On June 6, 2022, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit handed down its decision in Jarvis v. Hines Furlong Line, Inc. The Court reviewed a district court’s grant of summary judgment on the plaintiff’s Jones Act and general maritime law claims. In the district court, Hines argued that Jarvis was not a Jones Act seaman, was not entitled to maintenance and cure, and did not have a claim for unseaworthiness under general maritime law. Hines argued that Jarvis was working on an inland tugboat that was undergoing significant repairs at a shipyard and that the vessel did not constitute a “vessel in navigation.”
Jarvis v. Hines Furlong Line, Inc. – Background
The vessel was at a shipyard in Paducah, Kentucky for complete refurbishment for a period of almost two years. Jarvis, who had previously served as a deckhand on tugboats, was sent to perform work on the vessel while it was in the shipyard, including demolition work, painting, helping with plumbing, pulling wires, and chipping paint. The Court described the repairs as extensive enough that the vessel was not capable of floating in the water when it was on drydock, where it was for the most part during the repair process. The district court granted summary judgment, finding that Jarvis was not a seaman under the Jones Act, and Jarvis appealed.
Appeal to the Sixth Circuit
On appeal, the Sixth Circuit noted that the case rested on whether the vessel met the requirement of being a “vessel in navigation.” Whether a vessel is in navigation is a fact-intensive inquiry that is normally resolved by a jury, not the Court. However, when the law and facts reasonably support only one conclusion, summary judgment can be appropriate. The Court stated that if a vessel is under repair, the extent of the repairs bears on whether it is capable of being used for transportation. Generally, if the vessel is at anchor, berthed, or dockside and is undergoing repairs and not voyaging, it does not stop being a vessel in navigation. However, at some point, repairs could become so significant that the vessel can no longer be considered “in navigation.”
Courts focus on the status of the ship, the pattern of the repairs, and the extensive nature of the work contracted to be done to determine how significant the repairs are. The Court looked to decisions from the Ninth Circuit and the Fifth Circuit Courts of Appeal. The Ninth Circuit has held that where a shipowner spent 17 months and over $14 million converting an oil ship to a seafood processing ship, and renovations included stripping everything above the main deck, enclosing a large hole through the hull and decks, pouring a concrete floor and installing elevators, the vessel was not in navigation because it was undergoing a major conversion process.
The Fifth Circuit has held that a vessel was not in navigation where the repairs on a ship took nearly three years and exceeded $25 million. The Fifth Circuit considered several factors, including the fact that the ship’s captain and crew were not aboard the vessel, the work performed on the vessel included major structural changes, and, at certain points, the engine and propellers were inoperable.
The Sixth Circuit found that the vessel at issue was analogous to the vessels analyzed by the Ninth and Fifth Circuits. There was extensive hull work such that a lot of the hull had to be replaced, the old interior was removed and replaced with a new interior, fuel tanks were cleaned and emptied, and water pumps were replaced. The Court noted that workers who were sent to the vessels did things like demolition, painting, plumbing, pulling wires, and chipping paint.
The Court concluded that the length of time it took to make the repairs, the fact that the crew was not aboard the vessel, and the extensive nature of the work all taken together lead to the conclusion that it was not a vessel in navigation. The Court affirmed the finding of the district court, and upheld the dismissal of plaintiff’s Jones Act and general maritime claims.
Jarvis v. Hines Furlong Line, Inc., 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 15609 (6th Cir. June 6, 2022)