Monday, November 30, 2009

Ackerson v. Bean Dredging LLC

Nov 25: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, Case No. 07-30272. In this multi-party case known as the Katrina Canal Breaches Litigation, appellants sued the United States and thirty-two defendants who dredged the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet to recover damages sustained during Hurricane Katrina. The district court dismissed the claims against the dredgers because it determined that the defendants acted pursuant to contracts with the United States government under authority granted by an act of Congress. The appellants argue that the district court improperly: (1) dismissed their claims; (2) refused to allow them to amend their complaint; (3) refused to allow them to conduct discovery; and (4) entered judgment in favor of those defendants whose actions had been stayed after they filed petitions under the Limitation of Liability Act.The Appeals Court affirmed the district court decision.

While admitting that the district court did commit a procedural error, the Appeals Court ruled, "A district court’s failure to comply with formal procedural requirements is a ground for reversing a judgment when “the failure substantially prejudiced one of the parties.” Here, the limitation actions and the merits actions were before the same district court. Because the district court could cure the procedural defect merely by entering a stay in the limitation actions and then entering judgment for the Limitation Defendants in the merits action, the Plaintiffs would be in the same position if the district court followed the proper procedure. The Plaintiffs have not identified any substantial prejudice arising out of the district court’s procedural error. Thus, we affirm the entry of judgment in favor of the Limitation Defendants.

"Because we hold that the Contractor Defendants are entitled to government-contractor immunity under Yearsley and that the Plaintiffs’ other claims are without merit or are harmless error, we affirm the district court’s dismissal and deny the motion to dismiss the appeal as moot."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).

No comments: