South Port Marine LLC v Gulf Oil Limited Partnership, Boston Towing case brief summary
US court of appeals for this first circuit
- Rule → General admiralty and maritime law has traditionally provided for the general availability of punitive damages for reckless conduct, but punitive damages are not available under the Oil Pollution Act.
- The Plaintiff blew it in failing to properly raising claims under the Main State law. Therefore he was only permitted to pursue its OPA claims. So the only issue was damages and an issue about a jury trial.
- This decision doesn’t tell us whether you can or cannot have punitive damages under state law, because the plaintiff failed to claim under it.
- Appellant: South Port Marine is a family-owned marina located on a cove in Portland Harbor, Maine.
- The marine is mainly for recreational vessels.
- In the winter of 96 South Port’s owners planned to dredge the marina and parts of the surrounding cove to allow access by larger boats.
- Appellee: Gulf Oil is a Massachusetts based petroleum company.
- It operates a distribution facility on Portland Harbor where petroleum products are pumped into barges for transportation to other ports.
- Appellee: Boston Towing and Trasnportation operates tug boats and tank barges for the purpose of oil transportation.
- Gulf Oil was pumping gasoline into a barge owned and operated by Boston Towing at the time of the incident.
- A Boston Towing crew member left a barge that was been filled with gasoline unattended which made the gasoline overflowed and flowing into Portland Harbor.
- Between 23,000 and 30,000 gallons were spilled into the water.
- The foam of the docks began to disintegrate causing the docks to sink and some electrical posts fell off the docks into the water.
- South Port argument: It alleged damages falling into: extensive property damage, lost profits and “other economic losses” including loss of goodwill and business stress. The amount of $1 mill.
- South Port filed a complaint under the OPA and demanded trial by jury.
- The court also decided that punitive damages were unavailable under the OPA.
- The jury returned a veridict in favor of South Port for $181,964 for damages for injury to property, $110,000 for lost profits and $300,000 for injury to good will and business stress.
- South Port appealed challenging the refusal of the court to give punitive damages and the sufficiency of the evidence. Appellees have cross-appealed the decision of granting trial by jury.
Trial by jury Issue
- Issue: whether South Port’s OPA claim is analogous to a cause of action in admiralty in 1791, to which no right to trial by jury would apply or to a cause of action at law which carries the Seventh Amendment guarantee.
- In 1791 South Port would have brought its claim for damages to its marina under the common law rather than in admiralty. Thus it is proper to use a jury trial.
- Although the thrust of the amendment was to preserve the right to jury trial as it existed in 1791, the seventh amendment also applies to actions brought to enforce statutory rights that are analogous to common-law causes of action rodianrilyt dcided in English law courts in the late 18th century, as opposed to those customarily heard by the courts of equity or admiralty.
- Locality test / whether it’s of admiralty jurisdiction:
- Whether the tort occurred wholly on navigable waters. And if objects served a navigational function.
- In this case the docks were moored to a fix location and served no navigational function. Thus are “extensions of the land”, consequently a tort that causes damage to them doesn’t occur “wholly on the navigable waters” and would have constituted an action at law, rather than in admiralty, in the late 18th century.
- Therefore, South Port’s OPA claim is analogous to a claim under the common law at the time of the Seventh Amendment’s ratification in 1791 and that South Port was entitled to trial by jury.
- The claims would not be of admiralty and therefore would have a right to jury trial because in 1971 the dock was an extension of land, therefore it was not in admiralty jurisdiction.
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