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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:A July 2001 allision between Michael Fuesting’s small pleasure boat and a sunken shrimp boat near a bank of the Vermilion River in Lafayette Parish, La., resulted in the litigation that led to this appeal. Keith Griffin, the shrimp boat’s owner, had docked the boat in 1994 at a dock owned by Alfred and Joyce Hatch. The boat was allowed to deteriorate over a number of years, and it eventually sank to the riverbed. Some of the boat remained visible above the waterline. Local citizens eventually complained to the Lafayette Parish Bayou Vermilion District about the eyesore created by the partially submerged shrimp boat. In January 2001, the district received permission from Griffin to attempt to refloat the boat and remove it from the river. The attempt failed and the boat remained partially submerged. The parties dispute the relative success of the district’s attempted removal: The district argues that its efforts only moved the boat a few feet and rotated it 180 degrees, thus leaving the boat out of the navigational channel. Fuesting argues that the boat had moved further before again sinking to the riverbed. At no time before or after the district’s attempted removal was the submerged shrimp boat marked with buoys or lights. The allision occurred around sunset on July 3, 2001. Fuesting claims that the water level was higher than usual, such that almost all of the boat was submerged. As a result of the allision, Fuesting was thrown from his boat, knocked unconscious, and injured. Fuesting sued the district and the district’s insurer Lafayette Insurance Co. (Lafayette) in December 2002. Fuesting’s allegation was that the district was a responsible party under the Wreck Act and was negligent under general maritime law. The district and Lafayette moved for summary judgment. Fuesting opposed the motion and filed its own motion for partial summary judgment as to the claim premised on the Wreck Act. The district court granted summary judgment to the district as to the Wreck Act violation because the court determined that the evidence provided by Fuesting could not support a finding that, for Wreck Act purposes, the district was an operator of the shrimp boat when it attempted to remove it from the river. The district court found, however, that the district might still be negligent under general maritime law, because it assumed the duty to the boating public to remove the shrimp boat from the river in a non-negligent manner. Rather than address the merits of this negligence claim against the District, the court sua sponte requested briefing on the impact of Louisiana Revised Statutes 9:2798.1, which grants statutory immunity to public entities for policymaking or discretionary acts. The court found that the district, which the parties agree qualifies as a public entity under the statute, is immune from Fuesting’s general maritime law negligence claim, because that claim arose from discretionary acts of the district. The district court dismissed all of Fuesting’s claims and dismissed the indemnity claims against the Hatches as moot. Fuesting filed a timely notice of appeal. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. The court addressed the question of whether a state statute limiting the liability of a municipal entity like the district prevents a cause of action arising under the admiralty laws of the United States. Over a century ago, the court stated, the U.S. Supreme Court in Workman v. City of New York, 179 U.S. 552 (1900), held that the New York City Fire Department could not employ a New York state law exempting municipal entities from tort liability to defeat a suit against it in admiralty. Workman, the court stated, reasoned that admiralty law is not displaced by local law; if it were, the uniformity of maritime law would be undermined. The court held that the district was not immune from suit in admiralty merely because of its status as a public entity and because it met the criteria of Louisiana Revised Statutes �9:2798.1. Moving on to whether the district would be found liable under admiralty law, the court noted that the Wreck Act, 33 U.S.C. �409, provides in relevant part that whenever a vessel, raft or other craft is wrecked and sunk in a navigable channel, it shall be the duty of the owner, lessee, or operator of such sunken craft to immediately mark it with a buoy or beacon during the day and a light at night. The court then noted that district court found that the district’s actions in attempting to move the boat did not make it an operator under the Wreck Act, because such actions were “almost completely unsuccessful.” The court disagreed with the proposition. An entity, the court stated, that enters a towing contract but subsequently fails to tow the vessel as far as intended does not escape operator status because of its failure. The district court’s narrow interpretation of the law ran counter to the law’s purpose of facilitating the marking or removal of dangerous obstructions in navigable waters. OPINION:Clement, J.; Smith, Garza and Clement, J.J.

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