Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Admiralty & Maritime Law
by
After two barge towboats collided on the Mississippi River, the district court found the captains of both vessels negligent to varying degrees. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's apportionment of fault, rejecting Marquette's argument that the district court misinterpreted Inland Navigational Rule 14(d) when it held that the VANPORT was under no duty to propose the manner of passage. Because Marquette's arguments regarding Rules 5 through 8 flow from the district court's putative misreading of Rule 14(d), the court rejected these arguments too. Furthermore, the district court's holdings regarding Rules 5 through 8 were made alternatively to its determinations on ordinary negligence. The court further held that the district court did not err in assigning the VANPORT 30 percent of the liability for the collision. Finally, the court remanded to the district court to consider whether prejudgment interest is proper and, if so, in what amount. View "Deloach Marine Services LLC v. Marquette Transportation Co., LLC" on Justia Law

by
After plaintiff was injured when he tripped on a pipe welded to the deck of a jacked-up offshore drilling rig, he filed a negligence action against Smart Fabricators under the Jones Act. The district court denied plaintiff's motion to remand to state court, granting Smart Fabricator's motion for summary judgment. The district court's ruling was based on its conclusion that plaintiff did not qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act.The Fifth Circuit reversed and held that plaintiff qualifies as a seaman under the Jones Act where plaintiff has shown that he had a substantial connection both in nature and duration to the vessels on which he worked. The court agreed with the district court that plaintiff satisfied the duration requirement of the Chandris test because he spent over 70 percent of his employment with SmartFab aboard a rig adjacent to an inland pier and around 19 percent of his employment aboard a rig on the Outer Continental Shelf. The court also held that plaintiff's connection to the vessel was substantial in nature and he satisfied the nature requirement of the Chandris test where plaintiff's work on vessels exposed him to the perils of the sea. The court explained that, although plaintiff was a land-based welder who went home every evening, such work aboard vessels did not disqualify him as a Jones Act seaman. The court remanded with instructions to remand the matter to state court. View "Sanchez v. Smart Fabricators of Texas, LLC" on Justia Law

by
After James Mays was killed in an explosion on an offshore platform owned by Chevron, Mays' widow and children filed suit against Chevron for state law wrongful death. Mays was directly employed by Furmanite, a Chevron subcontractor, which serviced valves on Chevron's platforms. At issue was whether Mays' accident was covered by the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). The jury found that Mays' death was caused by Chevron's Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) activities, and thus the LHWCA applied and Chevron did not enjoy state immunity.The Fifth Circuit affirmed and rejected Chevron's argument that the district court erred by instructing the jury to consider Chevron's OCS operations in answering the substantial nexus question. The court held that the district court did not misapply Pacific Operators Offshore, LLP v. Valladolid, 565 U.S. 207 (2012), by instructing the jury to determine whether there was a substantial nexus between Mays' death and Chevron's—as opposed to Furmanite's—OCS operations. The court also rejected Chevron's argument that the evidence linking its OCS operations to Mays' death failed to meet the substantial nexus test as a matter of law. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to reduce the jury's $2 million loss-of-affection award to Mrs. Mays. View "Mays v. Chevron Pipe Line Co." on Justia Law

by
After Martin delivered free fuel to three support vessels owned by CGG, the support vessels then carried the fuel in their cargo tanks to refuel three other vessels. Martin filed suit after CGG failed to pay for the fuel.The Fifth Circuit held that the district court's conclusion that Martin had a maritime lien on the support vessels unduly expanded the court's maritime lien precedents. Under the Commercial Instruments and Maritime Liens Act, a person may obtain a maritime lien against a vessel by providing it with "necessaries." The court explained that fuel may be necessary to a vessel if it fuels the vessel, but the fuel transported by the support vessels in this case was for refueling other vessels. Therefore, the court held that the fuel was not necessary to the support vessels and reversed the district court's judgment. View "Martin Energy Services, LLC v. Bourbon Petrel M/V" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that American Marine was liable for most of plaintiff's injuries. Plaintiff was working as a seaman for American Marine when he was injured on board a vessel owned by the employer.The court held that American Marine has failed to demonstrate that the district court’s finding of unseaworthiness was clear error; American Marine failed to establish that plaintiff's accident was mostly his own fault where the district court clearly evaluated the evidence and made no inconsistent findings about causation, finding plaintiff 20 percent at fault; American Marine failed to carry its burden of demonstrating clear error in the district court's choice between competing experts; the district court's finding of diminished earning capacity was not clearly erroneous; in regard to the district court's award of past medical expenses because of American Marine's negligence, plaintiff's failure to prove that he was obliged to reimburse his attorneys for his medical expenses is irrelevant; and the district court did not clearly err in crediting plaintiff's testimony about his current condition. View "Luwisch v. American Marine Corp." on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the Board's order awarding benefits to claimant under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. The court held that claimant was on navigable waters at the time of injury and thus his case was controlled by Dir., OWCP, U.S. Dep't of Labor v. Perini N. River Assocs., 459 U.S. 297, 299 (1983). In this case, because claimant was regularly employed by MMR on navigable waters and, under Perini, meets the "employee" definition, it follows that MMR had at least one employee engaged in maritime employment. View "MMR Constructors, Inc. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs" on Justia Law

