HomeCircuit Court Admiralty Cases2001 (January-April)

The following are links to selected Circuit Court opinions concerning admiralty and maritime law issued during the period January through April, 2001.

American Stevedoring Ltd. v. Marinelli
Second Circuit Court of Appeals
April 26, 2001

Longshore and Harbor Workers' Act:respondent qualified for permanent total disability benefits under the Act because: (i) he was engaged in "maritime employment," 33 U.S.C. § 902(3); (ii) an employer- employee relationship existed, id. §§ 902(2), 902(3), 902(4); (iii) his injury was causally related to his employment, id. § 902(2); and (iv) his injury rendered him permanently and totally unable to perform his job, id. §§ 902(10), 908(a).

Orsini v. O/S Seabrooke
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
April 24, 2001

Settlement Agreements/Releases/Jones Act: courts scrutinize the validity of a seaman's release under principles of admiralty law analogous to the duty owed by a fiduciary to a beneficiary, not solely under principles of contract law; the Supreme Court in Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co.  established a two-part test in determining the enforceability of a seaman's release: (1) whether the release was executed freely, without deception or coercion; and (2) whether it was made by the seaman with full understanding of his rights; in applying the second part of this test, a court considers the adequacy of the consideration, the nature of the medical advice available to the seaman at the time of signing the release and the nature of the legal advice available to the seaman at the time of signing the release; in applying this test, the Circuit Court declined to enforce the seaman's release since Plaintiff had no independent legal advice and the medical advice he received before signing the release was inaccurate.

In re Tidewater Marine, Inc.
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
April 18, 2001

Limitation of Liability Act: the district court erred in declining to lift its stay against state court proceedings against the vessel owner where the claimants had stipulated: (1) that they would not enforce a state court judgment beyond the alleged value of the vessel and her pending freight unless and until the district court established a higher value or denied the owner's right to limitation and (2) that none of their claims had priority over any other and that they would be paid from the limitation fund on a pro rata basis; the district court erred in concluding that persons who had failed to file claims directly against the shipowner long after the accident were "potential claimants" that must be included in the stipulation before a stay will be lifted; further, the claimants were not required to include an exoneration stipulation to have the stay lifted.

Fairport International v. The Shipwrecked Vessel
Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals
April 17, 2001

Abandoned Shipwreck Act ("ASA"): the district court correctly found that the owner of the Captain Lawrence had abandoned the 1933 wreck and thus title to the wreck had passed to the State of Michigan under under the Abandoned Shipwreck Act, 43 U.S.C §§ 2101-06 ("the ASA"); the facts supporting a finding of abandonment by clear and convincing evidence included: (1) the Captain Lawrence was a relatively recent wreck; (2) the Captain Lawrence sank in 40-60 feet of water; (3) it was technologically feasible to recover the Captain Lawrence in 1933; (4) the owner valued the Captain Lawrence at $200 and wrote it off as a "total loss" on the casualty report he filed; (5) the owner had no insurance on the Captain Lawrence when it sank; (6) the owner declined lifesaving assistance from the Coast Guard; (7) he never attempted to salvage the wreck; and (8) he died intestate. (See also Fairport International v. The Shipwrecked Vessel (1997) and Fairport International v. The Shipwrecked Vessel (1999).)

United States v. Ocean Bulk Ships
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
April 10, 2001

