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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Supreme Court Says Houseboat is Not a Vessel

Today, the Supreme Court ruled that a houseboat is not a “vessel,” meaning that a municipality had no authority to seize and destroy the “home” under U.S. maritime law.  Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida.
The houseboat owner had sued the City of Riviera Beach, Florida after the City seized Lozman's houseboat for failure to pay $3,040 in dockage fees.  When the City couldn’t sell the houseboat, it destroyed the houseboat.  The case turned on the definition of “vessel”, which the Supreme Court determined did not include Lozman’s floating home that was permanently moored to the City’s marina.  According to Justice Breyer, who wrote the majority opinion:
Not every floating structure is a 'vessel’.  To state the obvious, a wooden washtub, a plastic dishpan, a swimming platform on pontoons, a large fishing net, a door taken off its hinges, or Pinocchio (when inside the whale) are not 'vessels'.
The case goes back to the lower court where Lozman can now seek compensation for the seizure and destruction.
In an interesting side note, the Court included a picture of the houseboat in the appendix to the opinion.  Maybe you can figure out what the difference is between this particular houseboat and any other floating vessel.


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