Articles Posted in Admiralty & Maritime 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

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The U.S. Coast Guard had received information from the U.S. DEA, which learned from British Virgin Island law enforcement, which learned from Grenadian law enforcement, that the U.S.-registered vessel“Laurel” might be smuggling illegal narcotics. The Laurel, under the command Benoit, who has dual citizenship with the U.S. and Grenada, was intercepted in international waters. Coast Guard officers conducted a routine safety inspection, which the Laurel passed. They unsuccessfully attempted to conduct an at-sea space accountability inspection; rough waters made areas of the vessel inaccessible. Officer Riemer questioned Benoit and his crew, Williams, about their destination and purpose. Benoit gave inconsistent answers. Riemer conducted ION scan swipes; none came back positive for any explosive, contraband, or narcotics. The Laurel was directed to a U.S. port, where a canine boarded and alerted to narcotics. Still unable to access the entire vessel, officers directed Benoit to sail the Laurel to St. Thomas to enable a Vehicle and Container Inspection System (VACIS) search for anomalies in the vessel, which revealed anomalous masses. A Customs officer drilled a hole and found a substance that field-tested as cocaine. Officers cut a larger hole, revealing an area filled with brick-like packages. Laboratory tests revealed the bricks were cocaine hydrochloride with a net weight of 250.9 kilograms. After denial of two motions to suppress, Benoit and Williams were convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine while on a vessel subject to U.S. jurisdiction (46 U.S.C. 70503(a)(1), 70506(a), 70506(b); 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A)(ii)); aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine while on a vessel subject to U.S. jurisdiction; and attempted importation of cocaine. The Third Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Benoit" on Justia Law

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As the tanker Athos neared Paulsboro, New Jersey, an abandoned anchor in the Delaware River punctured its hull and caused 263,000 gallons of crude oil to spill. The owner of the tanker, Frescati, paid $180 million in cleanup costs and ship damages, but was reimbursed for nearly $88 million by the U.S. government under the Oil Pollution Act, 33 U.S.C. 2701. Frescati made claims against CARCO, which ordered the oil and owned the terminal where the Athos was to unload, claiming breach of the safe port/safe berth warranty made to an intermediary responsible for chartering the Athos and negligence and negligent misrepresentation. The government, as a statutory subrogee for the $88 million reimbursement reached a limited settlement agreement. The district court held that CARCO was not liable for the accident, but made no findings of fact and conclusions of law, required by FRCP 52(a)(1). The Third Circuit remanded for findings, but stated that the Athos and Frescati were implied beneficiaries of CARCO‘s safe berth warranty; that the warranty is an express assurance of safety; and that the named port exception to that warranty does not apply to hazards that are unknown and not reasonably foreseeable. The court noted that it is not clear that the warranty was actually breached, absent findings as to the Athos‘s actual draft or the clearance provided. The court further stated that CARCO could be liable in negligence for hazards outside the approach to CARCO‘s terminal. View "United States v. Citgo Asphalt Ref. Co." on Justia Law

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Mala entered Crown Bay Marina, tied the boat to a fueling station and began filling his tank with an automatic gas pump. Before walking to the register to buy oil, Mala asked an attendant to watch his boat. When Mala returned, the tank was overflowing and fuel was spilling into the boat and the water. The attendant shut off the pump and acknowledged that it was malfunctioning. Mala began cleaning up; the attendant provided soap and water. Mala departed; the engine caught fire and exploded. Mala was thrown into the water and was severely burned. Mala sued, claiming negligent training and supervision and negligent maintenance. At the time Mala was imprisoned; he has filed at least 20 pro se lawsuits. The district court concluded that his history of filing frivolous lawsuits precluded in forma pauperis status, 28 U.S.C. 1915; rejected Mala’s jury demand; dismissed certain defendants; held a bench trial at which Mala represented himself; and ruled in favor of Crown Bay, although an advisory jury returned a verdict of $460,000 for Mala. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the court should have provided additional assistance, wrongfully denied a jury trial, and improperly ruled on post-trial motions. View "Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc." on Justia Law

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From the 1930s through the 1970s, Skinner manufactured ship engines and parts, allegedly containing asbestos. Merchant mariners began bringing injury claims in the 1980s. In 1998, AC acquired all of Skinner’s common stock. Based on lack of cash flow to maintain operations or service secured debt, Skinner and AC filed petitions for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001; more than 29,000 asbestos claims were pending against Skinner. The Bankruptcy Court converted to Chapter 7 on the basis that the plan was patently unconfirmable. Insurers, legal representative for future asbestos claimants, Maritime Asbestosis Legal Clinic, and the Trustee, joined an appeal. The Third Circuit affirmed. The court properly found, based on the disclosure statement hearing, that the fifth plan was patently unconfirmable under 11 U.S.C. 1129(a)(3) because its success is entirely contingent on speculative future litigation, and because it asks third-party asbestos claimants, who were not a cause of the bankruptcy, to serve as the sole funding source for attorneys and other creditors, under circumstances involving inherent conflict of interest and inequitable procedural provisions. Given the futility of pursuit of a Chapter 11 plan and mounting liabilities, the court acted within its discretion by converting the case. View "In Re: Am. Capital" on Justia Law