WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the owner of a floating home in a decision that may shield dockside casinos from some lawsuits by workers and customers.
The justices’ 7-2 decision limited the reach of federal maritime law. The court said the disputed Florida home didn’t qualify as a “vessel” under the law, because it wasn’t designed to carry people or things over the water.
The ruling is a victory for Fane Lozman, whose 60-foot, two-story home was the subject of a years-long dispute with the Florida city of Riviera Beach.
The city, saying Lozman owed $3,000 in dockage fees, used federal maritime law to seize the home and later destroy it.
The decision is also a win for the casino industry and at least 61 floating casinos.
The American Gaming Association told the justices in a court filing that a ruling against Lozman might have forced casinos to defend against a new category of lawsuits under federal laws designed to protect seamen and harbor workers.
The trade group said its members operate 61 dockside casinos in six states.
Most of those are structures that once operated as riverboats and are now permanently moored to the shore, the group said.
Writing for the court, Justice Stephen Breyer pointed to a list of features that he said suggested the structure wasn’t a vessel.
It had no rudder or other steering mechanism, had a rectangular bottom, couldn’t generate or store electricity and couldn’t propel itself, Breyer said.
“But for the fact that it floats, nothing about Lozman’s home suggests that it was designed to any practical degree to transport persons or things over water,” Breyer wrote.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Anthony Kennedy dissented, saying the justices should have sent the case back to a lower court to sort out whether Lozman’s craft was a vessel.
The case is Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, 11-626.