Articles Posted in Admiralty & Maritime Law

by
While inspecting a commercial fishing vessel in the Gulf of Mexico, a federal agent found that the catch contained undersized red grouper, in violation of conservation regulations, and instructed the captain, Yates, to keep the undersized fish segregated from the rest of the catch until the ship returned to port. After the officer departed, Yates told the crew to throw the undersized fish overboard. Yates was convicted of destroying, concealing, and covering up undersized fish to impede a federal investigation under 18 U. S. C. 519, which applies when a person “knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence” a federal investigation. Yates argued that section 1519 originated in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, to protect investors, and that its reference to “tangible object” includes objects used to store information, such as computer hard drives. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that “tangible object” refers to one used to record or preserve information. Section 1519’s position within Title 18, Chapter 73 and its title, “Destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in Federal investigations and bankruptcy,” signal that it was not intended to serve as a cross-the-board ban on the destruction of physical evidence. The words immediately surrounding “tangible object,” “falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record [or] document,” also indicate the contextual meaning of that term. Even if traditional tools of statutory construction leave any doubt about the meaning of the term, it would be appropriate to invoke the rule of lenity. View "Yates v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The Port of Los Angeles is run by a Board of Harbor Commissioners under a municipal ordinance (the tariff) and leases terminal facilities to operators that load and unload ships. Federally-licensed short-haul drayage trucks move cargo in and out of the Port. In response to concerns over proposed port expansion, the Board implemented a Clean Truck Program that involved a standard “concession agreement,” governing the relationship between the Port and drayage companies. It required a placard on each truck including a phone number and submission a plan listing off-street parking locations. Other requirements relate to financial capacity, truck maintenance, and drivers. The Board amended the tariff to make it a misdemeanor for a terminal operator to grant access to an unregistered drayage truck. An association of drayage companies sued, claiming that the requirements are expressly preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA), 49 U.S.C. 4501(c)(1), and that even if the requirements are valid, the Port may not enforce them by withdrawing a right to operate at the Port. The district court ruled in favor of the Port. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, finding only the driver-employment provision preempted. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed in part. The FAAAA expressly preempts the placard and parking requirements, which relate to a motor carrier’s price, route, or service with respect to transporting property and “hav[e] the force and effect of law.” The Port exercised classic regulatory authority in forcing terminal operators and, therefore, trucking companies, to alter their conduct by implementing a criminal prohibition punishable by imprisonment. The Port’s proprietary intentions do not control. The Court declined to determine, in a “pre-enforcement posture” whether precedent limits the way the Port can en¬force the financial-capacity and truck-maintenance requirements. View "Am. Trucking Ass'ns., Inc. v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

by
Lozman’s floating home was a plywood structure with empty bilge space underneath to keep it afloat. He had it towed several times before deciding on a marina owned by the city of Riviera Beach. After various disputes and unsuccessful efforts to evict him from the marina, the city brought an admiralty lawsuit in rem against the home, seeking a lien for dockage fees and damages for trespass. The district court found the floating home to be a “vessel” under the Rules of Construction Act, which defines a “vessel” as including “every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water,” 1 U. S. C. 3; concluded that admiralty jurisdiction was proper; and awarded fees and damages. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, noting that the home was “capable” of movement over water despite subjective intent to remain moored indefinitely. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the case was not moot, although the home has been destroyed. Lozman’s floating home is not a “vessel.” The definition of “transportation” must be applied in a practical way; a structure does not fall within its scope unless a reasonable observer, looking to the home’s physical characteristics and activities, would consider it designed to a practical degree for carrying people or things over water. But for the fact that it floats, nothing about Lozman’s home suggests that it was designed to any practical degree to transport persons or things over water. It had no steering mechanism, had an unraked hull and rectangular bottom 10 inches below water, and had no capacity to generate or store electricity. It lacked self-propulsion, unlike an ordinary houseboat. The Court considered only objective evidence to craft a “workable and consistent” definition that “should offer guidance in a significant number of borderline cases.” View "Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach" on Justia Law