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

Articles Posted in Admiralty & Maritime Law
by
N&W filed a maritime limitation action in federal district court after Plaintiff was injured on a ship owned by N&W Marine Towing. The district court initially stayed Plaintiff from prosecuting claims against N&W in other forums, however, the court lifted its stay after Plaintiff made certain stipulations.The Fifth Circuit reasoned that under the Limitation of Liability Act, shipowners “may bring a civil action in a district court of the United States for limitation of liability.” The Limitation Act allows shipowners to limit their liability for an array of incidents, as long as the incident giving rise to liability occurred without the p knowledge of the owner.Here, after N&W filed its limitation action, three parties filed claims: Wooley, Turn Services, and RCC. However, RCC and N&W settled, and Turn Services assigned its claims to Plaintiff, leaving him as the only remaining claimant. The court found that Plaintiff’s stipulation both recognized the district court’s exclusive jurisdiction over the limitation proceeding and stated that Plaintiff would not seek to enforce a damage award greater than the value of the ship and its freight until the district court had adjudicated the limitation proceeding. Thus, the court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion by lifting the stay and allowing Plaintiff to pursue remedies in other forums. Further, the court found that N&W’s arguments regarding removal are not relevant to the issue of whether the district court abused its discretion by lifting the stay. View "Wooley v. N&W Marine Towing" on Justia Law

by
Epic Companies, LLC ("Epic") was a general contractor specializing in the decommissioning of oil platforms. Epic hired the vessel Nor Goliath to lift oil platform components out of the water. These components were then transported to shore by tugboats, which were owned by various other companies.When Epic went bankrupt, the company's suppliers filed suit in the district court to recoup their costs. Several towing companies joined in the suit, asserting maritime liens under the Commercial Instruments and Maritime Liens Act ("CIMLA") against the Nor Goliath. The towing companies claimed that they provided "necessary services" by towing the barges ashore. The district court granted summary judgment in Nor Goliath's favor.The Fifth Circuit affirmed. CIMLA provides that those who provide "necessary services" to a vessel obtain a maritime lien against the vessel and may bring a civil claim to enforce this lien. Under 46 U.S.C. Sec. 31301(4), necessary services include repairs, supplies, towage, and the use of dry dock or marine railway. Here, the Nor Goliath's role was to lift platform components out of the water and place them on barges. Thus, the Nor Goliath's necessaries were the goods and services used to accomplish this task, but not those related to Epic's larger goal of decommissioning oil platforms. Thus, the Fifth Circuit held that the towing companies did not perform necessary services to the Nor Goliath. View "Central Boat Rentals v. M/V Nor Goliath" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in an action concerning the allision between three vessels passing each other in the Hahnville Bar, a bend between mile markers 124.5 and 126 in the Mississippi River where a number of moorings are located. The court concluded that the district court did not err in allowing the parties' respective liabilities, in limiting the parties' liability, or in dismissing the personal injury claim. In this case, the district court did not clearly err in allocating liability as to the Elizabeth, the Loretta, or the Aris T. The court agreed with the district court's ruling that the Limitation of Liability Act does not allow the Elizabeth Interests or the Loretta Interest to limit liability in this case. Furthermore, the Aris T's negligence was attributable solely to the compulsory pilot, Pilot Leone, and therefore, the Aris T is only liable in rem. Finally, in regard to the personal injury claim, the court concluded that the proximate cause element was not satisfied where claimant's unforeseeable panic caused the accident. View "SCF Waxler Marine, LLC v. Genesis Marine, LLC" on Justia Law

