Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Admiralty & Maritime Law
Smith v. Crounse Corp.
Crounse delivered barges to Mulzer, which cleaned the barges, loaded them with Mulzer’s crushed stone, delivered the stone, cleaned the barges again, and released the barges to Crounse. Crounse’s barges were used by other companies to haul other materials. Barges carrying coal sometimes returned with as much as a foot of coal remaining in the hopper. Mulzer would clear the coal and sell it for a profit. Mulzer's employee, Smith, was operating a skid steer with a “blade” positioned at its lowest height to push coal to the front of the hopper for removal with a broom. The blade hit a "scab." Smith was propelled forward. Smith’s seatbelt failed; he was injured when he hit a safety bar. The hopper floor scab resulted from a split seam, 12-14 inches long, and a few inches tall. The barge was 24 years old. Crounse had procedures for regularly inspecting and repairing its barge, including the hopper. Crounse had received no reports of damage to the barge; 23 days before Smith’s accident, the barge had been cleaned by a blade without incident.Smith sued Crounse under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. 901, and general maritime law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Crounse. Smith lacked evidence that Crounse’s inspection and repair procedures were inadequate; that Crounse had actual knowledge or should have known of the defect in the exercise of ordinary care; and did not demonstrate that Crounse failed to comply with its turnover duties. View "Smith v. Crounse Corp." on Justia Law
Roen Salvage Co. v. Sarter
Sarter drowned after a vessel capsized in Lake Superior. His employer Roen, which owned the vessel, asked the court to limit its liability to $25,000, its interest in the vessel, under 46 U.S.C. 30505(a) (Limitations Act). It also asked for exoneration from all liability, citing the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims, 4F. A federal court has exclusive jurisdiction of Limitation Act claims, 28 U.S.C. 1333(1), “saving to suitors in all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled.” After a vessel’s owner seeks Limitation Act protection, a plaintiff often files a concession that the federal court’s decision about the owner’s maximum liability will control even if a state court sets a higher figure in a Saving-to-Suitors action. Sarter's spouse made a Limitations Act concession but declined to make a concession concerning total exoneration. The district court declined to enjoin Sarter's state suit.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No federal statute entitles a vessel owner to have a federal judge determine exoneration. Under the common law of admiralty, when there is one claimant, or when the total demanded by multiple claimants does not exceed the value set by the Limitation Act, a federal court may permit substantive claims to proceed in state court. When multiple state court claims exceed the likely value of the vessel the federal judge may retain all aspects of the litigation and decide whether the owner is entitled to exoneration. In other situations, it is enough for the federal court to set the maximum amount of recovery that a state court may allow. Sarter is the only plaintiff. The district court can set a maximum level of liability based on section 30505(a). View "Roen Salvage Co. v. Sarter" on Justia Law
Vesuvius USA, Corp. v. American Commercial Lines, LLC
In 2014, Vesuvius and ACBL entered into a shipping contract to transport olivine sand from New Orleans to Vesuvius’s Wurtland, Kentucky facility by river barge. The January 2015 shipment arrived at the discharge port on February 20. Vesuvius’s employees inspected the cargo, found it damaged by excess moisture, and notified ACBL. ACBL arranged for a surveyor to perform an inspection that same day. The surveyor found no structural defect in the barge and concluded that the sand was wet when it was loaded. In transit, some of that water evaporated, condensed on the overhead portion of the cargo space, and dripped back onto the sand. The surveyor filed his report with ACBL on February 23. ACBL promptly contacted Vesuvius to disclaim any liability. On February 1, 2017, Vesuvius filed suit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the case. The contract contained a clear limitations provision requiring the parties to bring disputes within four months of an incident. Standing on its own, the limitations provision might be ambiguous, but read in context with the rest of the contract, there is no question that Vesuvius was required to file suit no later than four months after it discovered the damage. View "Vesuvius USA, Corp. v. American Commercial Lines, LLC" on Justia Law
Alexander v. Ingram Barge Co.
