Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Admiralty & Maritime Law
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VT Halter Marine (VTHM), a shipbuilder, contracted to build a barge and a tug for a client. During construction, over a thousand steel flange plates were incorrectly bent due to the use of an improperly sized die, leading to thinning and cracking of the plates. The faulty plates were installed onto the vessels, and the cracking was discovered later. The cost of replacing and repairing the cracked flange plates amounted to approximately $3,300,000. VTHM submitted a claim to their insurer, Certain Underwriters of Lloyd’s of London (Underwriters), for the cracked flange plates.The Underwriters denied VTHM's claim, asserting that the policy excluded coverage for faulty workmanship and the cost of replacing or repairing improper or defective materials. VTHM contested the denial, leading to a lawsuit for breach of contract. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment in the trial court. The trial court granted Underwriters' motion for summary judgment, ruling that the policy unambiguously excluded coverage for faulty workmanship and the cost of repairing, replacing, or renewing any improper or defective materials.In the Supreme Court of Mississippi, VTHM appealed the trial court's decision, arguing that the flanges were part of the vessel and coverage for faulty workmanship exists if it results in cracking of the vessel. The Supreme Court, however, affirmed the trial court's judgment. The court found that the insurance policy unambiguously excluded the cost of replacing or repairing improper or defective materials. The court concluded that the faulty workmanship directly resulted in improper materials being installed, and the only resulting damage was to the improper materials themselves. Therefore, VTHM's claim for the costs of repairing and/or replacing the improper materials installed was not covered under the policy. View "VT Halter Marine, Inc. v. Certain Underwriters of Lloyd's of London" on Justia 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 Kholkar Vishveshwar Ganpat, an Indian citizen, who contracted malaria while working as a crew member on a Liberian-flagged ship managed by Eastern Pacific Shipping Pte., Limited (EPS), a Singaporean company. Ganpat alleges that EPS failed to adequately provision the ship with antimalarial medication for its voyage to Gabon, a high-risk malaria area in Africa. Ganpat's illness resulted in gangrene, amputation of several toes, and a 76-day hospitalization. He filed a lawsuit against EPS in the United States, seeking relief under the Jones Act and the general maritime law of the United States. He also asserted a contractual claim for disability benefits.The district court initially deferred making a choice-of-law ruling. However, after discovery, the court ruled that the law of the United States (the Jones Act and general maritime law) governs Ganpat’s tort claims and claim for breach of the collective bargaining agreement. EPS appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court disagreed with the district court's assessment of the Lauritzen-Rhoditis factors, which are used to determine whether maritime claims are governed by the law of the United States or the conflicting law of a foreign nation. The appellate court found that none of the factors that the Supreme Court has deemed significant to the choice-of-law determination in traditional maritime shipping cases involve the United States. The court concluded that Ganpat’s maritime tort and contract claims should be adjudicated under the substantive law of Liberia, the flag state of the ship on which Ganpat was working when he contracted malaria. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "Ganpat v. Eastern Pacific Shipping" on Justia Law

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This case revolves around a series of maritime accidents caused by the breakaway of a drillship, the DPDS1, owned by Paragon Asset Company, during Hurricane Harvey in Port Aransas, Texas. Paragon had hired two tugboats owned by Signet Maritime Corporation to keep the vessel moored to the dock during the storm. However, the DPDS1 broke from its moorings, collided with both Signet tugs, and ran aground in the Corpus Christi ship channel. It later refloated and collided with a research pier owned by the University of Texas.The district court found Paragon solely liable for the breakaway, applying maritime negligence law. It concluded that Paragon had unreasonably relied on inaccurate reports about the strength of its mooring system and failed to call for an evacuation when it was the prudent course of action. The court also found that Signet and Paragon were equally liable for the damages suffered by the University of Texas due to the failure of a third tug, supplied by Signet, to prevent the vessel's collision with the pier.Paragon appealed, arguing that the court should have applied a "towage law" standard of duty to Signet's services and contested the district court's rejection of a force majeure defense. Paragon also disputed the court's determination regarding which contract between the parties governed Signet's services.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. It found no error in the application of maritime negligence law, rejected Paragon's force majeure defense, and agreed with the lower court's determination that Signet's Tariff governed the services provided during Hurricane Harvey. View "Paragon Asset v. American Steamship" on Justia Law

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The case involves Century Aluminum Company and its subsidiaries (Century), and Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London (Lloyd's). Century uses river barges to transport alumina ore and other materials for its aluminum smelting operations. In 2017, the Army Corps of Engineers closed key locks on the Ohio River, causing Century to seek alternative transportation. Century filed a claim with Lloyd's, its maritime cargo insurance policy provider, for the unanticipated shipping expenses. While Lloyd's paid $1 million under the policy's Extra Expense Clause, it denied coverage for the rest of the claim.The case was first heard by the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. Century sought a declaration that its denied claims were covered by the insurance policy and requested damages for Lloyd's alleged breach of contract among other violations of Kentucky insurance law. Lloyd's sought summary judgment, arguing that the policy did not cover the claims. The district court sided with Lloyd's.The appeal was heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Century argued that the policy's All Risks Clause, Risks Covered Clause, Shipping Expenses Clause, and Sue and Labour Clause required Lloyd's to cover the additional shipping expenses. The court rejected these arguments, affirming the district court's ruling. The court held that under the All Risks Clause and Risks Covered Clause, Century's alumina did not suffer any physical loss or damage. As for the Shipping Expenses Clause, it covered the risk of a failed delivery, not an untimely one. Lastly, under the Sue and Labour Clause, Century was required to mitigate Lloyd's exposure under the policy, but it did not obligate Lloyd's to pay anything for reducing losses that fall outside the policy. View "Century Aluminum Co. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London" on Justia Law

