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Jones Act - Federal Circuits' & State Decisions
Monday, 01 March 2010 01:26
Case Name: In re MLC Fishing, Inc.
Date Decided: February 16, 2010
Court: U.S.D.C. E.D. New York
Judge: Judge Johnson
Citation: 2010 WL 582570 (E.D.N.Y.)

Background:
Before this Court is an action pursuant to the Limitation of Liability Act. Defendant, Julio Angel Velez, filed a motion to dismiss MLC's Limitation claim arguing that the accident did not invoke the court's admiralty jurisdiction because the accident did not occur aboard MLC's vessel.

In order to board the vessel from the marina, Velez had to descend a metal ramp which is not attached permanently to the land or the vessel. The ramp leads to a floating dock, which must be traversed to access the steps to the vessel.

Velez was to embark on a fishing expedition on the date of his injury. Unfortunately, Velez fell due to an alleged "slippery" premises and ramp.

MLC Fishing filed a Limitation of Liability action and Velez filed this motion to dismiss.

Issue:
Did this Court dismiss MLC's Limitation of Liability action because Velez did not injure himself while aboard MLC's vessel therefore, removing admiralty jurisdiction?

Held:
This Court recognized that if the ramp, where Velez fell, is part of the vessel, F/V Capt Mike, then there is a connection with maritime activity thus placing this action within the court's admiralty jurisdiction.

The determinative question is whether the ramp is considered part of the Capt Mike. In Dobrovich v. Hotchkiss (14 F.Supp.2d 232 (D.Conn.1998), the Connecticut court faced the question whether a ramp leading to floating docks, which must crossed to reach the location where the ship is moored should be considered an extension of the land.

The Court in Dobrovich found that the ramp was not a gangway. MLC argued Dobrovich is distinguishable because the ramp in that case was permanently affixed to the land while the ramp which Velez slipped on was not.

None of the cases MLC relied upon considered a ramp the equivalent to a gangway for the purpose of admiralty jurisdiction or the Limitation of Liability Act.

The Courts have generally not defined specifically what a gangway is. However, the Courts have inquired into whether the vessel owner owed the plaintiff a duty of care with respect to the gangway that was not owned nor controlled by the vessel owner.

This Court did not extend admiralty jurisdiction by defining a gangway as including a ramp separated from the vessel by floating docks.

Accordingly, this Court dismissed MLC's action for Limitation of Liability holding no admiralty jurisdiction existed on a gangway leading from the land to floating docks.

Comment:
In order for a Limitation of Liability action to proceed the court must have admiralty jurisdiction over the underlying action.

The Courts have consistently held that a gangway, leading from the land to floating docks, was not considered part of a vessel. Typically, when a gangway connects a vessel to the land, the inquiry shifts to whether the vessel owner or charterer has a duty to maintain the gangway. If so, then the action will likely fall within the court's admiralty jurisdiction.

This action however, dealt with a gangway connecting land to floating docks, not to the vessel itself.

Steve Gordon  

 

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