Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Admiralty & Maritime Law
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Enacted after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), creates a comprehensive remedial scheme that governs—and apportions liability for—oil-removal costs. OPA holds oil spillers strictly liable upfront for oil-removal expenses and allows them, if they meet certain requirements, to avail themselves of one of three liability defenses and to seek contribution from other culpable parties. The M/V SAVAGE VOYAGER was transporting oil through a Mississippi waterway when an accident at a boat lift— operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—caused a rupture in the SAVAGE VOYAGER’s hull, through which thousands of gallons of oil poured into the river.The owners of the vessel sued the United States, not under the OPA, but under the common-law admiralty regime. They cited the Suits in Admiralty Act (SAA), a 1920 law by which Congress generally waived sovereign immunity for most admiralty claims. The interplay between the OPA and the SAA was an issue of first impression in the federal courts. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the vessel owner’s claims for removal costs. OPA authorizes no claim against the government for oil-removal damages and OPA’s comprehensive remedial scheme displaced the SAA’s more general sovereign-immunity waiver. View "Savage Services Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Reefer arrived at the Port of Wilmington, Delaware for what its owner, Nederland, expected to be a short stay. Upon inspection, the Coast Guard suspected that the vessel had discharged dirty bilge water directly overboard and misrepresented in its record book that the ship’s oil water separator had been used to clean the bilge water prior to discharge. Nederland, wanting to get the ship back to sea as rapidly as possible, entered into an agreement with the government for the release of the Reefer in exchange for a surety bond to cover potential fines. Although Nederland delivered the bond and met other requirements, the vessel was detained in Wilmington for at least two additional weeks.Nederland sued. The Delaware district court dismissed the complaint, holding that Nederland’s claims had to be brought in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims because the breach of contract claim did not invoke admiralty jurisdiction a claim under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) failed because of sovereign immunity. The Third Circuit reversed. The agreement is maritime in nature and invokes the district court’s admiralty jurisdiction. The primary objective of the agreement was to secure the vessel's departure clearance so that it could continue its maritime trade. APPS explicitly waives the government’s sovereign immunity. View "Nederland Shipping Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Zen-Noh purchased grain shipments. Sellers were required to prepay barge freight and deliver the product to Zen-Noh’s terminal but were not required to use any specific delivery company. Ingram, a carrier, issued the sellers negotiable bills of lading, defining the relationships of the consignor (company arranging shipment), the consignee (to receive delivery), and the carrier. Printed on each bill was an agreement to "Terms” and a link to the Terms on Ingram’s website. Those Terms purport to bind any entity that has an ownership interest in the goods and included a forum selection provision selecting the Middle District of Tennessee.Ingram updated its Terms and alleges that it notified Zen-Noh through an email to CGB, which it believed was “closely connected with Zen-Noh,” often acting on Zen-Noh's behalf in dealings related to grain transportation. Weeks after the email, Zen-Noh sent Ingram an email complaining about invoices for which it did not believe it was liable. Ingram replied with a link to the Terms. Zen-Noh answered that it was “not party to the barge affreightment contract as received in your previous email.” The grains had been received by Zen-Noh, which has paid Ingram penalties related to delayed loading or unloading but has declined to pay Ingram's expenses involving ‘fleeting,’ ‘wharfage,’ and ‘shifting.’” Ingram filed suit in the Middle District of Tennessee. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Zen-Noh was neither a party to nor consented to Ingram’s contract and is not bound to the contract’s forum selection clause; the district court did not have jurisdiction over Zen-Noh. View "Ingram Barge Co., LLC v. Zen-Noh Grain Corp." on Justia Law

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Siemens shipped two electrical transformers from Germany to Kentucky. K+N arranged the shipping, retaining Blue Anchor Line. Blue Anchor issued a bill of lading, in which Siemens agreed not to sue downstream Blue Anchor subcontractors for any problems arising out of the transport from Germany to Kentucky. K+N subcontracted with K-Line to complete the ocean leg of the transportation. Siemens contracted with another K+N entity, K+N Inc., to complete the land leg of the trip from Baltimore to Ghent. K+N Inc. contacted Progressive, a rail logistics coordinator, to identify a rail carrier. They settled on CSX. During the rail leg from Maryland to Kentucky, one transformer was damaged, allegedly costing Siemens $1,500,000 to fix.Progressive sued CSX, seeking to limit its liability for these costs. Siemens sued CSX, seeking recovery for the damage to the transformer. The actions were consolidated in the Kentucky federal district court, which granted CSX summary judgment because the rail carrier qualified as a subcontractor under the Blue Anchor bill and could invoke its liability-shielding provisions. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A maritime contract, like the Blue Anchor bill of lading, may set the liability rules for an entire trip, including any land-leg part of the trip, and it may exempt downstream subcontractors, regardless of the method of payment. The Blue Anchor contract states that it covers “Multimodal Transport.” It makes no difference that the downstream carrier was not in privity of contract with Siemens. View "Progressive Rail Inc. v. CSX Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law