Carriage of Goods by Sea Act ("COGSA"): Once a shipper establishes its prima facie case creating a a presumption of liability, the burden of proof under COGSA shifts to the defendant-carrier, which must prove (1) that it exercised due diligence to prevent the loss or damage to the cargo, 46 U.S.C. § 1304(1), or (2) that the loss or damage was the result of one of the Act's enumerated "uncontrollable causes of loss." "If the carrier successfully rebuts the shipper's prima facie case, then the presumption of liability vanishes and the burden returns to the shipper to show that carrier negligence was at least a concurrent cause of the loss or damage to the cargo. If the shipper successfully establishes that the carrier's negligence is at least a concurrent cause of the loss or damage, then the burden shifts once again to the carrier, which must establish what portion of the loss was caused by other factors. If the carrier is unable to prove the appropriate apportionment of fault, then it becomes fully liable for the full extent of the shipper's loss." In applying this burden shifting scheme, the court held that defendants' surveyors' reports, three of the five of which failed to provide even a speculative assessment concerning the cause of the missing and damaged cargo at discharge, were either insufficient to rebut plaintiff's prima facie case or, where some evidence of an excepted cause was indicated in the reports, were insufficient in carrying defendants' burden to apportion the damage.

Perkins v. American Electric Power
Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals
April 6, 2001

Jones Act: the district court erred in denying plaintiff recovery since he proved vessel negligence by establishing that defendants knew of the risk that the ratchet he was using at the time of his injury could fail and also knew that a seaman could fall from the tow knee where he was working since another seaman on the tug and barge had fallen from the tow knee one month earlier, nevertheless defendants failed to adequately guard against these risks; Seaworthiness: the district court also erred in denying plaintiff recovery based on unseaworthiness since he proved that defendants failed to provide vessel equipment, in this case a ratchet, reasonably fit for its intended purpose and failed to provide adequate safety equipment, such as a safety rope, for his safety.

Bath Iron Works Co. v. Director, OWCP
First Circuit Court of Appeals
April 5, 2001

Longshore & Harbor Workers' Act: the Benefits Review Board correctly upheld a finding that Bath Iron Works was the last responsible insurer and thus responsible for claimant's benefit payments where the claimant, an employee, was awarded medical benefits in 1991 because of a work-related injury stemming from exposure to asbestos dust and other irritants, which benefits were paid by Bath Iron Works' insurer, and where, four years later, claimant sought and obtained full disability benefits for subsequent exposure to additional irritants at a time when Bath Iron Works was self-insured. 

Jackson v. OMI Co.
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
April 4, 2001

Jones Act/Seaworthiness: the district court's findings that the vessel owner was negligent and that the vessel was unseaworthy were clearly erroneous since there was no evidence to support such findings where the plaintiff seaman had stumbled over a hatch coaming and fallen simply because he did not pick his feet up high enough; the district court's finding that the vessel was unseaworthy for lack of a handhold at the doorway was clearly erroneous since the evidence showed that the design of the doorway in question was dictated by federal regulations, there was no evidence indicating where such a handrail might be placed or that the installation of a handrail would reduce accident rates and the record was uncontroverted that crew members passing through the doorway can use the usual structural members ordinarily found on vessel passageways as steadying points.

Gowen v. F/V Quality One
First Circuit Court of Appeals
March 30, 2001

Maritime Liens: a fishing vessel's fishing permits, which allowed restricted use of the vessel for the fishing of specific species, were "appurtenances" of the vessel for purposes of the Federal Maritime Lien Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 3141-43, thus they were properly sold along with the vessel subsequent to her arrest to pay wharfage and repair costs.

Uffner v. La Reunion Francaise
First Circuit Court of Appeals
March 26, 2001

Procedure/Marine Insurance: in a suit based on diversity jurisdiction against an insurance company to recover for losses resulting from a vessel casualty, the place where that loss occurred is "substantial" for venue purposes under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(a), which provides that venue is appropriate in "a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred," thus venue was proper in Puerto Rico where plaintiff's sailing yacht sank. 

Martinez v. Bally's Louisiana
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
March 26, 2001

Jones Act: for a sexual harassment claim to be compensable under the Jones Act, the plaintiff must prove physical injury or physical manifestations of emotional injury, thus since plaintiff, an employee of a gambling ship, only alleged that the acts of her employer caused her great worry and stress, the district court properly dismissed the claim.

Galle v. Director, OWCP
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
March 26, 2001

Longshore & Harbor Workers' Act: the ten-day time period for the filing of motions for reconsideration of an ALJ's decision, as set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 802.206(b)(1), must be calculated using the computation method set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(a), which requires that weekends and holidays be excluded when calculating time periods of less than eleven days.