by
After SCF delivered its barge to a loading facility operated by Terral, the barge sank while secured at Terral's facility. Terral then filed suit against SCF, alleging general maritime negligence, unseaworthiness, breach of contract, and indemnity. Underlying Terral's claims is the allegation that a fracture on the barge preexisted delivery of the barge to Terral and is estimated to be two to four weeks old. In Terral's second amended complaint, it added contribution and salvage claims. SCF counterclaimed against Terral for negligence and breach of duty.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to SCF on all of Terral's claims, concluding that Terral cannot show that there is a genuine issue of material fact over an essential element of each of its claims for which it bears the burden of proof. In this case, the district court correctly determined that Terral bears the burden of proof for all of its claims. In regard to the non-salvage claims, the court concluded that Terral lacked sufficient evidence to show that the hull was fractured prior to the barge's delivery. The court also concluded that Terral's salvage claim is foreclosed because Terral had a preexisting duty as the barge's bailee, a duty of ordinary care owed to SCF. View "Terral River Service, Inc. v. SCF Marine Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's refusal to vacate a second default judgment against the Elephant Group. The court concluded that the district court had jurisdiction over the Elephant Group, and that the Elephant Group failed to present a meritorious defense, as opposed to mere legal conclusions.In this case, Tango Marine, a Grecian corporation, filed suit in district court against the Elephant Group, two Nigerian businesses, seeking maritime attachment and garnishment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Supplemental Rule B. Tango Marine subsequently sought entry of default, which the clerk entered. When no motion for default judgment appeared before the district court, the district court ordered Tango Marine to file its motion for default judgment or explain its failure. Tango Marine then filed its motion for default judgment and the Elephant Group participated in the suit by filing a motion for extension of time and to have the default set aside. With the initial default set aside, the Elephant Group filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b). In response, Tango Marine filed an amended complaint and a response opposing the motion to dismiss. The Elephant Group responded only to this response to the motion to dismiss and never filed an answer to the amended complaint. Tango Marine ultimately asked the clerk for a second entry of default due to the Elephant Group's failure to answer the amended complaint, which the clerk granted. View "Tango Marine, S.A. v. Elephant Group, Ltd." on Justia Law

by
On January 19, 2019, Bonvillian's vessel allided with a crew boat docked on the Mississippi River. On the crew boat, Pellegrin sustained personal injuries. On August 23, 2019, Pellegrin sued Bonvillian in Louisiana state court. On December 16, 2019, Bonvillian filed a verified limitation complaint. The Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 allows vessel owners to limit their vessel’s tort liability to the value of the vessel plus pending freight, 46 U.S.C. 30501–30512, requiring vessel owners to “bring a civil action in a district court of the United States . . . within 6 months after a claimant gives the owner written notice of a claim.”The district court dismissed, citing the Fifth Circuit “Eckstein” rule that “a party alleging a limitation petition was not timely filed challenges the district court’s subject matter jurisdiction over that petition.” The district court concluded that the Fifth Circuit’s Eckstein rule remained controlling (despite Bonvillian’s contention that the Supreme Court implicitly overruled Eckstein in 2015), and that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The Fifth Circuit reversed, overturning the Eckstein rule based on intervening Supreme Court decisions. The 46 U.S.C. 30511(a) time limitation is a mere claim-processing rule which has no bearing on a district court’s subject matter jurisdiction. View "Bonvillian Marine Service, Inc. v. Pellegrin" on Justia Law

