Ahoy there!

October 4, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t hear many cases. Thousands are submitted to the Court, but they only pick a few [called “granting

certiorari”] to be heard. The Court only picks cases that it feels haveissues important enough for their review.

About 25% of the Courts docket involves commercial cases between corporations or between the Federal Government and corporations.

These disputes tend to be so convoluted that it’s difficult to even understand what the issues are. But then along comes a case like the one to be decided this term called City of Riviera Beach v. That certain Unnamed Gray, Two-Story Vessel Approximately Fifty-Seven Feet in Length, Her Engines Tackle, Apparel, Furniture, and all Other Necessaries Appertaining and Belonging in Rem. And the Court decides to hear it.

No kidding, that’s really the name of the case. It’s a lawsuit by a Florida city called Riviera Beach against a plywood boat. That’s the “vessel.” It’s also the issue……just what is a “vessel”? The nine Justices are going to concentrate all of the intellectual firepower of the Court on that question and tell us.

Here’s what happened. A guy named Lozman built a houseboat. It doesn’t have an engine and you can’t steer it. It’s made only to float next to a dock as a place for him to live. He put it into a marina run by the City of Riviera Beach. That’s when he got into a legal fight with the City which tried to evict him from the marina. He won the eviction fight

and that’s when the City decided to use federal maritime law to try and get rid of him. They claimed amongst other things, that the “vessel” constituted a menace under the law of the sea, condemned it, towed it away and had it destroyed.


Lozman argued that it wasn’t a “vessel,” it was a “shack” and not subject to maritime law. The City said a vessel is “any structure that is practically capable of moving people or things over water.” The U.S 11th Circuit Court agreed with them. Lozman appealed.

So now the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments that will determine when a floating “shack” becomes a “vessel.”  It’s important because if it is a vessel than all of the special labor laws that apply to seamen may apply to any floating restaurant or casino. It also makes them subject to maritime law and the special Maritime Courts that hear cases involving ships. That brought The American Gaming Association and the National Maritime Bankers Association, which finances ships, into the case. All this over a shack/vessel or whatever it is about which Lozman says “everything in it came from Home Depot.”

That’s how an eviction case over a plywood houseboat wound up in the US Supreme Court.

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