Articles Posted in Admiralty & Maritime Law

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Joyce, a member of the Seafarers Union, agreed to serve as a bosun aboard the MAERSK OHIO for three months in 2012. The Union and Maersk had a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that was incorporated by reference into the Agreement. Joyce fell ill onboard, was declared unfit for duty, and repatriated to the U.S. The CBA provided that, if a seafarer was medically discharged before the conclusion of his contract, he was entitled to unearned wages for the remaining contract period. Overtime was not included in the definition of unearned wages. Joyce received only base pay for the time left on his contract after his discharge. Joyce alleged that the CBA provisions governing unearned wages violated general maritime law. The district court granted Maersk summary judgment, distinguishing the Third Circuit’s 1990 “Barnes” holding that the specifics of what is covered by a seafarer’s right to “maintenance” (traditionally, food and lodging expenses) could be modified by a court, even if those specifics were established in a CBA. The Third Circuit affirmed, overruling the Barnes decision and joining other circuits, holding that a union contract freely entered by a seafarer that includes rates of maintenance, cure, and unearned wages will not be reviewed piecemeal by courts unless there is evidence of unfairness in the collective bargaining process. View "Joyce v. Maersk Line Ltd" on Justia Law

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Rubi, a U.S. citizen, is the Director of 7R Holdings LLC, which has its principal place of business in Puerto Rico. Holdings holds 7R Charters, which owned M/Y Olga, a yacht registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Calot captains Olga. Using email and the telephone, Calot, while in Puerto Rico, hired Trotter, while in Florida, to work as a chef on Olga. Trotter boarded Olga in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Days later, Olga traveled to Scrub Island, BVI, and let down its anchor. Trotter allegedly sustained an injury while descending stairs to the dock, was treated for her alleged injuries at a BVI hospital, and returned to Florida. Trotter sued Rubi, Holdings, and Olga in the District Court of the Virgin Islands under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. 30104, and general maritime laws. The court dismissed, citing forum non conveniens. The Third Circuit affirmed, applying the general presumption that the possibility of a change in substantive law should ordinarily not be given substantial weight in the forum non-conveniens inquiry, because the remedy provided by the alternative forum is not clearly inadequate and because the Jones Act does not contain a special venue provision. The court did not abuse its discretion in exercising its forum non-conveniens power after reasonably balancing the relevant private and public interest factors. View "Trotter v. 7R Holdings LLC" on Justia Law

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The widows of deceased husbands who served in the U.S. Navy alleged that their husbands contracted cancer caused by exposure to asbestos-containing insulation and components that were added onto ship’s engines, pumps, boilers, blowers, generators, switchboards, steam traps, and other devices. The manufacturer-defendants each made their products “bare metal.” If they manufactured an engine, they shipped it without any asbestos-containing insulation materials that would later be added. Following a remand, the district court applied the bright-line rule version of the bare-metal defense and clarified that summary judgment had been entered in favor of the manufacturers on both the strict liability and negligence claims. The court reasoned that the rule approach was best because maritime law favors uniformity. The Third Circuit vacated, stating that it surveyed “bedrock principles of maritime law” and concluded that they permit a manufacturer of even a bare-metal product to be held liable for asbestos-related injuries when circumstances indicate the injury was a reasonably foreseeable result of the manufacturer’s actions, at least in the context of a negligence claim. The court affirmed summary judgment on the product liability claims. View "In re: Asbestos Products Liability Litigation" on Justia Law

