Christopher Hannan

As previously reported (regarding the Naquin decision), the Fifth Circuit recently expanded the scope of Jones Act seaman status to include a shipyard worker who spent 70% of his time working aboard vessels (usually moored to the shipyard’s dock, and only very occasionally while the vessels were being repositioned or on test-runs), and the remaining 30% of his time working in a fabrication shop or on a land-based crane.  As the earlier post predicted, Naquin’s wake is already sending waves through the lower courts. (more…)

In the new world of shared regulatory oversight between the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and BSEE on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), a mundane devil-in-the-details – but nonetheless vitally important question – had gone unanswered:  would BSEE incident investigation reports be admissible in civil proceedings, unlike USCG incident reports, which are indisputably inadmissible pursuant to express statutory terms (46 U.S.C. § 6308)?  While there is no similar statutory prohibition barring admission of any reports, incidents of non-compliance (INCs), or other regulatory documents generated by a BSEE investigation, courts had yet to address the issue. (more…)

The three men in the tub will no longer have recourse to the federal courts’ admiralty jurisdiction, at least not in the Eastern District of Louisiana.  In Martin v. Fab-Con, Inc., 2014 WL 1246073 (E.D. La. Mar. 24, 2014) – a slip-and-fall suit by a Jones act seaman for negligence, unseaworthiness, and general maritime law negligence – the court held that the dumb quarter barge UNITY where the accident occurred was not a vessel for purposes of admiralty jurisdiction under 1 U.S.C. §3, resulting in dismissal of all but the Jones Act claims. (more…)

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) Marine Safety and Security Council issued the winter issue of its quarterly magazine Proceedings: Journal of Safety and Security at Sea in February, providing insights to the long and short-term outlook regarding the regulatory environment on the United States Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).  In particular, the USCG noted the rapid technological advances that have advanced OCS capabilities into deeper and deeper offshore waters, outstripping the scope and content of existing regulations.  This issue of the Proceedings journal is an informative read for anyone with operations on the OCS, but a few of the more prominent regulatory issues and/or new regulatory initiatives are highlighted below: (more…)

As detailed in numerous prior posts (most recently regarding the Coronel decision), a series of decisions allowing removal of general maritime law (GML) claims by seamen, even when combined with otherwise statutorily non-removable Jones Act claims, has been developing among the district courts within the Fifth Circuit.  While Coronelprovided the first backlash against this historic, albeit nascent, shift in admiralty practice, the Coronel analysis was rather complex and esoteric. (more…)

As reported in two prior posts (The Removal of the Ancient Mariner – The Developing Jurisprudence Allowing Removal of General Maritime Law Claims under the Recent Amendments to 28 U.S.C. §1441(b) and The Removal of the Ancient Mariner – Reprising a Sea-Change in Admiralty Law) district courts within the Fifth Circuit have virtually unanimously adopted the reasoning of Judge Gray Miller’s decision in Ryan v. Hercules Offshore, Inc., 2013 WL 1967315 (S.D. Tex. May 13, 2013), which overturned the half-century-old, formerly hornbook rule that general maritime law (GML) claims are non-removable and allowed removal of such claims under the recent amendments to 28 U.S.C. §1441.  As the rule of Hercules continues to gain a broader foothold on the Gulf of Mexico, however, a sister court in the Pacific Northwest has rejected the sea change. (more…)

In a ruling that will likely send shockwaves through the maritime industry and be considered a landmark decision in years to come, a divided panel of the Fifth Circuit in Naquin v. Elevating Boats, L.L.C., — F.3d —,No. 12-31258 (5th Cir. Mar. 10, 2014) (Davis and Milazzo, J.; Jones, J. dissenting) upheld a jury’s determination that a vessel repair supervisor at a shipyard in Houma, Louisiana qualified as a Jones Act seaman and was entitled to recover money damages under the Jones Act, to the exclusion of the compensation regime under the Longshore Harbor Workers Compensation Act (“LHWCA”). This decision may have an enormous impact on shipyards, the operators whose vessels they service, and the insurers covering them. (more…)

After making a splash in October of 2013 with a landmark ruling in McBride v. Estis Well Service, L.L.C., 731 F.3d 505, 517 (5th Cir. 2013) “that punitive damages remain available to seamen as a remedy for the general maritime law claim of unseaworthiness” – which departed from the Fifth Circuit’s prior en banc opinion in Guevara v. Mar. Overseas Corp., 59 F.3d 1496, (5th Cir. 1995) – the Fifth Circuit has decided to revisit en banc the issue of punitive damages for unseaworthiness.  The panel decision in Estis, following the analytical path of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404 (2007) (an equally historic opinion that abrogated Guevara, and least in part, and validated a seaman’s punitive damage claim for an employer’s willful failure to pay maintenance and cure), charted the history of punitive damages (or their rough analog) in maritime jurisprudence, and held that such damages are available for the seaman’s ancient general maritime law remedy for breach of the warranty of unseaworthiness.  In particular, the Estis court held that punitive damages forgeneral maritime law unseaworthiness are available notwithstanding that punitive damages are expressly barred in the context of a seaman’s closely related – but technically distinct – statutory remedy for negligence under the Jones Act and/or the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). (more…)

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
into something rich and strange,
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell,
Hark! now I hear them, ding-dong, bell.

William Shakespeare, The Tempest

As originally discussed in a recent post on Striding the Quarterdeck (December 9, 2013), amendments to 28 U.S.C. §1441 have effected a sea-change in admiralty procedure by ostensibly allowing removal of general maritime law (GML) claims on a federal question basis, notwithstanding the Savings to Suitors Clause and the long line of jurisprudence under Romero espousing the proposition that GML claims do not “arise under” the Constitution or law of the United States.  The jurisprudential trend affirming removal of GML claims under the revised version of §1441, which began with Judge Gray Miller’s decision in Ryan v. Hercules Offshore, Inc., 945 F.Supp.2d 772 (S.D. Tex. 2013), has continued, suggesting that this sea-change may in fact ring the knell of the old Romero non-removability rule. (more…)