones Act. After Pacific filed its notice of appeal, Curtin dismissed the underlying lawsuit and moved to dismiss the appeal as moot. Pacific opposed the motion, asserting the appeal was viable since reversal of the trial court’s order would provide Pacific the opportunity to seek attorney fees under the anti-SLAPP statute. The Court of Appeal agreed with Pacific that the appeal was not moot, and dismissal of the appeal was not appropriate. Further, the Court concluded Curtin did not show a probability of prevailing on the merits of its claim. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s order denying Pacific’s motion to strike, and directed the trial court to reinstate the case and issue an order granting the anti-SLAPP motion and striking Curtin’s claim. View "Curtin Maritime Corp. v. Pacific Dredge etc." on Justia Law

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In 2011, during the course and scope of his employment as a shipwright, Claimant Robert Arlet slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk on the premises of his employer, Flagship Niagara League (Employer), sustaining injuries. Employer had obtained a Commercial Hull Policy from Acadia Insurance Company (Insurer). Through the policy, Insurer provided coverage for damages caused by the Brig Niagara and for Jones Act protection and indemnity coverage for the “seventeen (17) crewmembers” of the Brig Niagara. Employer had also at some point obtained workers’ compensation insurance from the State Workers’ Insurance Fund (SWIF). Insurer paid benefits to Claimant under its Commercial Hull Policy’s “maintenance and cure” provision. Claimant filed for workers’ compensation benefits. Employer asserted Claimant’s remedy was exclusively governed by the Jones Act. Employer also filed to join SWIF as an additional insurer in the event the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) was deemed to supply the applicable exclusive remedy, and Employer was found to be liable thereunder. SWIF denied coverage, alleging Employer’s policy was lapsed at the time of Claimant’s injury. Thereafter, Claimant filed an Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund (UEGF) claim petition, asserting the fund’s liability in the event he prevailed, and Employer was deemed uncovered by SWIF and failed to pay. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) found that as a land-based employee, Claimant did not meet the definition of seaman under the Jones Act and was, therefore, entitled to pursue his workers’ compensation claim. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was one of first impression: the right of an insurer to subrogation under the WCA. The Supreme Court concluded Insurer’s Commercial Hull Policy did not cover Claimant, because Claimant was not a “seaman” or crew member. The WCA’s exclusive remedy applied, but Insurer was seeking subrogation for payment it made on a loss it did not cover. "[T]he 'no-coverage exception' to the general equitable rule precluding an insurer from pursuing subrogation against its insured comports with the purposes and public policy supporting the rule and hereby adopt it as the law of this Commonwealth. ... any equitable rule precluding an insurer from seeking subrogation against its insured is best tempered by the exception adopted herein today." View "Arlet v. WCAB (L&I)" on Justia Law

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Enacted after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), creates a comprehensive remedial scheme that governs—and apportions liability for—oil-removal costs. OPA holds oil spillers strictly liable upfront for oil-removal expenses and allows them, if they meet certain requirements, to avail themselves of one of three liability defenses and to seek contribution from other culpable parties. The M/V SAVAGE VOYAGER was transporting oil through a Mississippi waterway when an accident at a boat lift— operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—caused a rupture in the SAVAGE VOYAGER’s hull, through which thousands of gallons of oil poured into the river.The owners of the vessel sued the United States, not under the OPA, but under the common-law admiralty regime. They cited the Suits in Admiralty Act (SAA), a 1920 law by which Congress generally waived sovereign immunity for most admiralty claims. The interplay between the OPA and the SAA was an issue of first impression in the federal courts. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the vessel owner’s claims for removal costs. OPA authorizes no claim against the government for oil-removal damages and OPA’s comprehensive remedial scheme displaced the SAA’s more general sovereign-immunity waiver. View "Savage Services Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in an action concerning the allision between three vessels passing each other in the Hahnville Bar, a bend between mile markers 124.5 and 126 in the Mississippi River where a number of moorings are located. The court concluded that the district court did not err in allowing the parties' respective liabilities, in limiting the parties' liability, or in dismissing the personal injury claim. In this case, the district court did not clearly err in allocating liability as to the Elizabeth, the Loretta, or the Aris T. The court agreed with the district court's ruling that the Limitation of Liability Act does not allow the Elizabeth Interests or the Loretta Interest to limit liability in this case. Furthermore, the Aris T's negligence was attributable solely to the compulsory pilot, Pilot Leone, and therefore, the Aris T is only liable in rem. Finally, in regard to the personal injury claim, the court concluded that the proximate cause element was not satisfied where claimant's unforeseeable panic caused the accident. View "SCF Waxler Marine, LLC v. Genesis Marine, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court dismissing this suit brought under the Death on the High Seas Act and maritime law, see 46 U.S.C. 30301 et seq., for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that the issue presented were capable of judicial management without interfering with the military's judgment.A private contractor maintained a fleet of older Navy helicopters. In 2014, one of the helicopters crashed during a training exercise, killing three service members and injuring two others. Plaintiffs, the families of the deceased service members and one of the survivors, sued the contractor. The trial court dismissed the suit on the ground that questions of military judgment rendered the case nonjusticiable. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding that the political question doctrine did not deprive the state courts of jurisdiction over this case. View "Preston v. M1 Support Services, L.P." on Justia Law

