Supreme Courts Cite Rutgers Law Professor

The United States Supreme Court has cited Rutgers–Camden law professor Steven Friedell, and sided with his amicus brief, in its decision on a case involving a Florida man’s floating home.

Referencing Friedell’s treatise on admiralty jurisdiction, the court issued a key maritime decision dealing with the definition of a vessel. It clarified the difference between house boats that fall under maritime law and floating homes that are not vessels, and therefore are not subject to federal admiralty laws.

It is the second time in a year that a country’s highest court has relied on Friedell’s scholarship.  In April 2012, the Israeli Supreme Court cited an article on Jewish law that Friedell had published in the Rutgers Law Journal.

In the Florida case, the city of Riviera Beach had tried to evict resident Fane Lozman from a marina where he docked his houseboat. A federal court and appeals court declared the home a vessel under maritime law and the city bought it at an auction and had it destroyed.

Referencing Friedell’s treatise, the Supreme Court on Jan. 15 agreed that the city had no right to a lien against Lozman’s floating home under federal maritime law because the structure is not a vessel.

Eight years ago, the Supreme Court held that a dredge used to dig a tunnel in Boston harbor was a vessel.  In that case, the Supreme Court had seemed to say that a structure was a vessel if it was capable of movement on the navigable waters and a number of courts had agreed that “if it floats, it must be maritime.”

Friedell, however, thought otherwise. He said the Lozman case appeared to be a landlord-tenant dispute more properly suited to state court — where the tenant would have a right to a jury — than to federal court, where maritime law and maritime procedures would be applied.

The Supreme Court agreed, and in its decision cited with approval Friedell’s treatise on admiralty law.

Lozman cannot get his house back, but will be entitled to compensation for its destruction.

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