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Christopher Columbus owns and operates the passenger vessel “Ben Franklin Yacht,” which provides cruise services on the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Bocchino was a patron on a Ben Franklin cruise on May 3, 2013, when, in a “drunken brawl,” he was apparently “assaulted on the vessel and/or in the parking lot near the dock” by “unknown patrons of the cruise and/or agents, servant[s], workmen and/or employees’” of Christopher Columbus. Bocchino filed a state court suit, alleging negligence. Christopher Columbus then filed its Complaint for Exoneration From or Limitation of Liability in federal court. The district determined that the test for maritime jurisdiction had not been met and dismissed the limitation action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Third Circuit vacated. The federal courts have the power to hear “all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction,” U.S. Const. art. III, sect. 2, cl. 1; 28 U.S.C. 1333(1). The location aspect of the jurisdictional test is satisfied because the alleged tort occurred on the Delaware River and carrying passengers for hire on a vessel on navigable waters is substantially related to traditional maritime activity. Such an incident has the potential to disrupt maritime commerce. View "Christopher Columbus LLC v. Bocchino" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs used ocean common carriers to transport vehicles between foreign countries and the United States. Direct purchaser plaintiffs made arrangements with and received vehicles directly from the carriers, while indirect purchaser plaintiffs obtained the benefit of the carrier services by ultimately receiving vehicles transported from abroad. In 2012, law enforcement raided the offices of Defendants, ocean common carriers, in connection with antitrust investigations. Several Defendants pleaded pleaded guilty to antitrust violations based on price-fixing, allocating customers, and rigging bids for vehicle carrier services. Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that Defendants entered into agreements to fix prices and reduce capacity in violation of federal antitrust laws and state laws. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of the case. Defendants allegedly engaged in acts prohibited by the Shipping Act of 1984, 46 U.S.C. 40101, which both precludes private plaintiffs from seeking relief under the federal antitrust laws for such conduct and preempts the state law claims under circumstances like those at issue. The Act responds to “the need to foster a regulatory environment in which U.S.-flag liner operators are not placed at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis their foreign-flag competitors.” The Federal Maritime Commission has regulatory authority displacing private suits. View "In re: Vehicle Carrier Services Antitrust Litigations" on Justia Law

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Hargus and others rented F&I's 26-foot ship, One Love, to travel throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands. F&I had hired Coleman as a captain. At Cruz Bay, Coleman anchored close to the shore. Most of the passengers disembarked. Later, members of the group, standing on the beach approximately 25 feet away from the boat, threw beer cans at Hargus while he was standing on the One Love’s deck. Coleman threw an empty insulated plastic coffee cup that hit Hargus on the side of his head. Hargus did not lose consciousness, nor complain of any injury. One Love resumed its journey. Days later, Hargus, having experienced pain and vision impairments, was diagnosed with a concussion and a mild contusion. Hargus had previously suffered 10-12 head injuries. The doctor allowed Hargus to return to work that day without restrictions. Hargus did not seek further medical treatment until a year later, when he was examined for headaches, memory loss, mood swings, and neck pain. Hargus filed suit, claiming a maritime lien against the One Love, negligence, and negligent entrustment. The district court awarded $50,000, concluding that it had admiralty jurisdiction, that Coleman was negligent and that the One Love was liable in rem. The Third Circuit vacated, holding that the act giving rise to Hargus’ claim was insufficient to invoke maritime jurisdiction because it was not of the type that could potentially disrupt maritime commerce. The district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. View "Hargus v. Ferocious & Impetuous, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor is a bi-state corporate and political entity created by interstate compact in 1953, after years of criminal activity and corrupt hiring practices on the waterfront N.J.S. 32:23-1; N.Y. Unconsol. Laws 9801. In 2013 the Commission opened its Longshoremen’s Register to accept applications for 225 new positions, requiring shipping companies and other employers to certify that prospective employees had been referred for employment compliant with federal and state nondiscrimination policies. Rejecting a challenge, the district court held that the Commission had acted within its authority and had not unlawfully interfered with collective bargaining rights. Such rights were not completely protected under the language of the Compact. The Third Circuit affirmed, noting that opponents had ample notice and opportunity to be heard with respect to the nondiscrimination amendment. Compact Section 5p-(5)(b) clearly provides for inclusion of registrants under “such terms and conditions as the [C]ommission may prescribe.” View "NY Shipping Ass'n, Inc. v. Waterfront Comm'n of NY Harbor" on Justia Law