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After SCF delivered its barge to a loading facility operated by Terral, the barge sank while secured at Terral's facility. Terral then filed suit against SCF, alleging general maritime negligence, unseaworthiness, breach of contract, and indemnity. Underlying Terral's claims is the allegation that a fracture on the barge preexisted delivery of the barge to Terral and is estimated to be two to four weeks old. In Terral's second amended complaint, it added contribution and salvage claims. SCF counterclaimed against Terral for negligence and breach of duty.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to SCF on all of Terral's claims, concluding that Terral cannot show that there is a genuine issue of material fact over an essential element of each of its claims for which it bears the burden of proof. In this case, the district court correctly determined that Terral bears the burden of proof for all of its claims. In regard to the non-salvage claims, the court concluded that Terral lacked sufficient evidence to show that the hull was fractured prior to the barge's delivery. The court also concluded that Terral's salvage claim is foreclosed because Terral had a preexisting duty as the barge's bailee, a duty of ordinary care owed to SCF. View "Terral River Service, Inc. v. SCF Marine Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for assault resulting in serious bodily injury at a place within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Defendant was serving a sentence at the U. S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri when he entered the room of another inmate and attacked him, causing severe injuries, emergency intubation, and facial reconstruction surgery.The court held that a district court may take judicial notice that a place is within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States and not submit that issue to the jury, without violating a defendant's Sixth Amendment rights. Consequently, the court need not address whether the evidence at trial was sufficient for a jury to find that the Center is within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States. View "United States v. Love" on Justia Law

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Vastardis, a citizen of Greece and Chief Engineer onboard the Liberian-registered petroleum tanker, Evridiki, was convicted of offenses related to maritime pollution: failing to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book for several weeks, 33 U.S.C. 1908(a); falsifying high-seas Oil Record Book entries, Sarbanes-Oxley Act, 18 U.S.C. 1519; obstructing justice in the Coast Guard’s investigation of the Evridiki, 18 U.S.C. 1505; and making false statements, 18 U.S.C. 1001. The district court imposed a $7,500 fine, a $400 special assessment, and three years’ probation. Vastardis was barred from entering or applying for visas to enter the U.S.The Third Circuit affirmed the convictions but vacated the portion of the sentence that precludes Vastardis from entering the U.S. while under court supervision. The deception at issue involved falsely documenting bilge water discharges that occurred when the Evridiki was on the high seas and were only discovered when the Evridiki was docked in the Delaware Bay port. Vastardis cannot be convicted in a U.S. court for crimes occurring in international waters, but the convictions here were based on the presence of inaccurate records in U.S. waters, so the district court had subject matter jurisdiction even though the actual entries may have been made beyond U.S. jurisdiction while on the high seas. View "United States v. Vastardis" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's refusal to vacate a second default judgment against the Elephant Group. The court concluded that the district court had jurisdiction over the Elephant Group, and that the Elephant Group failed to present a meritorious defense, as opposed to mere legal conclusions.In this case, Tango Marine, a Grecian corporation, filed suit in district court against the Elephant Group, two Nigerian businesses, seeking maritime attachment and garnishment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Supplemental Rule B. Tango Marine subsequently sought entry of default, which the clerk entered. When no motion for default judgment appeared before the district court, the district court ordered Tango Marine to file its motion for default judgment or explain its failure. Tango Marine then filed its motion for default judgment and the Elephant Group participated in the suit by filing a motion for extension of time and to have the default set aside. With the initial default set aside, the Elephant Group filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b). In response, Tango Marine filed an amended complaint and a response opposing the motion to dismiss. The Elephant Group responded only to this response to the motion to dismiss and never filed an answer to the amended complaint. Tango Marine ultimately asked the clerk for a second entry of default due to the Elephant Group's failure to answer the amended complaint, which the clerk granted. View "Tango Marine, S.A. v. Elephant Group, Ltd." on Justia Law

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On January 19, 2019, Bonvillian's vessel allided with a crew boat docked on the Mississippi River. On the crew boat, Pellegrin sustained personal injuries. On August 23, 2019, Pellegrin sued Bonvillian in Louisiana state court. On December 16, 2019, Bonvillian filed a verified limitation complaint. The Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 allows vessel owners to limit their vessel’s tort liability to the value of the vessel plus pending freight, 46 U.S.C. 30501–30512, requiring vessel owners to “bring a civil action in a district court of the United States . . . within 6 months after a claimant gives the owner written notice of a claim.”The district court dismissed, citing the Fifth Circuit “Eckstein” rule that “a party alleging a limitation petition was not timely filed challenges the district court’s subject matter jurisdiction over that petition.” The district court concluded that the Fifth Circuit’s Eckstein rule remained controlling (despite Bonvillian’s contention that the Supreme Court implicitly overruled Eckstein in 2015), and that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The Fifth Circuit reversed, overturning the Eckstein rule based on intervening Supreme Court decisions. The 46 U.S.C. 30511(a) time limitation is a mere claim-processing rule which has no bearing on a district court’s subject matter jurisdiction. View "Bonvillian Marine Service, Inc. v. Pellegrin" on Justia Law