Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Admiralty & Maritime Law
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The case involves Puerto Rico Fast Ferries LLC ("Fast Ferries") and Mr. Cade, LLC and SeaTran Marine, LLC ("SeaTran") (collectively, "defendants-appellees"). Fast Ferries had entered into a Master Time Charter Agreement with Mr. Cade, LLC to charter the motor vessel Mr. Cade and procure a licensed crew. The agreement contained mediation and forum-selection clauses. When the final Short Form expired, Fast Ferries returned the vessel to its home port in Louisiana. A year later, Fast Ferries filed a complaint against Mr. Cade, LLC and SeaTran alleging breach of contract and liability pursuant to culpa in contrahendo. The defendants-appellees moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the Master Agreement was still in effect and required a written agreement for the charter of M/V Mr. Cade.The district court granted the motion to dismiss in part, concluding that the Master Agreement did not contain a termination date and remained in effect. Therefore, the contract's mediation and forum-selection clauses were binding on the parties. However, the district court did not address Fast Ferries' argument that SeaTran was not a signatory of the agreement and, therefore, could not invoke the mediation and forum-selection clauses contained therein.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's order on the defendants-appellees' motion to dismiss. The court held that the Master Agreement was still in effect and that SeaTran, despite being a non-signatory, could enforce the Master Agreement's mediation and forum-selection clauses. The court reasoned that Fast Ferries' claims against SeaTran were necessarily intertwined with the Master Agreement, and thus, Fast Ferries was equitably estopped from avoiding the mediation and forum-selection clauses with respect to SeaTran. View "Puerto Rico Fast Ferries LLC v. SeaTran Marine, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case involves Maximiliano Fígaro-Benjamín, a co-conspirator in a multi-defendant drug conspiracy case. Fígaro-Benjamín was part of a crew that transported cocaine between Puerto Rico and St. Thomas on a vessel named the Black Wolfpack. The crew was intercepted by federal agents in January 2018. Fígaro-Benjamín was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to import controlled substances into the U.S. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 292 months in prison.Fígaro-Benjamín appealed his sentence, arguing that the district court relied on unreliable evidence at sentencing and incorrectly calculated his sentence. He also claimed that the court did not adequately explain its sentence. His arguments were based on the testimony of a co-conspirator, José Javier Resto Miranda, who testified at the trial of Fígaro-Benjamín's co-defendants.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Fígaro-Benjamín's arguments did not hold up. It ruled that the sentencing court did not err in considering Resto's testimony, which was reliable and corroborated by other evidence. The court also found that the sentencing court correctly calculated Fígaro-Benjamín's guidelines sentencing range and did not err in finding that he was a supervisor in the trafficking operation. Lastly, the court found that the sentencing court adequately explained its sentence. View "US v. Figaro-Benjamin" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over the construction of an offshore wind project aimed at reducing reliance on fossil fuels. The project, proposed by Vineyard Wind 1, LLC, was expected to provide energy sufficient to power 400,000 Massachusetts homes. However, residents of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket opposed the project, arguing that federal agencies failed to properly assess the potential impact of the project on the endangered North Atlantic right whale.Previously, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts had granted summary judgment in favor of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and Vineyard Wind, rejecting the residents' challenge to a biological opinion issued by the NMFS and relied on by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in permitting the construction of the wind power project.In the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, the residents challenged the lower court's decision, arguing that the NMFS's determination that the incidental harassment of up to twenty right whales constituted a "small number" under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful. They also argued that NMFS's consideration of the "specified activity" and the "specific geographic region" within which that activity would occur for purposes of issuing the Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to Vineyard Wind was impermissibly narrow in scope.The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's decision, finding that the NMFS's determination was not arbitrary or capricious and that it had properly delineated the "specific geographic region" for the purposes of the IHA. The court also found that the residents' concerns about the broader effect of the project on the right whale population were unwarranted, as the agency had considered the impact on the entire right whale population in its "negligible impact" analysis, its biological opinion, and in its participation in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's Environmental Impact Statement. View "Melone v. Coit" on Justia Law

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In this case, Defendant-Appellee Martin Andersson purchased an insurance policy for his vessel from Plaintiff-Appellant Great Lakes Insurance SE. The vessel ran aground off the coast of the Dominican Republic, and Great Lakes brought a declaratory judgment action to determine coverage under the policy. Andersson filed counterclaims for breach of contract and equitable estoppel. Great Lakes' motion for summary judgment was denied, and Andersson was granted partial summary judgment on his breach of contract claim. Great Lakes appealed, claiming the district court erred in refusing to apply the policy's definition of seaworthiness.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that under the absolute implied warranty of seaworthiness, the insured vessel must be seaworthy at the policy's inception, and if not, the policy is void. The court affirmed the district court's ruling, stating that Great Lakes' argument that the absolute implied warranty required the vessel to carry up-to-date charts for all geographic areas covered by the policy in order to be considered seaworthy was unsupported by admiralty case law and was unreasonable.Additionally, the court held that Great Lakes' argument that the express terms of the policy required updated paper charts for every location that could be navigated under the entirety of the policy coverage area was unsupported by the express language of the policy itself. The court found no precedent supporting the claim that updated paper charts for every location covered by the policy were required to be onboard the vessel at the inception of the policy. As a result, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision in favor of Andersson. View "Great Lakes Insurance SE v. Andersson" on Justia Law

