HomeCircuit Court Admiralty Cases2002 (May-August)
The following are links to selected Circuit Court opinions concerning admiralty and maritime law issued during the period May through August, 2002.

Diamond Offshore Co. v. A & B Builders
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
August 30, 2002

Outer Continetal Shelf Lands Act/Indemnity/Longshore & Harbor Workers' Act: Section 905(b) of the Longshore & Harbor Workers' Act prohibits an indemnity claim against the employer of a covered employee for a personal injury claim brought against a vessel. But, if the injured employee is entitled to receive longshore benefits by virtue of of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), then section 905(c) provides an exception, allowing the enforcement of reciprocal indemnity provisions between the employer and the vessel. To be entitled to benefits by virtue of the OCSLA, the injured employee must satisfy certain "status" and "situs" requirements under the OCSLA. Since there is no evidence here that the drilling rig was connected to the ocean floor by its anchors or through its drilling mechanisms, and there is no evidence of any other contact with the seabed, the requirement that the rig be "erected" on the OCS at the time of alleged injury was not satisfied. Thus, because there was insufficient summary judgment evidence to determine whether the location of alleged injury qualified under the Demette v. Falcon Drilling Co., 280 F.3d 492 (5th Cir. 2002) situs test, partial summary judgment in favor of the vessel on the issue of whether the employer is obligated to indemnify and defend the vessel under the indemnity provision was not supported by the record.

McLaughlin v. Cape May Foods
Third Circuit Court of Appeals
August 21, 2002

Procedure/Admiralty Jurisdiction: Plaintiff sought to appeal the denial of her summary judgment motion as an interlocutory appeal in admiralty pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1292(a)(3), which states that courts of appeals shall have jurisdiction of appeals from "[i]nterlocutory decrees of such district courts or the judges thereof determining the rights and liabilities of the parties to admiralty cases in which appeals from final decrees are allowed."  This section has been construed narrowly to allow an appeal in admiralty after a determination of liability but before the assessment of damages. Because the district court in denying summary judgment made no decision establishing the rights and liabilities of the parties, the Court lacked jurisdiction and the appeal was dismissed.

Custom Ship Interiors v. Roberts
Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals
August 15, 2002

Longshore & Harbor Workers' Act: Because per diem payments were disbursed to the Claimant each week despite the fact that the employer knew that he was incurring no food or lodging expenses needing reimbursement, the judgment of the Benefits Review Board that the payments were includable as "wages" under the Act was proper.

MacPhail v. Oceaneering International
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
August 7, 2002

Procedure/Jones Act/Settlement Agreements: The district court abused its discretion when it enjoined defendant's action in the Supreme Court of Western Australia that sought to enforce an earlier agreement that settled plaintiff's personal injury claim. The district court also erred in failing to enforce the forum selection clause in the settlement agreement and release, whereby the parties agreed to submit any dispute to the exclusive jurisdiction of Australian courts.

Northern Queen v. Kinnear
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
August 7, 2002

Limitation of Liability: The district court determined that the fishing vessel was not entitled to exoneration or a limitation because the vessel was unseaworthy at the time it sank due to excessive ice build up and water in the bilge. Jones Act: The estate of the vessel's deceased captain could not recover against the owner based on the "primary duty rule."  For an employer to relieve itself of liability under the primary duty rule: (1) the seaman must have consciously assumed a duty as a term of employment; (2) the dangerous condition that injured the seaman must have been created by the seaman or could have been controlled or eliminated solely by the seaman in the proper exercise of his or her employment duties; and (3) the seaman must have knowingly violated a duty consciously assumed as a condition of employment. The captain here assumed responsibility for operating the vessel safely, was the sole person who could have taken corrective action to control or eliminate the dangerous ice and water conditions that caused the vessel to capsize and the record established that he knew of those dangerous conditions.

Newport News Shipbuilding v. Williams
Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals
July 11, 2002

Longshore & Harbor Workers' Act/Statute of Limitations: The question of whether a Claim has been filed in a timely manner relates to when Claimant knew, or had reason to know, that his injury was likely to impair his earning capacity.  Accepting the ALJ’s findings of fact, Claimant had no reason to know, before July 30, 1997, that his back condition was likely to impair his earning capacity. Therefore, as a matter of law, Claimant had one year from that date, or until July 30, 1998, to file his Claim. His Claim was then filed in a timely manner on August 27, 1997, well within the one-year limi-tations period.

United States v. Ex USS Cabot/Dedalo
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
July 1, 2002

Salvage/Maritime Liens: A successful salvage claim requires three proofs: (1) marine peril; (2) voluntary service rendered when not required as an existing duty or from a special contract; and (3) success in whole or in part, or contribution to the success of the operation. Since the Coast Guard proved tug assistance to the vessel pursuant to its mandatory obligations under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, it was not acting voluntarily and hence had no valid salvage claim or salvage lien against the vessel. 

Bank One Louisiana v. M/V Mr Dean
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
June 10, 2002

Maritime Liens/Charter Parties: A maritime lien for breach of a charter attaches when the owner places the vessel at the charterer's disposal and remains inchoate until perfected by a breach or discharged by the undisturbed end of the charter.  Thus the charterer's maritime lien for breach of the charter had priority over the bank's preferred ship mortgage since the the vessel was placed at the charterer's disposal before the mortgage was recorded, although the owner's breach of the charter occurred after the mortgage was recorded.

Cooper/T. Smith Stevedoring v. Director, OWCP
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
June 5, 2002

Longshore & Harbor Workers' Act: Title 33 U.S.C. § 914(j) does not entitle an employer to a credit or offset against a widow's death benefits for the overpayment of disability benefits erroneously awarded by an administrative law judge.

Francisco v. MT Stolt Achievement
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
June 4, 2002

Jones Act/Arbitration: The district court properly ordered plaintiff foreign seaman's personal injury claim to arbitration since plaintiff's employment contract containing the arbitration provision was covered by the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, 9 U.S.C. §§ 201-208, which does not contain an exclusion for seamen employment contracts as does the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16.

Sestich v. Long Beach Container Terminal
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
May 20, 2002

Longshore & Harbor Workers' Act: The claimant's "wage-earning capacity" within the meaning of the Act is equal to his actual post-injury earnings, and he is entitled to two-thirds of the difference between his "wage-earning capacity" and his pre-injury "average weekly wages." Thus because claimant's post-injury "wage-earning capacity" exceeded his pre-injury "average weekly wages," the Board properly held that Claimant was not entitled to benefits.

Senator Linie v. Sunway Line
Second Circuit Court of Appeals
May 17, 2002

Carriage of Goods by Sea Act ("COGSA"): Where neither the carrier nor the shippers had actual or constructive knowledge of the inherently dangerous nature of shipped goods, 46 U.S.C. § 1304(6) imposes strict liability on the shippers for damages and expenses arising from the shipment of those goods. Thus where the carrier incurred damages arising from the spontaneous combustion of a chemical cargo aboard its ship, the shippers were strictly liable for those damages even if, prior to the shipment, they did not know and could not have known that the chemical cargo was inherently dangerous.

United States v. Angell
Second Circuit Court of Appeals
May 16, 2002

Government Regulation: Defendant violated the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899, 33 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., by adding two floats to his dock in the Silver Brook Canal in Flanders, New York, without a permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers ("Army Corps"). Defendant's argument that the canal was not navigable at low tide and thus was not covered by the Act was to no avail since the Army Corps' jurisdiction "extends to the line on the shore reached by the plane of the mean (average) high water." 33 C.F.R. § 329.12(a)(2).

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