Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A houseboat is a house!

So says the High Court (at least in this case) in a nice win for local Fane Lozman in: Lozman v. Riviera Beach.  Prior blog coverage here.

Lozman was pro se in the district court case here in the SDFLA, but ended up being represented by a number of high powered lawyers, including Jeffrey Fischer. 

Here's SCOTUSBlog's coverage of the decision today:

Casting aside the simplistic notion that “anything that floats” is a watercraft whose use and activity is controlled by maritime law, the Supreme Court on Tuesday installed a “reasonable observer” at dockside to make the judgment about whether a floating structure qualifies, or not, as a “vessel.” The vote was seven to two, in favor of a maverick Florida owner of a houseboat who was constantly in hot water with marina owners, but now appears to have the last word: the marina probably will have to pay him, not the other way around.
The dissenters complained that the Court was introducing confusion and complexity into what should be straightforward and explicit, and thus upsetting the expectations of the entire maritime industry. The majority, in an opinion by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, insisted that its “reasonable observer” test would work in the real world of floating structures.

While this case turned on a boxy two-story floating home that Fane Lozman had lived in at various marinas in Florida, the Court treated his case (Lozman v. Riviera Beach, 11-626) as one with considerably wider impact on maritime law. What came out of it, in the end, was a reliance upon the traditional legal figure of the “reasonable man” (to be politically correct, now the “reasonable observer”) to make a common-sense assessment of the physical characteristics and activities of a floating structure, and then decide whether it was meant to be a vehicle of water transportation. Courts, of course, will be deciding what the “reasonable observer” would see, presumably on a case-by-case basis.
Under this test, not all houseboats will be exempt from maritime regulation, since many of them have motors to propel them, so a reasonable view of them is likely to be that they can be moved over water, carrying goods and people. But neither will all dockside structures used as homes, and ill-fitted for gliding over the waves, come under the new definition, because they probably will not be seen as transport vessels. It may take some time, and quite a bit of litigation, to see the difference between them, and between other floating structures.


Anonymous said...

My cat - Mrs Rufflehouse is causing trouble at home.

clean kat said...

This cat does the laundry.