Striding the Quarterdeck

Covering the most recent developments in national maritime jurisprudence and regulatory action, with a focus on issues that affect the inland and offshore industries in and around the Gulf of Mexico.

Avast! – Tankermen Held To Be Seamen Exempt From FLSA Overtime Pay Requirements

In a much and long anticipated ruling, the Fifth Circuit in Coffin v. Blessey Marine Services, Inc., No. 13-20144 (5th Cir. Nov. 13, 2014), has held as a matter of law that vessel-based tankermen (specially trained/experienced deckhands who handle the loading/unloading of liquid petro-chemical cargos on tank barges) are seaman, thus exempting them from the overtime pay provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) (29 U.S.C. §§201-219), which exempts from the overtime provisions “any employee employed as a seaman.” 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(6). read more…

To Hell With “Oh, Hell, Why Not” – The Fifth Circuit en banc Reverses Estis v. McBride Well Service, L.L.C.

In a much anticipated ruling, the Fifth Circuit en banc has reversed the original panel ruling in Estis v. McBride Well Service, L.L.C., 731 F.3d 505 (5th Cir. 2013), which sent shockwaves through the maritime bar and industry alike when it proclaimed that Jones Act seaman could collect punitive damages for general maritime law claims of unseaworthiness, upsetting years of precedent to the contrary (as previously reported on Striding the Quarterdeck).  The en banc reversal has essentially reined in the (as described in Judge Clement’s concurrence) “collective judicial ‘oh, hell, why not’ principle that holds that because punitive damages are available in many other types of actions they should also be available in unseaworthiness cases.” read more…

THE OSV REGS COMETH

As previously reported here, the offshore industry has been anxiously awaiting new United States Coast Guard (USCG) regulations for large offshore supply vessels (OSVs) in the wake of the 2010 Coast Guard Authorization Act (CGAA), which removed the prior statutory bar prohibiting US-flagged OSVs over 6,000 gross tons. Four years after the CGAA, the USCG has followed through on its promise this past winter that the long-awaited regulations would be forthcoming, and has issued an interim rule setting forth comprehensive regulations for this new class of US-flagged OSVs. 79 Fed. Reg. 48894. The new, and long overdue, interim rule for large OSVs comes at a critical time on the back of an ongoing OSV construction boom, with OSVs increasing in both size and technical capacity to meet the needs of deeper and deeper offshore exploration projects. read more…

A Day At The Beach: Fifth Circuit Rejects Expansive Situs Definition For LHWCA Comp In BP Beach Cleaning Case

The Fifth Circuit recently reversed, per curiam, a district court decision finding that a contract worker cleaning oiled beaches near Grand Isle, Louisiana, in the wake of the 2010 Macondo oil spill qualified as a longshoreman for purposes of receiving compensation payments under the Longshore Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA). Global Mgmt. Enters., LLC v. Commerce & Indus. Ins. Co., 13-31249 (5th Cir. June 23, 2014). The Global decision is the second important decision in as many years from the Fifth Circuit (see also New Orleans Depot Servs. Inc. v. Director, Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs, 718 F.3d 384 (5th Cir. 2013)to address the often problematic nuances of the “situs” requirement for LHWCA compensation claims. read more…

When Can Twelve Turn into Twenty-Four? Calculation of FMLA Leave for Vessel-Based Employees

The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) ensures an employee the ability to take leave and return to work within twelve “workweeks” of a qualifying event. Employers that do not honor the protections of the FMLA risk a lawsuit from the employee or the Department of Labor seeking damages. The damages can include back pay, front pay, lost benefits, liquidated damages, reasonable costs for care of a family member, equitable relief, reinstatement and promotion (if otherwise entitled), attorneys’ fees, and other court costs. Despite its mountain of regulations, and over twenty years on the books, some questions remain unanswered. read more…

Recent Supreme Court Cases Change (Or At Least Reset) The Game For Personal Jurisdiction

In two recent decisions with critical implications for maritime practitioners and litigants in particular, the United States Supreme Court has re-written the script for determining the existence of personal jurisdiction over defendants/corporations sued outside of their home jurisdiction. The first opinion (Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746, 760 (2014)) addresses the relatively rarely invoked concept of general or “all-purpose” jurisdiction, while the second opinion (Walden v. Fiore, 134 S. Ct. 1115 (2014), addresses specific or “case-linked” jurisdiction. Daimler marks a deliberate shift in the approach to general jurisdiction, whereas Walden provides a less dramatic – but equally important, in terms of succinct clarification – restatement of the law. Maritime practitioners and their clients should be equally conversant with both, as they may provide bases for dismissal and/or transfer of lawsuits filed against vessel-operating corporate defendants whose voyages may proceed well beyond the limits of their home fora. read more…

District Court Extends Fifth Circuit’s Naquin Decision to Barge Cleaning/Repair Employee

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. read more…

Eastern District of Louisiana Rules that Factual Portions of Incident Report by Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) are Admissible

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. read more…

All That Floats is Not A Boat: Eastern District of Louisiana Jettisons Fifth Circuit’s Holmes Decision, Rules That Quarter Barge Is Not A Vessel

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. read more…

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STRIDING THE QUARTERDECK

"The Chancellor is no longer fixed to the woolsack. He may stride the quarter-deck of maritime jurisprudence and, in the role of admiralty judge, dispence, as would his landlocked brother, that which equity and good conscience impels."

- Compania Anonima Venezdolana De Navegacion v. A. J. Perez Exp. Co., 303 F.2d 692, 699 (5th Cir. 1692).