by
James Boudreaux was injured during his employment by Owensby & Kritikos, Inc. as an equipment-testing technician on platforms located on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Plaintiff's injury resulted from an automobile accident on his way to his work for Owensby on the OCS. Primarily at issue in this case is whether, in light of Pacific Operators Offshore, LLP v. Valladolid, 565 U.S. 207 (2012) (establishing substantial-nexus test), an onshore injury en route to a rig platform on the OCS is recoverable under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), as extended by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). The ALJ determined that Boudreaux's injury arose out of, and occurred in the course of, his employment by Owensby; and, Boudreaux's injury had a substantial nexus to extractive operations on the OCS. The BRB affirmed.The Fifth Circuit applied the substantial-nexus test in Valladolid, holding that Boudreaux's injury is covered under OCSLA. Among the facts relevant to the court's inquiry, the court found persuasive Boudreaux's: being compensated by Owensby for both time and onshore mileage while traveling to and from the OCS; being on-the-job when he was injured; necessarily traveling to an intermediary pickup location to be transported from onshore to the OCS; and transporting his testing equipment in his vehicle. Furthermore, Owensby had another employee pick up Boudreaux's testing equipment to take it to the OCS after his accident. Therefore, each of these factors support Boudreaux's injury occurring as the result of operations conducted on the OCS. The court denied Owensby's petition for review, dismissed Boudreaux's cross-application based on lack of jurisdiction, and granted Boudreaux's request for reasonable attorney's fees incurred in defending against the petition, pending the court's decision on the amount to be awarded. View "Owensby & Kritikos, Inc. v. Boudreaux" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed a collective action on behalf of himself and others employed on All Coast's fleet of liftboats, alleging that, although they were hired for various maritime jobs, they spent most of their time doing something completely terrestrial: using cranes attached to the boats to move their customers' equipment on and off the boats, the docks, and the offshore oil rigs. All Coast classified plaintiffs as seamen and did not pay them overtime pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of All Coast. The court held that the district court's conclusion that the employees' work served the liftboats' operation "as a means of transportation" runs contrary to the regulatory language and the court's precedent interpreting it. Rather, the plain meaning of 29 C.F.R. 783.31, and the illustrative examples in sections 783.32 and 783.34, suggest the employees were not engaged in seamen's work when operating the cranes. Furthermore, the court's previous decision in Coffin v. Blessey Marine Servs., Inc., 771 F.3d 276, 279 (5th Cir. 2014), only reinforce that conclusion. In this case, plaintiffs were not doing seamen's work when they were operating the cranes. Finally, it follows that All Coast was not entitled to summary judgment as to the cooks either. View "Adams v. All Coast, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Patricia Guadalupe Garcia Cervantes, a Mexican citizen who was attempting to enter the United States illegally by swimming across the Brownsville Ship Channel, was struck and killed by a Coast Guard vessel patrolling the area. Plaintiff, individually and on behalf of his and Cervantes' daughter, filed suit alleging negligence and wrongful death claims against the United States, as well as products liability, gross negligence, and wrongful death claims against the manufacturers of the vessel and its engines, Safe Boats and Mercury Marine.After determining that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction based on admiralty, the Fifth Circuit concluded that, notwithstanding plaintiff's own lack of standing, he may still maintain claims as next-of-friend for his daughter. Reviewing the district court's grant of summary judgment and its duty determination de novo, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims. The court held that the negligence claim failed because the United States owed no duty to Cervantes; the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's defective design claims against Safe Boats and Mercury Marine where Cervantes lacked standing to bring those claims under Section 402A of the Second Restatement in regard to maritime products liability claims; even assuming plaintiff could bring these products liability claims, plaintiff failed to show that the asserted defective products proximately caused Cervantes' death; plaintiff's failure-to-warn claims were also properly dismissed; and the district court correctly dismissed the wrongful death claims after dismissing all the underlying tort claims. The court rejected plaintiff's remaining claims and affirmed the dismissal. View "Ortega Garcia v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff was hired by Kirby to pilot a seagoing vessel. While plaintiff was aboard the vessel, he injured his foot when he tripped over a stair inside a hatch door. Plaintiff filed suit against Kirby for lost wages and the district court ultimately determined that Kirby was liable to plaintiff on his claim of Sieracki seaworthiness and that Kirby was alternatively liable under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). The district court awarded plaintiff $11,695,136.00 in damages.The Fifth Circuit concluded that plaintiff is not an employee of Riben Marine and thus is not eligible to sue under section 905(b) of the LHWCA; the district court did not clearly err in concluding that the vessel was unseaworthy; plaintiff was not contributorily negligent for wearing sunglasses on the vessel and the district court did not make insufficient factual findings on the contributory negligence question; assuming arguendo that the district court erroneously admitted evidence of a subsequent remedial measure, Kirby has not demonstrated that the error affected its substantial rights; and the district court did not err in assessing plaintiff's lost future earnings. View "Rivera v. Kirby Offshore Marine, LLC" on Justia Law