John K. Fulweiler
John K. Fulweiler is a licensed mariner and experienced admiralty attorney. He represents individuals and companies throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and has recently taken command of his own maritime law firm. He enjoys navigating the choppy waters of the maritime law, but readily admits to missing life on the water. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vessel lifts and state law
February 12, 2013
We all have
those crystalline memories of certain life episodes. Maybe it’s wrapping a tow
wire or a midnight grounding.
I remember when
I dropped the bow of a yacht off a lift at a boatyard. It was an unpleasant
moment, but thankfully there were no real consequences since we were still over
the water when it happened. I recently thought of that moment when reading a
brand new decision from a California federal court.
The court was
wrestling with the fairness of a partial settlement reached in a case involving
a yacht that was damaged during a lift. Against a background of which defendant
is responsible to the other, the settling defendants asked the court for a
determination that its settlement was made in good faith under California law. The
parties opposing the motion clambered that general maritime law should apply,
not state law.
moment is the court’s elegant pause to explain that in the Ninth Circuit Court
of Appeals, state law may supplement federal admiralty law on local matters.
This can occur as long as state law is not in conflict and the application of
state law does not interfere with the uniform working of the general maritime
Like that too
small of a hex wrench you have to angle to make catch, the court's statement on
admiralty preemption gives you a sort of general flavor of how most courts
treat the issue.
Okay, so how
did the court resolve the matter? It determined that the entire lawsuit was
subject to diversity jurisdiction (as opposed to federal admiralty
jurisdiction), it applied California law and found the settlement was in good
state law can supplement the general maritime law and, in the words of admiralty
attorney Biggie Smalls, “If you don’t know, now you know.”