Keywords: admiralty, maritime jurisdiction, maritime lien
Federal Admiralty Jurisdiction—"Vessel" Status
On February 21, 2012, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in one case of interest to the business community
Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution extends the judicial power of the United States "to all Cases of admiralty or maritime Jurisdiction." Congress, in turn, has granted federal district courts exclusive original jurisdiction over admiralty and maritime cases. 28 U.S.C. § 1333. An in rem admiralty proceeding must be based on a maritime lien, a property right that only attaches to a "vessel," see 46 U.S.C. § 31342. Under 1 U.S.C. § 3, "[t]he word 'vessel' includes every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water." Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida, No. 11-626, to address the scope of this definition of "vessel" for the purpose of triggering federal admiralty jurisdiction.
Respondent, the City of Riviera Beach, brought an in rem suit in federal district court for trespass and to foreclose on a maritime lien on a floating residential structure owned by petitioner, Fane Lozman. Lozman argued that his floating residential structure was not a "vessel" and should instead be treated as a land-based residence. The district court held that the floating structure was a "vessel" for purposes of federal admiralty jurisdiction and then ruled for the City on the merits.
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, agreeing that Lozman's floating residential structure was a "vessel" subject to federal admiralty jurisdiction. The court held that a floating structure is a "vessel," regardless of the purpose for which it was constructed or its intended use, as long as it is "practically capable of transportation over water by means of a tow." 643 F.3d 1259, 1269. The Eleventh Circuit rejected tests adopted by the Fifth and Seventh Circuits, which focus on the owner's intended and actual use of the structure rather than the structure's potential ability to move or be towed across water.
The Court's decision on what constitutes a "vessel" will be important to commercial owners of floating structures, including those in the casino, restaurant, and hotel industries. Aside from determining whether disputes over such structures are subject to federal jurisdiction and federal tort law, the Court's decision is likely to determine whether structures of the type at issue are subject to various tax, employment, and safety laws whose application depends upon whether the structure in question is a "vessel."
Absent extensions, which are likely, amicus briefs in support of the petitioner will be due on April 13, 2012, and amicus briefs in support of the respondent will be due on May 14, 2012.
Today the Court also invited the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the views of the United States in the following case of interest to the business community:
Vance v. Ball State University, No. 11-556: The question presented is whether the "supervisor" liability rule established in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998), and Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998)—according to which an employer is vicariously liable under Title VII for severe or pervasive workplace harassment by a supervisor of the victim—applies to harassment by those whom the employer vests with authority to direct and oversee their victim's daily work or, instead, is limited to those harassers who have the power to "hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline" their victim.
Mayer Brown's Supreme Court & Appellate practice distributes a Docket Report whenever the Supreme Court grants certiorari in a case of interest to the business community and distributes a Docket Report-Decision Alert whenever the Court decides such a case.
Feel free to forward this message to anyone who you believe might be interested in the Docket Report.
Please visit us at appellate.net
Visit us at mayerbrown.com
Mayer Brown is a global legal services provider comprising legal practices that are separate entities (the "Mayer Brown Practices"). The Mayer Brown Practices are: Mayer Brown LLP and Mayer Brown Europe – Brussels LLP, both limited liability partnerships established in Illinois USA; Mayer Brown International LLP, a limited liability partnership incorporated in England and Wales (authorized and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and registered in England and Wales number OC 303359); Mayer Brown, a SELAS established in France; Mayer Brown JSM, a Hong Kong partnership and its associated entities in Asia; and Tauil & Chequer Advogados, a Brazilian law partnership with which Mayer Brown is associated. "Mayer Brown" and the Mayer Brown logo are the trademarks of the Mayer Brown Practices in their respective jurisdictions.
© Copyright 2012. The Mayer Brown Practices. All rights reserved.
This Mayer Brown article provides information and comments on legal issues and developments of interest. The foregoing is not a comprehensive treatment of the subject matter covered and is not intended to provide legal advice. Readers should seek specific legal advice before taking any action with respect to the matters discussed herein.