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In this case, a law firm, Thompson, MacColl & Bass, LLC, P.A. (TM&B), was sued by its former client, ST Engineering Marine, Ltd. (STEM), for professional negligence. STEM owned a vessel that was arrested due to several entities, including Sprague Operating Resources, LLC (Sprague), asserting maritime liens for unpaid services. STEM had sought advice from TM&B to analyze these lien claims. TM&B advised STEM that Sprague's lien was valid and should be paid. Acting on this advice, STEM paid Sprague and subsequently sued TM&B, alleging that TM&B's advice was negligent as it failed to consider the unsettled state of relevant maritime lien law.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the decision of the United States District Court for the District of Maine, which had found in favor of STEM. The Court of Appeals held that TM&B breached its duty of care to STEM by failing to conduct adequate legal research and by not appropriately counseling STEM about the uncertainty of Sprague's lien claim. The court also found that TM&B's negligence was the actual and proximate cause of STEM's loss, concluding that STEM would have prevailed in contesting Sprague's lien claim but for TM&B's erroneous advice. The court ordered TM&B to pay STEM $261,839.04 in damages. View "ST Engineering Marine, Ltd. v. Thompson, MacColl & Bass, LLC, P.A." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court's default judgment in a tort action brought against the owner of a boat that Plaintiff was working on at the time of his injury, holding that the district court did not err in granting default judgment and denying Appellant's request for leave to file a late claim under Supplemental Rule F of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.Appellant, a commercial fisherman, filed a complaint in a Massachusetts state court alleging that he was injured while working on a vessel owned by G&J Fisheries, Inc. and that G&J was liable for unseaworthiness and negligence under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. 30104. G&J filed a complaint in the federal district court seeking exoneration from liability under 46 U.S.C. 30501-12 and Supplemental Rule F. The district court enjoined all other lawsuits against G&J pursuant to Supplemental Rule F(3) and then granted default judgment for G&J on the grounds that Appellant failed to file a claim as required under the rule. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in granting default judgment and in denying Appellant's request to file a late claim under Supplemental Rule F(4). View "G&J Fisheries, Inc. v. Costa" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court in favor of Defendants in this action brought against the owners of a fishing vessel on which Plaintiff was a seaman alleging that the owners breached a federal common law obligation under admiralty law known as the "duty of cure," holding that the district court's holding rested on an impermissible ground for distinguishing Gauthier v. Crosby Marine Service, Inc., 752 F.2d 1085 (5th Cir. 1985).Plaintiff alleged that Defendants failed adequately to pay him for the costs of the medical care he received after falling ill from an infection he acquired while working on their vessel and that, even if Defendants' various payments to Plaintiff and his private health insurer satisfied their duty of cure, their delay in paying him warranted an award of compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney's fees. The district court entered judgment for Defendants. The First Circuit largely vacated the judgment, holding (1) the district court's holding rested on an impermissible ground for distinguishing Gauthier and did not otherwise explain why Gauthier did not apply; and (2) Defendants' proposed alternative ground for affirming the district court's grant of judgment to Defendants on Plaintiff's breach-of-the-duty-of-cure claim failed. View "Aadland v. Boat Santa Rita II, Inc." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the order of the district court granting the government's motion to dismiss this lawsuit alleging improper termination and breach of contract for failure to state a claim on the grounds that the claims were time-barred, holding that there was no basis to disturb the district court's decision.This matter arose out of a contract for between J-Way Southern and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for dredging water waters in Menemsha Harbor, Martha's Vineyard. After USACE terminated the contract J-Way filed suit, alleging improper termination and breach of contract. The district court granted USACE's motion to dismiss, concluding that J-Way's claims were time-barred. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court had jurisdiction over this maritime contract dispute; and (2) the district court properly denied the government's motion to dismiss. View "J-Way Southern, Inc. v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court granting Defendant's motion to dismiss this action seeking damages for injuries received in a boating accident, holding that this case was allowed to proceed in Plaintiffs' chosen forum.Plaintiffs were ferrying in a small boat when another boat, owned by Defendant, plowed into Plaintiffs' boat and sunk it. The crash also left one of the Plaintiffs with serious personal injuries. Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendant, a U.S. citizen, in Massachusetts, bringing claims for maritime negligence, loss of consortium, and property damages. Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint for forum non conveniens, arguing that Greece was the most appropriate venue for the case. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the case. The First Circuit reversed, holding that the district court abused its discretion in failing to hold Defendant to his burden of showing that the public and private interest factors displaced the presumption weighing in favor of Plaintiffs' initial forum of choice. View "Curtis v. Galakatos" on Justia Law

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In this dispute between a boat owner and his insurance company, the First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court in favor of the insurer, holding that the district court properly applied the doctrine of uberrimae fidei in this case.When Defendant applied for an insurance policy for his yacht from an entity later acquired by Plaintiff he failed to disclose that he had grounded a forty-foot yacht in Puerto Rico. Plaintiff later sought a declaratory judgment voiding the policy on the grounds that Defendant had failed to honor his duty of utmost good faith, known as uberrimae fidei in maritime law, in acquiring the policy and had therefore breached the warranty of truthfulness contained in the policy. The district court concluded that Plaintiff was entitled to void the policy. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court correctly concluded that the uberrimae fidei doctrine entitled Plaintiff to a declaration that the policy was void. View "QBE Seguros v. Morales-Vazquez" on Justia Law