RESPONDENT: City of Riviera Beach, Florida
LOCATION: Riviera Beach Marina
DOCKET NO.: 11-626
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
CITATION: 568 US (2013)
GRANTED: Feb 21, 2012
ARGUED: Oct 01, 2012
DECIDED: Jan 15, 2013
Curtis E. Gannon - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioners
David C. Frederick - for the respondent
Jeffrey L. Fisher - for the petitioner
Facts of the case
In 2002, Fane Lozman purchased a floating residential structure. The structure was rectangular and made of plywood. It contained no bilge pumps, no raked bow, no navigation aids, no lifeboats, no propulsion mechanism, no steering, and cleats, which were inappropriate for towing.
Lozman kept his floating home in a marina in the City of Riviera Beach. Lozman signed a lease with the city, moored the floating home to the dock, and affixed the home to land based utilities. Later, the city council passed a revised dockage agreement and accompanying Marina Rules. Pursuant to these rules, the city informed Lozman it would revoke his permission to remain on the Marina unless he executed a new agreement and complied with the new regulations. Lozman did not execute a new agreement and continued to remain at the marina.
In response, the city filed an in rem suit in federal court for trespass under federal maritime law. The city filed for partial summary judgment on its trespass claim. Lozman argued that his floating home was not a "vessel" under 1 U.S.C. § 3, and therefore not subject to maritime law. The district court granted the city's motion and held that Lozman's floating home was a "vessel" for purposes admiralty jurisdiction. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit agreed with the lower court, and Lozman appealed the appellate court's determination that his floating home was a "vessel" under 1 U.S.C. § 3.
Is a floating structure a "vessel" under 1 U.S.C. § 3, thus triggering federal maritime jurisdiction, if that structure is indefinitely moored, receives power and other utilities from shore, and is not intended to be used in maritime transportation or commerce?
Media for Lozman v. Riviera BeachAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 01, 2012 in Lozman v. Riviera Beach
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 15, 2013 in Lozman v. Riviera Beach
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
Justice Breyer has our opinion this morning in case 11-626, Lozman versus the City of Riviera Beach in Florida.
Stephen G. Breyer:
Fane Lozman who is the petitioner here owned a floating home.
It consisted of a house-like plywood structure with French doors on three sides.
It contained a sitting room, bedroom, closet, bathroom, and kitchen along with a stairway leading to a second-level office space.
An empty build space underneath the main floor kept it afloat.
The home could not propel itself across the water, but it could be towed.
And it was towed a few times over several years from one marina to another, eventually ending up docked at a marina owned by the respondent, The City or Riviera Beach, Florida.
After several, rather heated disputes, the city brought this lawsuit against Lozman in Federal Court for dockage fees and trespass.
It invoked the Court's Admiralty Jurisdiction and the presence of Admiralty Jurisdiction, the lower court say, “Depends upon whether Lozman's floating home is a vessel,” as that term is defined in Title I of the United States Code, Section III.
The lower court said that it was a vessel.
And with the hope of resolving certain differences among the lower courts about to how to determine what is and what is not a vessel, we agreed to hear this case.
Now, the statute defines “vessel” as including, “Every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.”
To go to the bottom line, we conclude that Lozman's floating home falls outside this definition.
It is not a vessel.
In explaining why that is so, we have attached two pictures to today's opinion comparing Lozman's home with a wharf boat of a kind that this Court, many years ago, also held was not a vessel.
And even though a picture is worth a thousand words, we have written a few words of explanation as well.
We explained that the Court should not interpret the statutory phrase as if it covered virtually every artificial contrivance that floats.
They must avoid reading the statute, and we say some have not avoided reading the statute, as if it covered, for example, a wooden washtub, a swimming platform on pontoons, a door taken off its hinges, or Pinocchio inside the whale.
We believe the courts must interpret the statute in a practical way in light of its focus upon transportation, which is more than mere movement.
We state that often, as here, the proper test will be whether a reasonable observer, looking to a structure's physical characteristics and activities, would consider it to be designed to a practical degree for carrying people or things on water.
And applying this test, we hold that Lozman's home falls outside the statute's language capable of being used for transportation on water.
Lozman's home was structured like a normal home, not like a boat designed to carry people or things from place to place.
It was not capable of self-propulsion.
It had been towed significant distances only twice in seven years.
It was cumbersome to move it over the water.
On at least one occasion, a second boat followed along to prevent Lozman's home from swinging dangerously from side to side while being towed.
And then, there is the picture.
I need say no more.
We reverse the contrary determination of the Eleventh Circuit.
Justice Sotomayor has filed a dissenting opinion in which she is joined by Justice Kennedy.