Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) issued a summary disposition in Lemelle v. St. Charles Gaming Co., Inc. Briefly, in Lemelle, an intoxicated patron fell down the stairs of the M/V CROWN CASINO, a riverboat casino. The plaintiff filed suit seeking damages under general maritime law, which he argued preempted a Louisiana statute limiting liability for loss connected with the service of alcoholic beverages. The dispute became one of vessel status. The Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Third Circuit, determined that the casino riverboat was not a vessel.
Interestingly, Louisiana’s Third Circuit cited to a prior federal Fifth Circuit opinion that discussed how the casino was only “theoretically” capable of maritime transport. De La Rosa v. St. Charles Gaming Co., 474 F.3d 185, 187 (5th Cir. 2003). But Louisiana’s Third Circuit did not stop there. It also determined that the CROWN was “practically” incapable of transportation.
SCOTUS has now reversed. It granted certiorari and vacated the Louisiana Third Circuit’s judgment. Most importantly, it remanded the case for consideration in light of the Court’s recent decision in Lozman v. Riviera Beach. More likely than not, the Court wants Louisiana’s Third Circuit to apply the “reasonable observer” test to the CROWN. Depending on the Third Circuit’s opinion, we could be in for a change in the vessel status of casino boats.