U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Two Important Maritime Cases Next Term

One of the panelists at the recently concluded seminar of the Greater New Orleans Barge Fleeting Association spoke on one of the two cases involving maritime law that the Supreme Court recently announced it would take up in its next judicial session. The other case was announced shortly after GNOBFA concluded. While both are significant for maritime law, one could also affect the operations of every federal agency.

James Mercante—a partner at Rubin Fiorella Friedman & Mercante LLP and president of the Board of Commissioners of Pilots in the State of New York—spoke about the first case, announced April 20. Titled Great Lakes Insurance SE v. Raiders Retreat Realty Co. LLC, the case will address the issue of whether, under federal admiralty law, a choice-of-law clause in a maritime contract can be rendered unenforceable if enforcement is contrary to the “strong public policy” of the state whose law is displaced. This question is of obvious concern for maritime attorneys, since cases often turn on which venue they can be argued in—federal or state court.

Mercante said he would be “sitting in the front row” when the case is argued before the Supreme Court. He joked that the Supreme Court “loves admiralty cases” because it gives the justices a break from “more contentious issues.”

The other case, announced May 1, is Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, also known as National Fisheries. The case involves the Magnuson-Stevens Act (1976) that allowed the National Marine Fisheries Service to require fishing vessels to carry federal observers on board to enforce the agency’s fishing regulations. The purpose is to ensure that fisheries aren’t being overfished. The law lays out three conditions under which the government can share expenses by requiring the fishing companies to pay the daily salaries of federal monitors.

A fishery conservation program set up by former President Donald Trump in 2020 that is being defended by President Joe Biden’s administration extended that mandate. The cost of paying for the monitoring services was an estimated $710 per day for 19 days a year, which could reduce a vessel’s income by up to 20 percent. (The monitoring program is suspended for this year’s fishing season starting in April because of insufficient funding, according to the Biden administration.)

Lead plaintiff Loper Bright Enterprises sued in 2020 (later joined by three others), arguing that the payment requirement exceeded the agency’s statutory authority. The plaintiffs are not challenging the monitoring itself.

Court watchers are paying close attention because it brings into reconsideration a legal doctrine called Chevron deference. In 1984, in a case called Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, the Supreme Court directed judges to defer to a U.S. agency’s own interpretation of its laws and regulations that may be ambiguous. If the court decides to limit Chevron deference, it would mean a shifting of regulatory power from federal agencies to the courts.

Both cases will be considered in the next term. A Supreme Court term begins by statute on the first Monday in October and ends in June or July.