Natural Resources Defense Council v. Southwest Marine
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
March 20, 2001

Procedure: to preserve the status quo pending appeal, the district court had the jurisdiction and discretion to make post-appeal modifications to the pending injunction, which required the defendant pursuant to the Clean Water Act to substitute testing of the surface "microlayer" for testing "at the surface," and (2) substitute an 18-month deadline for the requirement of "reasonably expeditious" construction of a facility to capture pier storm water runoff.

Barbera v. Director, OWCP
Third Circuit Court of Appeals
March 12, 2001 

Longshore & Harbor Workers' Act: the Benefit Review Board's decision not to award claimant a de minimis award was in error since de minimis awards are appropriate where a claimant's "work related injury has not diminished his present wage earning  capacity under current circumstances, but there is a significant potential that the injury will cause diminished  capacity under future conditions"; the Board's decision to reduce the award of full attorneys fees to claimant was also in error.

South Carolina State Ports Authority v. Federal Maritime Commission
Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals
March 12, 2001

Government Regulation: state sovereign immunity prevents a ship operator from bringing an administrative proceeding against the South Carolina State Ports Authority for alleged violations of the Shipping Act of 1984 as a result of the Authority's refusal to berth ships whose primary purpose is gambling.

Newport News Shipbuilding v. Stilley
Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals
March 12, 2001

Longshore & Harbor Workers' Act: under the "last maritime employer" rule, the last employer covered by the LHWCA who causes or contributes to an occupational injury is fully liable for compensation benefits; the rule applies here and is not inequitable even though a subsequent non-maritime employer contributed to the claimant's injury.

Ceres Marine Treminal v. Hinton
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
March 8, 2001

Longshore & Harbor Workers' Act: under the Act's aggravation rule, 33 U.S.C. § 908(f), if an employment injury aggravates, accelerates, exacerbates, contributes to, or combines with, a previous infirmity, disease or underlying condition, the employer is liable for compensation for, not just the disability resulting from the employment injury, but the employee's total resulting disability; where certain conditions are met, § 8(f) limits an employer's compensation liability, with any additional compensation being paid from a special fund established under the Act; any request for § 8(f) relief must be presented to the District Director and failure to make such request shall be an absolute defense to special fund liability, thus the ALJ did not err in rejecting as untimely the Employer's  § 8(f) claim, presented for the first time on a motion for modification of the ALJ's decision; further, the ALJ did not err in concluding that claimant was permanently and totally disabled and that no suitable alternative employment was available.

Texaco Exploration v. Amclyde Engineered Products
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
February 28, 2001

Arbitration/Procedure: Rule 14(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which allows for liberal joinder of third parties in maritime cases, does not suprecede the statutory right to enforce an arbitration clause pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act, thus the District Court erred in failing to enforce an arbitration clause because its enforcement would deny a party the ability to implead a third party pursuant to Rule 14(c).

System Pipe & Supply v. M/V Viktor Kurnatovskiy
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
February 26, 2001

Procedure (Personal Jurisdiction): in determining whether the court had personal jurisdiction over defendant vessel owner for purposes of plaintiff's cargo damage claim invoking admiralty law, the District Court erred in only considering the vessel owner's contacts with Texas; because plaintiff's action arises under federal admiralty law, it need not prove minimum contacts with the state of Texas, but only with the United States as a whole.

Hall v. Noble Drilling
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
February  22, 2001 (Revised)

Maintenance & Cure: the District Court correctly calculated the maintenance amount due plaintiff based on his total monthly mortgage payment rather than prorating the monthly mortgage by family members.

United States v. San Juan Bay Marina
First Circuit Court of Appeals
February 21, 2001

Government Regulation: pursuant to the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, 33 U.S.C. § 401, it has been the law for more than a century that no one may place obstructions into the navigable waters of the United States without authorization from the Army Corps of Engineers; the District Court thus correctly ordered defendants to remove piers and structures built on the navigable waters of the United States without the necessary permits. 

