Moore v. MV "Angela"

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Moore v. MV Angela
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit: No. 02-30441: 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 24736;: 9 December 2003: Circuit Judges: Duhe, Garza and DeMoss with Garza concurring in part and dissenting in part
maritime: longshoreman: in rem jurisdiction: non-pecuniary damages: security: letter of undertaking
Fifth Circuit affirms vessel’s liability in rem under Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act but finds award of non-pecuniary damages excessive and that district court exceeded its authority by granting plaintiff post-judgment increase in security posted in lieu of the vessel.

DMC Category Rating: Developed

Case Note Submitted by Isabel I. Baumgarten, an attorney with Healy & Baillie, LLP, New York. Healy & Baillie are the International Contributors to the website for the United States of America

A surviving spouse of a longshoreman sued the mv. Angela in rem under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), 33 U.S.C. § 905(b), for the wrongful death of her husband, a stevedore who was struck by falling cargo while working aboard the M/V Angela. Plaintiff arrested the vessel, and the court agreed to release the vessel upon a posting of a Letter of Undertaking in the amount of US$500,000.

Under the US Supreme Court’s decision in Scindia Steam Navigation Co. v. De Los Santos, 451 U.S. 156, 101 S.Ct. 1614, 68 L.Ed. 2d 1 (1981), shipowners owe three duties to longshoremen: (1) the "turnover duty," relating to the condition of the ship upon the commencement of stevedoring operations; (2) the duty to prevent injuries to longshoremen in areas remaining under the "active control" of the vessel; and (3) the "duty to intervene" when it becomes aware of an unsafe condition. The district court found the vessel liable in rem on the grounds that the shipowner’s violations of the three Scindia duties were the proximate cause of the longshoreman’s death but found the longshoreman five percent at fault. The court determined that plaintiff’s total damages were US$907,469.11, including US$750,000 in non-pecuniary damages for loss of consortium. The court entered a judgment for US$862,095.66 (i.e., less 5%) and granted Plaintiff a post-trial increase in security sufficient to cover the judgment.

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the finding of liability and agreed with the lower court that a loss of consortium award was permissible for injured longshoremen under § 905(b) of the LHWCA, but it concluded that the non-pecuniary damages award was excessive in comparison with other factually similar cases. Accordingly, the court reduced this element of the award from US$750,000 to US$399,000.

Finally, the court considered whether the district court had authority to grant a post-judgment increase in security. Relying on U.S. Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit precedent, the Appellate Court found that the district court exceeded its authority by awarding damages in excess of the security posted to release the arrested vessel. The Appellate Court reasoned that the district court’s in rem jurisdiction was based on the US$500,000 letter of undertaking posted to release the arrest of the mv. Angela. The Appellate Court found "no legal support for a post-judgment increase in security." While acknowledging the district court’s right to order "further security," pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2464(b) and Supp. R. E(5)(b), the court interpreted the phrase to mean "substitute or replacement security (for example, when a surety has become insolvent) rather than additional security, except where the vessel was released by fraud, misrepresentation, or mistake of the court." Since none of the exceptions was applicable, the court held there was "no authority for the court to have required additional security" and ordered modification of the award "limited to the US$500,000 sum in the original letter of undertaking."

The Fifth Circuit’s holding sheds light on the authority of a district court’s ability to order "further security," pursuant to the Supplemental Admiralty Rules, as part of its exercise of in rem jurisdiction.


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