Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Admiralty & Maritime Law
United States v. Oceanic Illsabe Limited
The Fourth Circuit affirmed Oceanic and Oceanfleet's conviction and sentence for nine criminal offenses committed by the supervisory personnel of an oceangoing cargo ship owned and operated by defendants. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to prove corporate criminal liability where the jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt — with respect to any of the offenses in the Indictment — that any cargo ship crewmember was acting pursuant to corporate authority or with an intent to benefit Oceanic or Oceanfleet. The court rejected defendants' arguments that the sentencing court erred by grouping the various offenses; by failing to consider their independent financial conditions and separate abilities to pay the fines imposed; by imposing erroneously disparate fines on Oceanfleet compared to fines on similarly situated defendants; and by imposing a special condition of probation that improperly impacted related third parties. View "United States v. Oceanic Illsabe Limited" on Justia Law
Fawzy v. Wauquiez Boats SNC
Plaintiff filed suit against Wauquiez Boats, alleging claims for breach of maritime contract and for products liability under the general maritime law. The district court dismissed the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for failing adequately to demonstrate admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. However, plaintiff had filed an amended complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 roughly an hour before the district court filed its order dismissing the case. The Fourth Circuit reasoned that, because the amended complaint remained the operative complaint in the district court and was unaddressed by Wauquiez Boats or the court, the district court's order dismissing the original complaint and denying sanctions was not a final decision under 28 U.S.C. 1291. Accordingly, the court dismissed plaintiff's appeal and Wauquiez Boats' cross-appeal requesting sanctions, for lack of appellate jurisdiction. View "Fawzy v. Wauquiez Boats SNC" on Justia Law
FLAME S.A. v. Freight Bulk Pte. Ltd.
These appeals stemmed from ICI's breach of numerous contracts. Flame and Glory Wealth sought a writ of maritime attachment under Supplemental Rule B of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to attach the vessel M/V CAPE VIEWER when it docked in Norfolk, Virginia. Freight Bulk is the registered owner of the vessel, but Flame and Glory Wealth asserted that Freight Bulk was the alter ego of ICI, and that ICI had fraudulently conveyed its assets to Freight Bulk in order to evade its creditors. The district court awarded judgment to Flame and Glory Wealth, ordered the sale of the M/V CAPE VIEWER, and confirmed the distribution of the sale proceeds to Flame and Glory Wealth. Freight Bulk appealed. The court rejected Freight Bulk's arguments regarding subject matter jurisdiction, Glory Wealth's judgment against ICI, discovery sanctions, and sufficiency of the evidence. Because the court found no merit in Freight Bulk's claims, the court affirmed the judgment. View "FLAME S.A. v. Freight Bulk Pte. Ltd." on Justia Law
Robol Law Office v. Recovery Ltd. P’ship
Columbus-America, acting as the agent for Recovery, discovered the wreck of the "S.S. Central America," which was loaded with tons of gold when it sank. The district court granted Columbus-America salvage rights. Robol represented Columbus-American in proceedings to establish salvage rights. Robol subsequently filed a claim in this in rem admiralty action to obtain a salvage award for himself, alleging that he had provided voluntary assistance to the Receiver in turning over files and documents related to the salvage operation, which proved useful in the continuing salvage of the sunken vessel. The district court dismissed Robol’s claim for failure to state a claim. The court affirmed, agreeing with the district court's conclusion that Robol had been obligated to return the files and documents to his former clients under the applicable rules of professional responsibility and principles of agency law and therefore that his act of returning the materials to his former clients was not a voluntary act, as would be required for him to obtain a salvage award. View "Robol Law Office v. Recovery Ltd. P'ship" on Justia Law
World Fuel Servs. Trading v. Hebei Prince Shipping Co., Ltd.