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WI buys furniture wholesale. OEC provided WI with non-vessel-operating common carrier transportation services. WI signed an Application for Credit that granted a security interest in WI property in OEC’s possession, custody or control or en route. As required by federal law, OEC also publishes a tariff with the Federal Maritime Commission, which provides for a Carrier’s lien. WI filed voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy petitions. OEC sought relief from the automatic stay, arguing that it was a secured creditor with a possessory maritime lien. OEC documented debts of $458,251 for freight and related charges due on containers in OEC’s possession and $994,705 for freight and related charges on goods for which OEC had previously provided services. The estimated value of WIs’ goods in OEC’s possession was $1,926,363. WI filed an adversary proceeding, seeking release of the goods. The bankruptcy court ruled in favor of WI, citing 11 U.S.C. 542. The district court affirmed, holding that OEC did not possess a valid maritime lien on Pre-petition Goods. The Third Circuit reversed, noting the strong presumption that OEC did not waive its maritime liens on the Prepetition Goods, the clear documentation that the parties intended such liens to survive delivery, the familiar principle that a maritime lien may attach to property substituted for the original object of the lien, and the parties’ general freedom to modify or extend existing liens by contract. View "In re: World Imports LTD" on Justia Law

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An Automated Maritime Telecommunications System (AMTS) is a U.S. communication service between land and vessels in navigable waterways, existing on specific broadcast frequencies. Advances in technology have greatly expanded the potential uses of AMTSs. Under the original site-based system, small geographic regions were defined by location and the waterway served and the FCC provided licenses at no cost to the first applicant. In 2000, the FCC stopped issuing site-based licenses and began issuing licenses by competitive bidding; it divided the U.S. into 10 regions and, at public auctions, sold “geographic” licenses for two blocks of AMTS frequencies in each region. Although geographic licensees may generally place stations anywhere within their region, they may not interfere with the functioning of existing site-based stations, so the location of a site-based station creates a gap in a geographic licensee’s coverage area. Plaintiffs obtained geographic licenses in areas overlaying pre-existing site-based licenses. Site-based operators refused to provide plaintiffs with the operating contours for their site-based locations within plaintiffs’ geographic locations. Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging violation of the Federal Communications Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of the FCA claims and a determination that no antitrust conspiracy existed. Plaintiffs did not identify particular actions that were determined by the FCC to be unreasonable or unjust and, therefore, do not possess a private right of action. View "Havens v. Mobex Network Servs., LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2000 the Port Authority signed a 30-year lease for the largest marine terminal at Port Elizabeth (445 acres including structures and berthing) with Maher, which handles cargo. The Lease requires “Basic Rental,” (in 2012, $50,413 per acre, totaling $22,433,612) plus “Container Throughput Rental,” based on the type and volume of cargo at Maher’s terminal. For eight years, Maher was exempted from Throughput Rental. Since 2008 the first 356,000 containers are exempted; for containers 356,001 to 980,000, Maher paid $19.00 per container in 2012; and for each additional container, Maher paid $14.25. Maher must handle a minimum amount of cargo to maintain the Lease and pay an annual guaranteed minimum Throughput Rental. Maher paid $12.5 million in Throughput Rental in 2010, and expected the 2012 amount to be $14 million. Maher claims the Port Authority profits from the Lease and uses the revenue to fund harbor improvements and projects unrelated to services provided to Maher or vessels. In 2012 Maher sued, alleging violations of the Constitution’s Tonnage Clause; the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act, 33 U.S.C. 5(b); and the Water Resources Development Act, 33 U.S.C. 2236. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal, agreeing that Maher lacked standing to bring its Tonnage Clause and RHA claims because it was not a protected vessel and did not adequately plead that fees imposed on vessels were not for services rendered. Maher’s WRDA claim failed because Maher had not shown that the Authority imposed fees on vessels or cargo and because the WRDA did not prohibit use of Lease revenue to finance harbor improvements. View "Maher Terminals LLC v. Port Auth. of NY" on Justia Law