In response to the continuing COVID-19 epidemic, the United States Coast Guard, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have issued a series of administrative guidelines or regulations broadly affecting international maritime commerce. In addition to this agency action, the AWO and other sectors of the maritime industry have voluntarily formulated several response plans aimed at protecting the nation’s vital maritime commerce during this public emergency. We have reviewed these guidelines and regulations, and have organized them into general topics of common questions in our industry.

Continue Reading Maritime Industry COVID 19 Update

In a stark reminder of the sanctity of Coast Guard investigations, and the consequences of impeding such investigations, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) recently took action against a maritime employer for allegedly retaliating against a seaman who cooperated with the Coast Guard in connection with its investigation of a maritime casualty.  On October 20, 2017, Bouchard Transportation’s ATB BUSTER BOUCHARD/B. NO. 255 suffered an explosion and fire while transporting roughly 2,000 barrels of oil off Port Aransas, Texas.  Two crewmembers perished as a result of the casualty.  The brother of one of the deceased crewmembers, who also happened to be a Bouchard Transportation employee, cooperated with the Coast Guard in the ensuing investigation.  Three months later, the surviving brother was terminated without explanation.  OSHA found the termination constituted a retaliatory discharge in violation of the Seaman’s Protection Act (46 U.S.C. §2114) (the “SPA”).  In broad terms, the SPA prohibits maritime employers from terminating or discriminating against seamen who cooperate with Coast Guard, Department of Labor or National Transportation Safety Board investigations.  The obvious intent of the SPA is to guaranty “that, when seamen provide information of dangerous situations to the Coast Guard, they will be free from the “debilitating threat of employment reprisals for publicly asserting company violations” of maritime statutes or regulations.”  Gaffney v. Riverboat Services of Indiana, Inc., 451 F.3d 424, 444 (7th Cir. 2006).  In 2010, Congress empowered OSHA to administer claims arising under the SPA.

Continue Reading OSHA Awards Damages for Retaliatory Discharge of Jones Act Seaman in Violation of Seaman’s Protection Act

The saga of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) ten-year effort to amend its interpretation of key components of the Jones Act continues.  After failed attempts to expand the scope of the Jones Act’s prohibition on activities by non-coastwise endorsed vessels in 2009 and 2017, CBP recently published a notice of proposed modification and revocation of certain ruling letters interpreting the Jones Act (see https://liskow.sharefile.com/d-s45a327d7ae7441e9). Unlike its recent, unsuccessful efforts to amend its interpretations, the current proposal attempts to expand one prohibition while narrowing another.

Continue Reading Possible Change to Jones Act Interpretations Regarding Coastwise Activities

Today the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in this landmark case concerning punitive damages.  The six justices in the majority opinion reversed the Ninth Circuit and resolved a circuit split on this issue.  The question presented was whether punitive damages may be awarded to a Jones Act seaman in a personal injury suit alleging a breach of the general maritime duty to provide a seaworthy vessel.  Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justices Thomas, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh.  Justice Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor.

Continue Reading SCOTUS Decides Dutra Group v. Batterton

In a decision that could have far-reaching implications, the United States Supreme Court issued a June 10 opinion holding that California’s wage-and-hour laws do not apply to workers on oil and gas platforms located in open water on the Outer Continental Shelf. The plaintiffs in Parker Drilling Management Services, Ltd. v. Newton, were offshore rig workers who filed a class action asserting that their employer violated California’s minimum wage and overtime laws by failing to pay them for stand-by time while they were on the drilling platform. Both parties agreed that the platforms were governed by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”), but they disagreed regarding whether the California’s wage-and-hour laws were incorporated into OCSLA and therefore applicable to workers on the platform.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Holds State Wage and Hour Laws are Inapplicable to Offshore Drilling Platforms

After years of inconsistent rulings, the Fifth Circuit is poised to address a removal issue with significant ramifications for Louisiana tort cases. The previous version of 28 U.S.C. § 1442 authorized removal to federal court of a suit against a federal officer “only when the state suit was ‘for any act under color of such office.’” The Fifth Circuit, interpreting this language, held that the removing party must show a causal connection between its actions and the plaintiff’s claims. The causal connection requirement demands more than “mere federal involvement[;] instead, the defendant must show that its actions taken pursuant to the government’s direction or control caused the plaintiff’s specific injuries.”

