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Crossing the Bar: Justice Scalia and the Maritime Law

Justice Scalia. Not sure I'm a fan of his reading the Constitution in an original textual context. Scalia's approach seems to encourage the devoted to give Deuteronomy a literal read! Anyway, I gunkholed my way through the admiralty law decisions Scalia was involved and here's a very slim review of some of his last decisions that involved salty issues:

Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach (2013). The media gave this case big ups for its houseboat owner's claim the City had wrongfully destroyed his craft. Declining to treat the houseboat as a vessel, the Supreme Court gave us maritime legal jockeys more headaches in analyzing what is and isn't a vessel. Scalia joined the majority position.

Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. Animalfeeds International Corp. (2010). A group of shipping companies served the parcel tanker trade and appealed a decision permitting their customers to assert class action allegations in a maritime arbitration. The Supreme Court held that imposing class arbitration on parties who have not agreed to authorize class arbitration is inconsistent with the Federal Arbitration Act. Scalia joined the majority position.

Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker (2008). This ruling was a remnant from the grounding of the supertanker EXXON VALDEZ. The issue in play concerned the amount of punitive damages to be assessed against Exxon. The Supreme Court held that a 1:1 ratio for maritime punitive damages is the ceiling substantially changing (read, decreasing) Exxon's exposure. In his dissent (disagreeing with the majority's outcome) Justice Stevens lamented the Supreme Court's activism and abandonment of judicial restraint. Scalia joined the majority.

Okay, here's this maritime lawyer's anecdotal and statistically unreliable view: if you were a big corporation, you liked Scalia. If you were a criminal defendant, you liked Scalia. Me? Scalia promoted an agenda instead of showing judicial restraint.

More ably equipped legal minds may disagree, but I'm out fighting for the rights of clients. Clients don't want game changing, policy-infused outcomes. They want an appellate court to determine whether the trial court properly applied the law to the facts.

Underway and making way.

--- John K. Fulweiler, Esq.

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