Coast Guard Policy Letter Admissible to Interpret Statute

According to 46 U.S.C. § 8104(h), a licensed mariner may not work more than 12 hours in a consecutive 24-hour period.  This is commonly known as the “12-hour Rule,” and it is designed to prevent excessive fatigue in workers that could result in accidents or injuries.

The “12-hour Rule” was addressed in the Eastern District of Louisiana in a case where the Plaintiff’s left foot was amputated when he was securing a barge to Defendant’s tug.  Plaintiff alleged that the barge captain’s work schedule violated the 12-hour Rule, that the captain was fatigued, and that this fatigue caused Plaintiff’s injury.

Defendant argued that the 24-hour period during which an employee may not work more than 12 hours begins and ends on a single calendar date.  Plaintiff relied on a U.S. Coast Guard Policy Letter in its interpretation of the statute that no more than 12 hours may be worked in any 24-hour period.  The question, therefore, was whether the 24-hour period begins at 12:00 AM on the date of the injury, or 24 hours prior to the time of the injury.  Defendant filed a Motion in Limine to exclude this Policy Letter, arguing that Plaintiff ignored the actual text of the statute and relied on a selective reading of the Coast Guard Policy Letter.  Further, Defendant contended that because a statute takes precedence over a policy letter, the letter should not be admitted into evidence.  Plaintiff argued that the statute must be read in conjunction with the Policy Letter at issue, which provides guidance to summarize and clarify work-hour limitations.

The Court found that  the interpretation of the statute as set forth in the Policy Letter, and as argued by Plaintiff, was the correct interpretation.  As such, the Court denied Defendant’s Motion in Limine and admitted the Coast Guard Policy Letter into evidence.

Mercer v. Chem Carriers LLC, 2011 WL 1872580 (May 17, 2011).