Supreme Court Considers Definition of “Vessel” Under Federal Maritime Law

The U.S. Supreme Court began its 2012 term hearing a case that could clarify whether floating structures qualify as vessels under federal maritime law. The determination of this issue could have a serious impact on floating homes and floating businesses.

In Lozman v. Riviera Beach, Fane Lozman, a Florida man living in a floating home off of Riviera Beach, and the city of Riviera Beach disputed whether Lozman’s home was a vessel or house for eminent domain purposes. After Lozman refused to register his floating home with the city, the city used federal maritime law to put a lien on the boat as a vessel.

The question before the Supreme Court is whether Riviera Beach properly classified Lozman’s floating home as a vessel under federal maritime law. Lozman argues that because his home depends on the land to function properly, it is not a vessel. The city argues that Lozman’s home falls under the current definition of a vessel, which under federal law is anything that “floats, moves, and carries people or things on water.”

If the Supreme Court finds that this floating home constitutes a vessel, federal maritime law could extend to several floating businesses, including floating restaurants, hotels and casinos. Under such an expansion, maritime laws and regulations will affect the rights and responsibilities of floating businesses and their employees. For questions, contact Broussard & David at 888-337-2323(toll-free) or 337-337-2323 (local).