Louisiana Third Circuit Follows Suit, Holds Casino Boat Not a Vessel

An intoxicated patron fell down the stairs of the M/V CROWN CASINO, a riverboat casino owned by St. Charles Gaming Company, Inc.  the plaintiff filed suit seeking damages under general maritime law which, he argued, pre-empted a Louisiana statute limiting liability for loss connected with the service of alcoholic beverages.  La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 9:2800.1 (2012).  The parties then filed cross motions as to whether the casino boat had vessel status.

The Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Third Circuit, determined that the M/V CROWN CASINO was not a vessel for maritime purposes.  A “vessel” is “every description of watercraft or artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.”  1 U.S.C. § 3.  The Supreme Court, in Stewart v. Dutra Constr. Co., 125 S.Ct. 1118, 1127 (2005), determined that “a watercraft is not ‘capable of being used’ for maritime transport in any meaningful sense if it has been permanently moored or otherwise rendered practically incapable of transportation or movement.'”

The Third Circuit has not been the only court that found the CROWN was not a vessel.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit determined that the casino was only “theoretically” capable of maritime transport because it is:

indefinitely moored to the land by lines tied to steel pilings.  It receives water, telephone lines, sewer lines, cable television and data processing lines from land-based sources.  It has not been used as a seagoing vessel since March 28, 2001, when it was moored at its present location on Lake Charles, and the Defendants do not intend to use it as such.  Rather, their intent is to use it solely as an indefinitely moored floating casino.  Its operations are entirely gaming-related and not maritime in nature.

De La Rosa v. St. Charles Gaming Co., 474 F.3d 185, 187 (5th Cir. 2006).  The instant case fleshed out even more facts demonstrating that the CROWN was “practically” incapable of transportation:

The Crown has been affixed in its dockside location, to some degree, since 2001 by lines and cables.  It has not sailed since the 2001 legislation prohibiting it from conducting cruises or excursions.  In fact, since 2001, its crew size has been reduced due to the lack of need to tie and untie the Crown onto the dock.  According to testimony of the Crown’s captain, the Coast Guard no longer inspects the Crown.  Rather, at the time of the captain’s deposition, inspections were performed by a state entity.

Although Chief Judge Thibodeaux wrote a vigorous dissent (which is very much worth reading) noting the federal circuit split between the Fifth and Eleventh Circuit’s use of an owner’s intent of use to determine whether a craft has vessel status, the majority concluded that the CROWN was not a vessel.

Lemelle v. St. Charles Gaming Company, Inc., 11-255 (La. App. 3 Cir. 1/4/12); — So. 3d —-, 2012 WL 130351