At 5:33 p.m. on April 18, 2013, a 14‐barge tow pushed by the M/V Dale Heller on the Illinois River was sucked into a powerful cross‐current and broke up. Some of the barges crashed (allided) into the Marseilles Dam; some sank; some were saved. The accident happened during record‐breaking rains and high water. A day later, the nearby town of Marseilles experienced significant flooding. Flood Claimants sued to recover for their flood damage. The district court ruled that the United States, which manages the Dam through its Army Corps of Engineers, was immune from suit for its role in the allision, and that the Corps was solely responsible for the accident. Flood Claimants appealed, arguing that the company that owns and operates the Dale Heller shared some of the blame because of its failure to follow inland navigation rules and its more general negligence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed; the facts found by the district court were not clearly erroneous, and those facts support the court’s assignment of sole responsibility to the Corps. Because of the discretionary function exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act, the Corps cannot be sued for the actions of its lockmaster, however negligent or inexplicable they may have been. View "Alexander v. Ingram Barge Co." on Justia Law
United States v. Egan
A barge exploded in 2005, while under way between Joliet and Chicago with a cargo of slurry oil. Deckhand Oliva did not survive. Claiming that Egan, master of the tug that had been pushing the barge, told Oliva to warm a pump using a propane torch, the United States filed a civil suit. Open flames on oil carriers are forbidden by Coast Guard regulations. The judge determined that the government did not prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Oliva was using a propane torch at the time of the incident. There was no appeal. Two years later, the government charged Egan under 18 U.S.C.1115, which penalizes maritime negligence that results in death, plus other statutes that penalize the negligent discharge of oil into navigable waters. The judge found that the prosecution had established, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Egan gave the order to Oliva, that the torch caused the explosion, and that Oliva died and that the barge released oil as results. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court has said that the outcome of a civil case has preclusive force in a criminal prosecution. If the government could not prove a claim on the preponderance standard, it cannot show the same thing beyond a reasonable doubt. View "United States v. Egan" on Justia Law
Muse v. Daniels
Muse, with others, boarded the MV Maersk Alabama in 2009, off the Somalian coast, taking its captain hostage. Muse initially stated that he was 16 at the time. Before a hearing to determine his age, Muse told an agent that he was 18. At the hearing, Muse refused to testify. A New York Magistrate concluded that Muse was at least 18 when the crime occurred. Prosecuted as an adult, Muse pleaded guilty to piracy, 18 U.S.C. 2280, and was sentenced to 405 months’ imprisonment. The plea agreement contains a promise “not to seek to withdraw his guilty plea or file a direct appeal or any kind of collateral attack" based on his age at the time of the crime or the time of the plea. Nonetheless, Muse filed a 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion, arguing that a magistrate lacked authority to decide whether he was an adult and that his lawyer furnished ineffective assistance by not pursuing that question. Chief District Judge Preska denied that motion; the Second Circuit declined to issue a certificate of appealability. Turning to the Southern District of Indiana, where he is imprisoned, Muse unsuccessfully sought habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, agreeing that Muse has not identified any inadequacy in section 2255. The reason he could not contest the magistrate’s decision has nothing to do with section 2255, but was the consequence of his waiver. View "Muse v. Daniels" on Justia Law
Lu Junhong v. Boeing Co.
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
State of MI v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs
Asian carp have migrated up the Mississippi River and are at the brink of the man-made Chicago-Area Waterway System path to the Great Lakes. The carp are dangerous to the eco-system, people, and property. States bordering the Lakes filed suit, alleging that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago manage the system in a manner that will allow carp to move into the Great Lakes, in violation of the federal common law of public nuisance. The district court denied a preliminary injunction that would have required additional physical barriers, new procedures to stop invasive carp, and an expedited study of how best to separate the Mississippi and Great Lakes permanently. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs presented enough evidence to establish a likelihood of harm, a non-trivial chance that carp will invade Lake Michigan in numbers great enough to constitute a public nuisance and that harm to the plaintiff states would be irreparable. The defendants have, however, mounted a full-scale effort to stop the carp and has promised that additional steps will be taken in the near future. This effort diminishes any role that equitable relief would otherwise play and an interim injunction would only get in the way.