Gulf Coast Update: Applying Doiron for Assessing Maritime Contracts Outside the Oilfield Services Arena
Whether a particular contract is “maritime” is a legal question that can often arise in disputes subject to potential adjudication in the U.S. court system. There can be several reasons for this. One concerns determining whether a civil action can be heard in federal court versus state court. If a maritime contract is at issue, a case might be litigated in federal instead of state courts, and/or a plaintiff might have the ability to file an action in federal court for a pre-judgment arrest or attachment of a vessel or other property of a defendant.
While a seemingly simple question, courts and litigants have long struggled with assessing whether or not a particular contract is a maritime one. In 2004, in an effort to provide clarity and guidance on the issue, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Norfolk v. Kirby in which it held that
To ascertain whether a contract is a maritime one, we cannot look to whether a ship or other vessel was involved in the dispute, as we would in a putative maritime tort case. Nor can we simply look to the place of the contract’s formation or performance. Instead, the answer depends upon ... the nature and character of the contract, and the true criterion is whether it has reference to maritime service or maritime transactions.
This article by David G. Meyer, of counsel at Blank Rome, is one in a series of articles written for Blank Rome Maritime's quarterly Mainbrace newsletter. To view the other articles in the July 2019 edition of Mainbrace, please click here.