A feisty dachsund and its owner, Fane Lozman, have stirred up troubled waters regarding the definition of a “vessel” in City of Riviera Beach v. That Certain Unnamed Gray, Two-Story Vessel Approximately Fifty-Seven Feet in Length, 649 F. 3d 1259 (11th Cir. 2011). That case, which is now before the 2012–2013 session of the United States Supreme Court, started out with the City of Riviera Beach, Florida, attempting to evict Mr. Lozman and his floating home from the city’s marina because, among other things, he refused to keep his dog—a small Dachshund—muzzled.

The case may have far reaching implications. It has attracted interest and amicus briefs from the federal government, numerous floating home owners and their associations, lawyers, law professors, the Marine Bankers Association, carpenters, and owners and operators of riverboat casinos, all of whom claim they will be affected by the Supreme Court’s decision. In a two-part blog post, Offshore Winds will look at both sides of this argument over the definition of “vessel.”

The City of Riviera Beach claims Mr. Lozman’s structure is a vessel and brought an in rem proceeding against it. Mr. Lozman disputed that claim. The position of Mr. Lozman, along with the American Gaming Association, the carpenters, certain lawyers, and the floating homeowners, was that in determining whether a structure was a “vessel” under Section 3 of the Rules of Construction Act, 1 U.S.C. §3, the Court must take into account practical considerations such as historical use, its current use, and its reasonable intended use for the future. The matter is being watched closely within the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits, where employees of semi-permanently moored riverboat casinos are subject to workmen’s compensation laws, not federal maritime law. Additionally, floating homeowners argue that expanding the definition of vessel to include their floating homes would subject them to new federal laws, including maritime liens, which would frustrate certain local regulations. They argue that practically their homes are a mere extension of the land, and should be treated as such in the courts.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit agreed with the City of Riviera, disagreeing with jurisprudence from the Fifth and Seventh Circuits defining what is a vessel. In Part 2, we will look at why that Court held Mr. Lozman’s floating home was a vessel.