Vessel Status: Rulings in the US Courts


Collated by: M. Rubaiyat Rahman

Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, 133 S. Ct. 735 (Jan. 2013)

Note:

The Supreme Court held that a “floating home” was not a “vessel”. The court argued that a reasonable observer, looking at the structure’s physical characteristics and activities, would not have considered it designed to a practical degree for carrying people or things over water. As a result, there was no admiralty jurisdiction over the City’s in rem suit against Mr. Lozman’s home.

Photo Source: online.wsj.com

While Lozman’s case was pending before the Supreme Court, the district court (which had concluded the home was a vessel) ordered the home sold to satisfy the City’s judgment.

 

After the Supreme Court ruling, Lozman requested the district court to release the $25,000 bond to him and award damages in the amount of $267,497.00 which represents the full replacement value of his home and living expenses incurred.

 

In March 2014, the district court ruled that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Lozman’s claim for damages beyond the bond and that sanctions were not warranted. In light of these rulings, Lozman asked the district court to refrain from determining the value of the home and

stay release of the bond.

 

The Court granted this request and indicated that Lozman may be able to seek his damages in state court. Lozman then attempted to add his damages claim to a separate federal civil rights action he instituted against the City in 2008.

 

In July 2014, the district judge presiding over Lozman’s civil rights action denied his request to amend his complaint.

 

Armstrong v. Manhattan Yacht Club, Inc., 2013 WL 1819993 (E.D. NY, April 2013)

 

Issue:

Whether a floating clubhouse is a vessel.

 

Whether the plaintiff is a seaman under the Jones Act or general maritime law.

 

Photo credit: nyc.robbreport.com

Holding:

 

A floating clubhouse was not a vessel, and therefore the plaintiff was not a seaman under the Jones Act or general maritime law.

 

Analysis:

 

The Court rejected the “anything that floats” approach to vessel status. The court found that clubhouse shared many physical characteristics with the floating house in Lozman Case, and therefore it was not a vessel.

 

 

Warrior Energy Servs. Corp. v. ATP Titan M/V, 551 F. App’x 749 (5th Cir. Jan. 2014) (per

curiam)

 

Issue:

Whether a floating oil and gas production facility is a vessel.

 

Holding:

 

Floating oil and gas production facility is not a vessel, as it is  not “practically capable of maritime transportation” under Stewart v. Dutra Construction Co., 543 U.S. 481 (2005), and the court in the case affirmed the dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

 

Analysis:

 

TITAN is a floating oil and gas production facility moored on the Outer Continental Shelf, miles offshore of Louisiana.

 

The court relied on the facts that the TITAN

(1) was moored to the seafloor by twelve mooring lines connected to massive anchor piles,

(2) had not moved since it was constructed and installed in its current location in 2010,

(3) had no means of self-propulsion, apart from repositioning itself within a 200-foot range by manipulating its mooring lines, and

(4) moving it would require 12 months of preparation, 15 weeks of execution, and cost between $70 and $80 million.

 

The court also noted, however, that the TITAN would not be a vessel under Lozman’s test.

 

Martin v. Fab-Con, Inc., 2014 WL 1246073 (E.D. La. March 2014)

 

Issue:

Whether quarterbarge UNITY is a vessel.

 

Holding:

The court held that the quarterbarge is not a vessel and the court had lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

 

Analysis:

 

The Court  noted that the UNITY had no rudder, no steering mechanism, was incapable of self propulsion, its interior was similar to land-based living quarters, and it remained stationary as a base for most of the past several years.

 

The court also noted that the UNITY was nearly indistinguishable from the quaterbarge considered in Holmes v. Atlantic Sounding Co., 437 F.3d 441 (5th Cir. 2006), which was held to be a vessel.

 

However, the court determined that Lozman cast considerable doubt on the soundness of Holmes’ reasoning, and therefore Holmes was no longer controlling precedent.

 

 

Riley v. Alexander/Ryan Marine Services Co., 983 F. Supp. 2d 884 (S.D. Tex. Oct.

2013).

 

Issue:

Whether oil and gas spar is a vessel.

Whether worker in oil and gas spar can be considered as a seaman for purposes of the Jones Act.

 

Photo Credit: marineinsight.com

Photo Credit: http://www.ogj.com

Holding:

Oil and gas spar is not a vessel, and therefore the worker of oil and gas spar is not a seaman for purposes of the Jones Act.

 

Analysis:

The court found the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Mendez v. Anadarko Petroleum Corp., 466 App’x 316 (5th Cir. 2012), to be particularly instructive.

 

 

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