by
Bomin filed suit asserting an in rem claim for a maritime lien against a ship to which it supplied fuel bunkers under a contract with one of the affiliates of O.W. Bunker. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to ING and DryLog. The court held that Bomin did not have a maritime lien, because it was not acting on the orders of either the vessel's owners or their authorized agent when it supplied the fuel. View "ING Bank, N.V. v. Bulk Finland M/V, No. 9691577" on Justia Law

by
After plaintiff was injured when he tripped on a pipe welded to the deck of a jacked-up offshore drilling rig, he filed a negligence action against Smart Fabricators under the Jones Act. The district court denied plaintiff's motion to remand to state court, granting Smart Fabricator's motion for summary judgment.The Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not err in holding that plaintiff was not a Jones Act seaman. The court affirmed the district court's reasoning in distinguishing Naquin v. Elevating Boats, LLC, a 2014 case in which the court considered the "substantial nature" component of the seaman test. In this case, plaintiff's duties are readily distinguishable from Naquin's because plaintiff worked on drilling rigs only "while they were jacked up on the sea floor, with the body of the rig out of the water and not subject to waves, tides, or other water movement." Furthermore, while Naquin's workplace remained subject to the vicissitudes of a navigable waterway, plaintiff's workplace was stable, flat, and well above the water. Moreover, plaintiff did not perform "tasks requiring operating or navigating the rigs." Rather, the court explained that plaintiff was a welder, and he was injured when he tripped on a pipe welded to the floor, a circumstance unrelated to any perils of the sea. View "Sanchez v. Smart Fabricators of Texas, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Clarence Ceasar, Jr. injured his neck and back while working as a longshoreman for Sea-Land Services, Inc. in 1997. Because of those injuries, Ceasar was unable to work and had to undergo several medical procedures. Thirteen years later, Ceasar and Sea-Land reached a settlement, under which Ceasar received a lump sum instead of continuing disability payments. Sea-Land remained on the hook for Ceasar’s ongoing medical expenses. Ceasar was cleared to return to longshoreman duties in 2010 with no restrictions, despite chronic neck and lower back pain. Ceasar started working for Universal Maritime Service Company ("UMS") and was injured again a year later when a coworker lowered a cargo container onto his hands. Sea-Land petitioned the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for review of an order of the Benefits Review Board (“BRB”) which upheld the determination of an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) that Ceasar did not aggravate his 1997 injury at Sea-Land while working for UMS in 2011. After review, the Fifth Circuit determined the BRB did not err, denying Sea-Land's petition. View "Sea-Land Services, Inc. v. DOWCP, et al." on Justia Law

by
Psara Energy appealed the district court's order granting a motion to refer to arbitration this action alleging breach of contract, fraudulent transfer and corporate succession theories against the Advantage Defendants.The Fifth Circuit dismissed the appeal based on lack of appellate jurisdiction because the district court's order, which administratively closed the case, is not a final, appealable order under the Federal Arbitration Act. In this case, the collateral order doctrine does not apply to orders concerning arbitration governed by the FAA, and 28 U.S.C. 1292(a)(3) is inapplicable to referrals to arbitration in admiralty cases that do not determine a party's substantive rights or liabilities. View "Psara Energy, Ltd. v. Advantage Arrow Shipping, LLC" on Justia Law