Admiralty hit parade
Admiralty attorneys, many in New York for the spring meeting of the Maritime Law Association of the United States, were treated to what was described as “erudite entertainment” Thursday night, as four law professors gave short summaries of Supreme Court decisions and why they thought were among “Admiralty’s Greatest Hits.”
The talks were an unusual twist on the biennial Nicholas J. Healy Lecture on Admiralty Law.
“We don’t have an admiralty hall of fame,” said John Kimball, an attorney at Blank and Rome and former partner of Healy, “but if we did Nick Healy would be our Elvis.”
The lecture was held at New York University’s Law School where Healy taught from 1947 to 1986. Retired, Healy now lives in Ireland and the lecture was videotaped so he could watch it.
Joseph Sweeney, a professor at Fordham Law School, spoke about the 1848 decision, The Lexington, which grew out of a fire on a steamboat in Long Island Sound that killed all but four of its 150 passengers. The case was an early indication that American admiralty law would not blindly follow English law and that a carrier could be bound by tort or contract for cargo damage, he said.
Michael Sturley, of the University of Texas Law School, spoke about the 1924 decision in Panama Railroad Co. v. Johnson, which he said resulted in a “complete sea change” in how the Supreme Court viewed Congress, with the court becoming more deferential in upholding congressional views on admiralty personal injury law.
David Bederman of Emory University spoke about the 1959 decision by a deeply divided court in Romero v. International Terminal Operating Co., which involved a Spanish seaman who was injured on a Spanish ship in Hoboken.
Martin Davies of the Tulane Law School spoke about the 1994 decision in McDermott v. AmClyde, a unanimous decision that he said has had wide influence in parts of federal and state law that use unmodified joint and several liability.
This “quiet achiever,” as Davies called it, has shaped how many cases are settled and has had wide influence beyond admiralty.
“It’s a poster child of what the Supreme Court can do when it turns to practical matters,” he said.