Continue Reading 5th Circuit Grants En Banc Rehearing to Address Federal Officer Removal

On May 9, 2019, the Louisiana Supreme Court issued an important opinion restricting application of the collateral source rule in personal injury lawsuits. In Simmons v. Cornerstone Investments, LLC, et al., 2018-CC-0735 (La. 5/8/19), the Court held the collateral source rule inapplicable to medical expenses charged above the amount actually paid by a workers’ compensation insurer pursuant to the workers’ compensation medical fee schedule.


Continue Reading Louisiana Supreme Court Limits Effect of Collateral Source Rule in Personal Injury Cases

Admiralty Professor Haycraft Reports from the Courthouse Steps on the Dutra v. Batterton Supreme Court ArgumentThis morning I attended oral argument at the United States Supreme Court in the maritime case of Dutra Group v. Batterton.[1]  The question in the case is whether a Jones Act seaman may recover punitive damages on an unseaworthiness claim.  Former Solicitor General Seth Waxman argued for Petitioner Dutra Group and David Frederick argued for Respondent Christopher Batterton.

Waxman began his argument by explaining that Miles v. Apex set boundaries constraining what common law admiralty courts can do when Congress has legislated as it has in the Jones Act.  He was quickly interrupted by Justice Sotomayor who noted that the Jones Act was enacted to supplement, not restrict, remedies available to a seaman.  Justices Ginsberg and Kagan also pressed Waxman, with Kagan questioning why unseaworthiness doctrine has evolved over the past few decades, becoming more favorable to the seaman, if the Jones Act in 1920 constrained the common law admiralty courts?

Continue Reading Admiralty Professor Haycraft Reports from the Courthouse Steps on the Dutra v. Batterton Supreme Court Argument

In Air & Liquid Systems Corp. v. Devries, No. 17-1104, — S. Ct. —, 2019 WL 1245520 (U.S. March 19, 2019), the U.S. Supreme Court resolved a circuit split regarding maritime law and the “bare metal” defense, namely whether manufacturers have a duty to warn when their bare metal product requires later incorporation of a dangerous part in order for the integrated product to function as intended. Justice Kavanaugh wrote the opinion for a 6-3 court, with Justices Gorsuch, Thomas, and Alito dissenting.

“Bare Metal” Products at Issue

In Air and Liquid Systems Corp v. Devries, the defendant manufacturers produced shipboard equipment such as pumps, blowers, and turbines for various Navy ships on which the plaintiffs, two Navy veterans, were employed. The equipment required asbestos insulation or asbestos parts to function as intended. However, the defendant manufacturers did not always incorporate the asbestos into their products; they delivered much of the equipment to the Navy without asbestos. The defendants’ equipment was delivered in a condition known as “bare metal,” and the Navy later added the asbestos to the equipment.

Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Addresses Circuit Split Regarding “Bare Metal” Defense in Products Liability Action Under General Maritime Law

Commercial and employment agreements often include provisions requiring arbitration of disputes between the parties. Some of these agreements contain “delegation clauses” requiring the arbitrator (as opposed to a court) to decide whether the dispute is subject to arbitration. Despite such provisions, one party may sue the other because it perceives an advantage to proceeding in court or wants to test the outer limits of the arbitration provision. The first battle in these suits is over who—the court or an arbitrator—decides whether the dispute must be arbitrated. In unanimous decisions issued over the last week, the Supreme Court addressed two scenarios where the parties fought over this question, despite having delegated questions of “arbitrability” to an arbitrator. Read together, the Court’s decisions clarify that a court should first decide whether the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) applies to the parties’ agreement. If so, the court must honor the delegation clause and refer the matter to arbitration.

Continue Reading New U.S. Supreme Court Decisions Clarify the Courts’ Authority to Compel Arbitration