Christopher Hannan

Know Your Limitations - Recent Jurisprudence Under The Limitation Of Liability Act

Despite perennial complaints from lower and appellate courts that the Limitation of Liability Act (“LLA,” 46 U.S.C. §§30501 et seq.) is “now hopelessly anachronistic” (Cont’l Oil Co. v. Bonanza Corp., 706 F.2d 1365, 1376 (5th Cir. 1983) and that “such a law no longer makes sense” Delta Country Ventures, Inc. v. Magana, 986 F.2d 1260, 1266–67 (9th Cir. 1993), the LLA continues to be a powerful procedural and (when successfully invoked) substantive tool for shipowners. This is despite the fact that virtually every high profile maritime casualty (at least as to limitable personal injury/property claims, as opposed to non-limitable pollution issues) raises public controversy and calls for legislative repeal/restrictions of the century-and-a-half old  “relic of the clipper ship era in which it was launched”[1]  – from the sinking of the TITANIC all the way to the DEEPWATER HORIZON disaster (which prompted an eventually abandoned bill to repeal the LLA), the tragic loss of the EL FARO and the recent catastrophic duckboat incident in Missouri that killed 17. (more…)

Unsmooth "Operator" - Fifth Circuit Holds Tug Owner Liable Under OPA as "Operator" of Non-Owned "Dumb" Oil Barge

In an important decision of first impression construing the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (“OPA,” 33 U.S.C. §§2701 et seq.), the Fifth Circuit has held the owner and operator (“Nature’s Way”) of a “dominant mind” tugboat liable under OPA as the “responsible party” for a spill emanating from a non-self-propelled “dumb” tank barge in its tow, even though the barge was owned by a third party (Third Coast Towing, “TCT”). Specifically, the Fifth Circuit conducted a res nova interpretation and application of 33 U.S.C. §2702(a), which provides that a designated “responsible party” shall be strictly liable, in the first instance and even without fault, for cleanup/removal costs and damages resulting from an oil spill; and further defines “responsible party” with respect to a “vessel” as “any person owning, operating or demise chartering the vessel.” (more…)

With the eddies still spinning in the wheelwash of its landmark en banc opinion in In Re Larry Doiron, Inc., the Fifth Circuit in In re Crescent Energy Servs., L.L.C., 2018 WL 3420665 (5th Cir. July 13, 2018), — F.3d —, has quickly answered one of the application-specific questions left open by Doiron, as noted previously on Striding the Quarterdeck’s discussion of Doiron: is a contract to decommission an offshore platform a maritime contract or a contract governed by state law?  Specifically, under the newly launched Doiron analysis, courts must consider two factors in determining whether a contract is maritime: (1) whether “the contract [is] one to provide services to facilitate the drilling or production of oil and gas on navigable waters”; and if so, (2) whether it “provide[s] or [whether] the parties expect that a vessel will play a substantial role in the completion of the contract.”  Under the first factor, the issue of whether deconstructing a well/platform can be deemed “services to facilitate the drilling or production” of the well remained to be decided after Doiron. (more…)

Steady, helmsman! Steady. This is the sort of weather when brave hearts snap ashore, and keeled hulls split at sea. Moby Dick, Herman Melville, Chap. XL

Since the Supreme Court’s (Justice Thomas’s) landmark decision in Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404 (2009) holding that punitive damages are available in a seaman’s general maritime law (GML) cause of action for willful failure to pay maintenance and cure, several pitched battles have been raging around the country on an issue expressly left unanswered in Townsend (see 557 U.S. at 424, n.11): whether punitive damages are recoverable by a seaman in the separate and independent GML cause of action for unseaworthiness. (more…)

The Fifth Circuit’s recent decision in Sangha v. Navig8 Shipmanagement Private Limited,  No. 17-20093, — F.3d —-, 2018 WL 706518  (Feb 5, 2009) has continued the recent jurisprudential renaissance of personal jurisdiction decisions in a maritime ruling that has implications for jurisdictional disputes in all substantive areas.  (more…)

As previously reported here, the Fifth Circuit in September ruled that the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has no criminal jurisdiction under its current regulations over offshore contractors (USA v. Moss, 872 F.3d 304 (5th Cir. 2017)). A companion case regarding BSEE’s civil jurisdiction over offshore contractors (Island Operating Co. v. Jewell et al., Case No. 16-145 (W.D. La. Dec. 23, 2016)) technically remained pending on appeal before the Fifth Circuit after the court’s rejection of BSEE’s criminal jurisdiction. As this blog noted, however, the Moss court’s opinion was very broad and “expressly acknowledged that while it was only squarely faced with the question of whether BSEE’s criminal indictments in the case were valid, this question necessarily implicated whether BSEE’s regulations even applied at all (criminally or civilly) to offshore contractors.” Thus, while the civil jurisdiction case in Island Operating technically remained pending, the writing was essentially on the wall. (more…)

The Fifth Circuit en banc (In re Larry Doiron, Inc., 2018 WL 316862, at *7 (5th Cir. Jan. 8, 2018)) has handed down an historic re-working of the test for determining whether oilfield contracts are maritime or non-maritime in nature. Harkening back to the United States Supreme Court’s eminently practical, simple maritime contract test in Norfolk S. Ry. Co. v. Kirby, 543 U.S. 14, 22 (2004) that considers whether “the situation presented … [has] a genuinely salty flavor,” the en banc decision in In Re Larry Doiron, Inc. simplifies decades’ worth of confusing and often inconsistent jurisprudence to give a more streamlined and hopefully predictable rule for determining whether oilfield contracts are maritime or not. (more…)

Since October 2011, when the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) issued its first-ever Incidents of Non-Compliance (INCs) against offshore contractors (Halliburton and Transocean) in the wake of the DEEPWATER HORIZON blowout, the offshore industry and BSEE have been engaged in a literal “war of words” over a simple question of statutory and regulatory construction: does BSEE’s authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) and the regulations promulgated thereunder extend to offshore contractors?  This blog has followed the pitched battles along the way, from the first volley of BSEE’s initial issuance of the INCs to Halliburton/Transocean, through its continuing sorties under its self-proclaimed jurisdiction over contractors across the OCS, and (most recently) its checkered retreat into the appellate court after two different district courts rejected its positions and sided with offshore contractors. (more…)

Following up on its landmark 2014 decision in Coffin v. Blessey Marine Servs., Inc., 771 F.3d 276 (5th Cir. 2014), previously reported here on Striding the Quarterdeck, which concerned the applicability to tankerman of the seaman exclusion to the overtime wage provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (29 U.S.C. §§201-21, “FLSA”), the Fifth Circuit has held in Halle v. Galliano Marine Serv., L.L.C., — F.3d —, 2017 WL 1399697 (5th Cir. Apr. 19, 2017) that remotely operated vehicle (ROV) technicians aboard offshore oilfield support vessels are not seaman for purposes of the FLSA, and thus are entitled to overtime pay as provided in the FLSA. Unlike the result in Coffin, in which tankerman (crew members responsible/trained for loading/unloading of liquid cargoes from tank barges) were held to be FLSA seaman and thus exempt from from the overtime coverage of the FLSA, the ROV technicians in Halle were held to be non-seaman and thus entitled to overtime. (more…)