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CARCO sub-chartered an oil tanker from tanker operator Star, which had chartered it from Frescati. During the tanker’s journey, an abandoned ship anchor punctured the tanker’s hull, causing 264,000 gallons of heavy crude oil to spill into the Delaware River. The 1990 Oil Pollution Act, 33 U.S.C. 2702(a), required Frescati, the vessel’s owner, to cover the cleanup costs. Frescati’s liability was limited to $45 million. The federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund reimbursed Frescati for an additional $88 million in cleanup costs.Frescati and the government sued, claiming that CARCO had breached a clause in the subcharter agreement that obligated CARCO to select a berth that would allow the vessel to come and go “always safely afloat,” and that obligation amounted to a warranty regarding the safety of the selected berth. Finding that Frescati was an implied third-party beneficiary of the safe-berth clause, the Third Circuit held that the clause embodied an express warranty of safety.The Supreme Court affirmed. The safe-berth clause's unqualified plain language establishes an absolute warranty of safety. That the clause does not expressly invoke the term “warranty” does not alter the charterer’s duty, which is not subject to qualifications or conditions. Under contract law, an obligor is strictly liable for a breach of contract, regardless of fault or diligence. While parties are free to contract for limitations on liability, these parties did not. A limitation on the charterer’s liability for losses due to “perils of the seas,” does not apply nor does a clause requiring Star to obtain oil-pollution insurance relieve CARCO of liability. View "CITGO Asphalt Refining Co. v. Frescati Shipping Co." on Justia Law

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Batterton was working on a Dutra vessel when a hatch blew open and injured his hand. Batterton sued Dutra, asserting various claims, including unseaworthiness, and seeking general and punitive damages. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of Dutra’s motion to dismiss the claim for punitive damages: The Supreme Court reversed. A plaintiff may not recover punitive damages on a claim of unseaworthiness. Precedent establishes that the Court “should look primarily to . . . legislative enactments for policy guidance” when exercising its inherent common-law authority over maritime and admiralty cases. Overwhelming historical evidence suggests that punitive damages are not available for unseaworthiness claims. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (Jones Act) codified the rights of injured mariners by incorporating the rights provided to railway workers under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA); FELA damages were strictly compensatory. The Court noted that unseaworthiness in its current strict-liability form is the Court’s own invention, coming after enactment of the Jones Act. A claim of unseaworthiness is a duplicate and substitute for a Jones Act claim. It would exceed the objectives of pursuing policies found in congressional enactments and promoting uniformity between maritime statutory law and maritime common law to introduce novel remedies contradictory to those provided by Congress in similar areas. Allowing punitive damages on unseaworthiness claims would also create bizarre disparities in the law and would place American shippers at a significant competitive disadvantage and discourage foreign-owned vessels from employing American seamen. View "Dutra Group v. Batterton" 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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Plaintiffs, airplane passengers, filed suit against Boeing in state court after a Boeing 777 hit a seawall at the end of a runway at the San Francisco International Airport and injured 49 passengers, killing three passengers. Suits were also brought in federal courts and were consolidated by the Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) under 28 U.S.C. 1407(a). Boeing removed the state suits to federal court, asserting admiralty jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1333 and asserting federal officials' right to have claims against them resolved by federal courts under 28 U.S.C. 1442. The MDL decided that the state suits should be transferred to California to participate in the consolidated pretrial proceedings, but the district court remanded them for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The court agreed with the district court that Boeing was not entitled to remove under section 1442(a)(1) because Boeing was not acting as a federal officer in light of Watson v. Philip Morris Cos. However, the court concluded that subject-matter jurisdiction exists under section 1333(1) because section 1333(1) includes accidents caused by problems that occur in transocean commerce. In this case, the plane was a trans-ocean flight, a substitute for an ocean-going vessel. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded with instructions. View "Lu Junhong v. Boeing Co." on Justia Law

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In 1953, New York and New Jersey entered into the Waterfront Commission Act, establishing the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor to govern operations at the Port of New York‐New Jersey. At that time, individual pieces of cargo were loaded onto trucks, driven to the pier, and then unloaded for loading, piece‐by‐piece, onto the vessel. Similarly, arriving cargo was handled piece-by-piece. Containerization transformed shipping: a shipper loads cargo into a large container, which is loaded onto a truck and transported to the pier, where it is lifted aboard a ship. Continental operates warehouses, including one at 112 Port Jersey Boulevard, Jersey City. Continental picks up containers from the Global Marine Terminal, transports them to the Warehouse, unloads them, and removes their contents. Continental stores the freight and provides other services, such as sampling, weighing. and wrapping. In 2011, the Commission advised Continental that it was required to obtain a stevedore license, concluding that the property line and building of the 112 Warehouse were within 1,000 yards of a pier. Continental sought a declaratory judgment. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court holding that Continental engages in stevedoring activities at the warehouse and that the warehouse is an ʺother waterfront terminalʺ under the Act and within the Commission’s jurisdiction. View "Cont'l Terminals, Inc. v. Waterfront Comm'n of N.Y. Harbor" on Justia Law

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The Neutrality Act, 18 U.S.C. 962, passed in 1794, is generally recognized as the first instance of municipal legislation in support of the obligations of neutrality. The Act makes it unlawful to furnish, fit out, or arm a vessel within the U.S. with the intent of having the vessel used in the service of a foreign state or people to commit hostilities against another foreign state or people with whom the U.S. is at peace. Vessels covered by the Act are subject to forfeiture, and persons who give information leading to the seizure of such vessels may recover a bounty. Bauer sought to pursue a claim under the Act, claiming to have informed the government of vessels that had been funded, furnished, and fitted by anti-Israel organizations in the U.S., together with violent and militant anti-Israel organizations from other countries. The complaint alleged that the vessels were to be employed in the service of Hamas, a terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip, to commit hostilities against Israel. The district court dismissed, holding that the statute lacks an express private cause of action. The D.C. Circuit affirmed, holding that informers lack standing to sue on their own. View "Bauer v. Mavi Marmara" on Justia Law