U.S. Titan Inc. v. Guangzhou Zhen Hua Shipping
Second Circuit Court of Appeals
February 15, 2001

Arbitration/Charter Parties: the District Court correctly held that the parties did not enter into an "ad hoc" agreement to arbitrate whether they had formed a charter party, but that they had formed a charter party that included an arbitration clause requiring London arbitration; Foreign Sovereign Immunity: although defendant vessel owner was Chinese state-owned company, it was not immune from petitioner's action to compel arbitration in London in view of the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act's arbitration exception.

Pacific Fisheries v. HIH Casualty & General Insurance
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
February  9, 2001

Marine Insurance: under California law, a breach of even an immaterial warranty will void a policy where the policy expressly declares that it shall avoid it, thus the  vessel's P & I and Hull policies were void since the vessel was in breach of the policies' trading warranties at the time of the losses, although the losses were not caused by such breach; Jury Trials: the district court correctly denied plaintiff's untimely demand for a jury trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 39(b).

In re the EXXON VALDEZ, Baker v. Exxon
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
February  8, 2001

Settlement Agreements: the settlement of claims by seafood processors against Exxon which included an assignment to Exxon by those seafood processors of a portion of their punitive damages claims against Exxon arising from the EXXON VALDEZ oil spill were valid, thus Exxon could in effect recover against itself in the punitive damages portion of the trial and accordingly reduce the total punitive damages it was required to pay.

Den Norske Stats Oljeselskap v. Heeremac Vof et. al
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
February  5, 2001

International Law/Government Regulation: the plain language of the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act ("FTAIA") precludes subject matter jurisdiction over claims by foreign plaintiffs against defendants where the situs of the injury is overseas and that injury arises from effects in a non-domestic market, thus plaintiff Norwegian oil company's antitrust claim alleging that it paid inflated prices for heavy-lift barge services in the North Sea because of a territory splitting and price fixing conspiracy among the three worldwide operators of heavy-lift barges was properly dismissed.

Fishman & Tobin Inc. v. Tropical Shipping
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals
January 31, 2001

Carriage of Goods by Sea Act ("COGSA"): four basic principles are implicated when applying COGSA's package limitation to containerized shipments: (1) the contractual agreement between the parties as set forth in the bill of lading; (2) the term "package" means the result of some preparation for transportation "which facilitates handling but which does not necessarily conceal or completely enclose the goods;" (3) a container cannot be a COGSA package absent "a clear agreement between the parties to that effect, [and] at least so long as its contents and the number of packages or units are disclosed;" and (4) "absent an agreement in the bill of lading as to packaging of the cargo, goods placed in containers and described as not separately packaged will be classified as goods not shipped in packages."; thus where the relevant bills of lading show that a specific number of packages of pants are in the containers, the packages and not the container will be considered the relevant "package" for COGSA's $500 package limitation; but where the relevant bill of lading states only that a specific number of "units" of jackets are in the container, and in the absence of "any clear indication that each garment-on-hanger was the relevant unit of packaging being shipped," the container is the package.

Bunge Co. v. Freeport Marine Repair
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals
January 30, 2001

Collisions/Casualties: although Hull No. 40 was under construction when it broke from its moorings during a hurricane and damaged a grain-loading facility along the waterway, it was a vessel for purposes of admiralty tort jurisdiction and the Louisiana Rule, which stipulates that a moving vessel that strikes a stationary object is presumed to be at fault;  Admiralty Jurisdiction: since the allision occurred in navigable waters due to the imperfect mooring of a nearly complete vessel, the incident bore a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity and was properly within admiralty tort jurisdiction; Government Regulation: the grain-loading facility was not in violation of a 33 U.S.C. 403, which requires a permit for structures that partially obstruct a waterway, since the facility was grandfathered under government regulations and did not interfere with navigation; thus the Pennsylvania Rule, which bars a plaintiff in violation of a federal statute from recovering damages unless that plaintiff can prove that its own violation could not have caused the loss, is not applicable.