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In a maritime insurance dispute between Great Lakes Insurance, a German company, and Raiders Retreat Realty, a Pennsylvania company, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that choice-of-law provisions in maritime contracts are presumptively enforceable under federal maritime law, with certain narrow exceptions not applicable in this case.The dispute originated when Raiders Retreat Realty's boat ran aground, and Great Lakes Insurance denied coverage, alleging that Raiders breached the insurance contract by failing to maintain the boat’s fire-suppression system. The insurance contract contained a choice-of-law provision that selected New York law to govern future disputes. Raiders argued that Pennsylvania law, not New York law, should apply. The District Court ruled in favor of Great Lakes, finding that the choice-of-law provision was presumptively valid and enforceable under federal maritime law. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals vacated this decision, holding that choice-of-law provisions must yield to the strong public policy of the state where the suit is brought.The Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit's decision, emphasizing the importance of uniformity and predictability in maritime law. The Court concluded that choice-of-law provisions allow maritime actors to avoid later disputes and the ensuing litigation and costs, thus promoting maritime commerce. Therefore, such provisions are presumptively enforceable under federal maritime law. The Court further clarified that exceptions to this rule exist but are narrow, and none of them applied in this case. View "Great Lakes Insurance SE v. Raiders Retreat Realty Co." on Justia Law

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In this case heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the plaintiff's wife died during a scuba and snorkeling tour from Lahaina Harbor to Molokini Crater, an atoll off the coast of Maui, Hawaii. Before the tour, the plaintiff and his wife each signed a waiver document releasing their rights to sue the defendants. The plaintiff's claims were based on gross negligence and simple negligence. The defendants argued that the waiver and release were an affirmative defense to the claims based on simple negligence. However, the district court struck the defense, stating that the liability waivers were void under 46 U.S.C. § 30527(a), which prohibits certain liability waivers for vessels transporting passengers between ports in the United States or between a port in the United States and a port in a foreign country.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order and held that the term "between ports in the United States" in 46 U.S.C. § 30527(a) refers to transportation between at least two separate ports in the United States. Therefore, the statute does not apply to vessels that transport passengers away from and back to a single port without stopping at any other port. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "EHART V. LAHAINA DIVERS, INC." on Justia Law

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In this case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the central issue was whether a contract for the inspection and repair of lifeboats on an oil platform, located on the Outer Continental Shelf, could be considered a maritime contract. The relevance of this classification was that it would determine whether indemnity might be owed by one corporate defendant, Palfinger Marine USA, Inc., to another, Shell Oil Company, for payments to third parties. The lower district court had ruled that the contract was not maritime. However, the Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the contract was indeed a maritime one. The case was related to a tragic accident in 2019 when a lifeboat detached from an oil platform, resulting in the deaths of two workers and injury to another. The platform was owned and operated by Shell Oil Company and its affiliates. The lifeboats were serviced by Palfinger Marine USA, Inc. under a contract which included indemnity provisions. After the accident, lawsuits were filed against both companies by the injured worker and the families of the deceased workers. These claims were settled separately, but Palfinger's claim for indemnity from Shell under the contract was preserved for appeal. The decision of the district court to classify the contract as non-maritime was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that the contract was maritime, as it was related to the repair and maintenance of lifeboats facilitating offshore drilling and production of oil and gas, which constituted maritime commerce. The lifeboats were found to play a substantial role in the contract, making it a traditionally maritime contract. View "Palfinger Marine U S A v. Shell Oil" 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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This dispute concerned whether an international trader of bunker fuel was entitled to a maritime lien on a vessel under the Commercial Instrument and Maritime Lien Act (CIMLA). The M/V LILA SHANGHAI (the Vessel) was a gross tonnage bulk carrier owned by Autumn Harvest Maritime Co. Autumn Harvest time-chartered the Vessel to Bostomar Bulk Shipping Pte Ltd. (Bostomar). The contract foreclosed charterers from unilaterally placing liens on the Vessel; in the event of "any dispute" between Autumn Harvest and Bostomar about the Vessel and their respective obligations, the parties would refer the matter to arbitration. Bostomar sub-chartered the Vessel to Medmar Inc. (Medmar). While sailing to India, the Vessel needed bunkers to complete its journey. Costas Mylonakis, an employee of Windrose Marine, contacted Appellant Sing Fuels Pte. Ltd. (Sing Fuels) to order the Vessel’s bunkers. Sing Fuels transmitted its bunker contract only to Mylonakis’s e-mail address affiliated with Windrose Marine. Mylonakis never returned any memorialized document from Medmar. Sing Fuels exclusively communicated with Mylonakis for this transaction, considered Mylonakis to be Medmar’s fuel broker, and never spoke directly with Medmar. Mylonakis also never communicated with Medmar, he conferred instead with a mysterious entity called M.A.C. Shipping. Medmar returned the Vessel to Bostomar in August 2019, with Sing Fuels still awaiting payment for July bunkers. By October 2019, payment for the July bunkers was still outstanding, so Sing Fuels sent Autumn Harvest a notice of nonpayment; Autumn Harvest refused to pay. In the wake of collapsed negotiations, Sing Fuels paid the physical supplier of the July bunkers. Without knowing where to turn after Medmar’s payment default on the bunkers, and its discussions with Autumn Harvest exhausted, Sing Fuels waited until the Vessel docked in the United States and then availed itself of US courts to recoup payment. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the bunker trader failed to show that it procured the vessel’s fuel “on the order of the owner or a person authorized by the owner,” under CIMLA, therefore, it affirmed the district court’s judgment denying the maritime lien. View "Sing Fuels Pte Ltd. v. M/V LILA SHANGHAI" on Justia Law