Justice Alito's Maritime Law Jurisprudence

Justice Samuel Alito will be a Jurist-in-Residence at the University of Hawaii Law School this month. This is a longstanding program that brings Supreme Court justices, along with other senior federal judges, to the school for a week of lectures, symposia and other exchanges. I have been fortunate to have met or heard Justice Ginsburg, Justice Kennedy, Justice Scalia and most recently Justice Breyer through these programs. So, to kick off the visit to my alma mater, here are some of the maritime law opinions authored by Justice Alito while on the Supreme Court. A brief synopsis is included. Stay tuned to inversecondemnation.com, insurancelawhawaii.com and recordonappeal.com for similar posts. I'll post his opinions from the Court of Appeals separately. Supreme Court Opinions Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int'l Corp., 130 S. Ct. 1758 (2009), (here): This is really a case about arbitration and class actions but it did arise from a maritime contract. Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion. The lawsuit originated from anti-trust, price-fixing litigation emanating from bulk transport of various cargo. The charter agreement required bilateral arbitration. The charter agreement was silent as to arbitration for a class action. The arbitrators implied that the agreement did call for class-wide arbitration. In so doing, the court found, it exceeded its authority thereby requiring vacatur of the award. This case turned on the justices theory on contracts. Arbitration agreements are consensual, contract-based and absent a contract agreement to arbitrate, Justice Alito found such requirement TO arbitrate to be unsupportable. Atl. Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 129 S. Ct. 2561 (2009), (here): This case demonstrates the purest example of Justice Alito's judicial philosophy on general maritime law. My post on this case is here. At issue was whether the common law seaman's claim for maintenance and cure carried with it a punitive damage remedy. The majority held that it did. Justice Alito wrote a dissent which chided the court for not looking to statutory remedies in admiralty for support of its common law conclusions. Noting that the Jones Act provided no punitive damage remedy, Alito would not have found such remedy in common law. Polar Tankers, Inc. v. City of Valdez, 129 S. Ct. 2277 (2009), (here): One of my favorites from 2009. This was a case that involved a little litigated Constitutional clause, the prohibition on State assessment of duties on tonnage. My post with the briefs, opinion below, etc. is here. Justice Alito wrote a very short concurring opinion that took issue with one section of the majority opinion. The paragraph shows his opinion that the Tonnage Clause bans all attempts to levy personal property taxes on vessels. Side note: Polar Tankers oral argument revealed Justice Breyer's diss on admiralty.

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