United States v. Tucor International, Inc.
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
January 25, 2001

Government Regulation/Criminal Law: defendants were engaged in the business of motor transportation within the Philippines and trucked the belongings of United States military from Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Force Base to a Philippine seaport, where the belongings were loaded onto vessels bound for the United States; the United States Department of Justice was in error in prosecuting defendants for a conspiracy to fix prices for the ground transportation in the Philippines since they were immunized against antitrust liability by Section 7(a)(4) of the Shipping Act of 1984, 46 U.S.C. app.1706(a)(4); the Department's criminal prosecution of defendants, although based on an unreasonable reading of the law and "faulty judgment" in not informing the District Court of the Shipping Act's immunity provisions, was not "vexatious, frivolous, or in bad faith," thus defendants were not entitled to reimbursement of their attorneys fees and costs.

Shell Offshore v. Babbitt
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
January  12, 2001

Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act ("OCSLA"): the denial of Shell's request to use its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) tariff rate as the cost of transporting crude oil produced from certain of Shell's offshore oil and gas leases for purposes of calculating Shell's royalty payments due the Interior Department was in essence the application of a new substantive rule that required notice and comment before implementation, thus Shell was entitled to use the FERC tariff rate to calculate transportation costs for all of the offshore oil at issue.

Morris v. Princess Cruises
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
January 10, 2001

Procedure/Admiralty Jurisdiction: removal of the case from state to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1332(a)(1) was proper since the only non-diverse defendant had been fraudulently joined; plaintiff's subsequent joinder of the non-diverse Insurers thereupon defeated the court's diversity jurisdiction, but because the district court would have had original admiralty jurisdiction over this action had plaintiff filed suit in federal court in the first instance, her failure to move for remand upon joining the non-diverse defendants waived any possible objection to removal jurisdiction; Maritime Torts: plaintiff's tort claims arising from the admittedly harrowing experience suffered in Bombay after her husband had been medically evacuated from the cruise vessel were properly dismissed since plaintiff failed to adduce any evidence suggesting that any possible breach of duty on the part of Princess Cruises caused harm to plaintiff or her husband.

Humane Society v. Clinton
Federal Circuit Court of Appeals
January 4, 2001

International Law: the Driftnet Fishing Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1826-1826g, establishes a process under which the United States may take various actions against a foreign nation whose fishing vessels on the high seas engage in large-scale driftnet fishing; the President has broad discretion under the Act to determine that consultations leading to an agreement with an identified nation in violation of the Act have been "satisfactorily concluded"; the Secretary of Commerce's determination that Italy had terminated large-scale driftnet fishing by its nationals and vessels in violation of the Act was not arbitrary and capricious although based solely on the "satisfactorily concluded" agreement with the Italian government.

Tokio Marine & Fire v. M/V FLORA
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
January 3, 2001

Collisions/Casualties: the District Court was not clearly erroneous in finding as a matter of fact that outbound vessel's violation of COLREG Rule 5 (failure to have a proper look-out) was only a relatively small contributory cause of the collision at the Southwest Pass; the Pennsylvania Rule does not apply to violations of Rule 8(c) (alteration of course to avoid a close-quarters situation) since its provisions do not impose a "precise and clearly defined duty"; appellant inbound vessel did not prove at trial that there was a local custom in the Southwest Pass that outbound vessels must take extra care when leaving the area to avoid a collision, and inbound vessels have the right of way; Comparative Fault: the District Court's finding that the inbound vessel was 80% at fault and the outbound vessel was 20% at fault was not clearly erroneous in view of the evidence presented as to the causes of the collision, including a finding that the  overwhelming percentage of the collision was caused by inbound vessel's violation of the port-to-port passing agreement and the lack of communication with the outbound vessel.

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