Hebei Prince Shipping Co., Ltd. (“Hebei Prince”) owned the M/V HEBEI SHIJIAZHUANG (“the Vessel”). The Vessel was leased to Tramp Maritime Enterprises, Ltd. under three consecutive time charters that prohibited Tramp Maritime from incurring “any lien or encumbrance” against the Vessel. World Fuel Services Trading, DMCC (“DMCC”) provided marine fuel (referred to as “bunkers”) to the Vessel but was never paid. DMCC subsequently filed this in rem action against the Vessel in federal district court asserting that it was owed $809,420 for the unpaid bunkers and that it was entitled to enforce a maritime lien on the Vessel under the Federal Maritime Lien Act (FMLA). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of DMCC. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court had admiralty jurisdiction to consider DMCC’s claim; and (2) DMCC was entitled to bring its claim that it had an enforceable maritime lien under the FMLA. View "World Fuel Servs. Trading v. Hebei Prince Shipping Co., Ltd." on Justia Law
Wu Tien Li-Shou v. United States
Plaintiff, a citizen of Taiwan, filed suit against the United States, seeking damages for the accidental killing of her husband and the intentional sinking of her husband's fishing vessel during a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) counter-piracy mission. Plaintiff's husband was one of three Chinese hostages captured by pirates. Because allowing this action to proceed would thrust courts into the middle of a sensitive multinational counter-piracy operation and force courts to second-guess the conduct of military engagement, the court agreed that the separation of powers prevents the judicial branch from hearing the case. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action under the political question and discretionary function doctrines. View "Wu Tien Li-Shou v. United States" on Justia Law
Flame S.A. v. Freight Bulk Pte. Ltd.
Freight Bulk appealed the district court's denial of its motion to vacate a writ of maritime attachment previously issued in favor of Flame under Supplemental Rule B of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court held that the district court did not err in concluding that the Forward Freight Swap Agreements at issue in this case are maritime contracts. Therefore, the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter before it. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Flame S.A. v. Freight Bulk Pte. Ltd." on Justia Law
American Steamship Owners v. Dann Ocean Towing, Inc.
The Club is a non-profit provider of protection and indemnity insurance. The Club's Rules include a choice-of-law provision selecting New York law and a two-year statute of limitations for claims against the Club. The Club filed a civil action against defendant alleging that it breached the insurance contract by failing to reimburse the Club for a shortfall and by failing to pay the overdue insurance premiums. The court agreed with the district court, and precedent, that an otherwise valid choice-of-law provision in a maritime contract is enforceable and may require application of a jurisdiction's statute of limitations, in lieu of the doctrine of laches, to govern issues regarding the timeliness of claims asserted under that agreement. Accordingly, the court held that the district court correctly applied New York's six-year statute of limitations to the Club's claims arising under its maritime insurance contract with plaintiff. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "American Steamship Owners v. Dann Ocean Towing, Inc." on Justia Law
Turner v. United States
Plaintiff filed personal injury and wrongful death claims against the United States and Coast Guard under the Suits in Admiralty Act (SIAA), 46 U.S.C. 30901-30918. Plaintiff and her husband fell overboard their boat and her husband subsequently died of drowning. The court concluded that the Coast Guard neither increased the danger facing plaintiff and her husband nor induced reliance on the part of either plaintiff, her husband, or a third party. Accordingly, plaintiff could not prove that the Coast Guard breached its duty to her or her deceased husband, and the district court properly entered summary judgment on plaintiff's tort claims. The court also found that the rulings on the issues of spoliation and the timeliness of the motion reflected proper exercises of the district court's discretion and the court affirmed as to these issues. The court also affirmed the district court's ruling that the Coast Guard's response to plaintiff's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552, request satisfied its duty under that Act. View "Turner v. United States" on Justia Law
Angelex Ltd. v. United States
The government appealed the district court's order which altered the terms of a bond the Coast Guard had fixed for the release of a detained ship that was under investigation and restricted the types of penalties the government could seek for the ship's potential violations of certain ocean pollution prevention statutes. The ship at issue, the Pappadakis, an ocean-going bulk cargo carrier carrying a shipment of coal to Brazil, was detained by the Coast Guard because the vessel had likely been discharging bilge water overboard. The court reversed and remanded for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) where the matter was not subject to review in the district court because the Coast Guard's actions were committed to agency discretion by law. Consequently, the district court lacked jurisdiction to consider the petition. View "Angelex Ltd. v. United States" on Justia Law