Waiting for Gaudet Charting a Course after Atlantic Sounding Co. V. Townsend

Article excerpt

In Waiting for Godot, the masterpiece play by Nobel Laureate Samuel Beckett, two friends wait expectantly for someone named Godot to arrive. The friends claim him as an acquaintance," but in fact they hardly know him, admitting that they would not recognize him were they to see him. After days of waiting in vain, they pledge to commit suicide the day after, unless of course Godot arrives. At the play's end, the audience never learns if Godot arrived or if the friends committed suicide. (2)

This narrative is strikingly similar to the saga of the homonymous Supreme Court case name Gaudet--a case that may or may not return from the vestiges of admiralty law jurisprudence. This article explores the potential of Gaudet's return," and, in doing so, it provides an up-to-date assessment of the state of the law of maritime personal injury and wrongful death remedies in the light of two co-existing, yet contradicting, Supreme Court precedents." Sea-Land Services, Inc. v. Gaudet (3) and Miles v. Apex Marine Corp. (4) The former case, Gaudet, is the outer limit reached by the Supreme Court in expanding the remedies available in maritime personal injury and wrongful death suits. (5) Miles, conversely, is synonymous with the Supreme Court's limitation, if not outright negation, of those remedies. (6) Strikingly, however, Miles distinguished Gaudet without overruling it, (7) and Gaudet, therefore, has remained in oblivion for a long time, while Miles has enjoyed an amazing expansion far beyond its own limited holding. (8)

In Part I, this article analyzes the many fallacies of Miles and examines myriad courts' expansive use of Miles in unrelated cases. Part II reviews Miles's foundations, many of which are premised on the "Vreeland gloss." Part III discusses what perhaps the major fault of Miles is: its treatment of Gaudet. Part IV chronicles case law after Gaudet and Miles, and argues that, while Miles has hoarded a crowd of followers, Gaudet has not been altogether abandoned. Parts V and VI suggest that the Miles doctrine may begin to fade; specifically, Part V proposes that the relatively recent Supreme Court case, Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, (9) signals Miles's fade, while Part VI contends that Miles's fade is reinforced by three state court cases that consistently embraced Townsend's reasoning and, thus, shed the ever-expanding Miles coat. (10) Finally, Part VII concludes that, like the narrative of Samuel Beckett's play, we may never know if Gaudet will finally return or if Miles will be overruled, or both. Nevertheless it argues that, in the wake of the Miles saga, the admiralty courts appear willing to reclaim their healthy role in making admiralty law free from mirages of nonexistent congressional mandates or occupation of admiralty waters.

PART I: THE FALLACIES OF MILES

The year 2011 was Judgment Day for Miles. (11) Three scholarly articles revisited, dissected, and diagnosed Miles's serious illnesses. The first article, written by Professor Thomas Galligan and published by the Louisiana Law Review in Spring 2011, addressed Miles in the wider context of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, highlighting its flaws and inconsistencies that resulted in injustice and insufficient deterrence of unnecessary risks. (12) The second article, published by the New York University Law Review in November 2011, criticized courts' reliance on Miles in denying punitive damages in Oil Pollution Act lawsuits. (13) The third article, written by Professor David Robertson and published in the Winter 2011 issue of the Saint Louis" University Law Journal, provided a refreshing analysis of Miles in the wider context of the relationship between admiralty courts and Congress. (14)

What is significant about these articles, however, is not simply their discussion of Miles in varying contexts; rather, it is the common thread that runs through them. They each addressed the ways in which courts have applied Miles in cases that are not only unrelated to Miles's narrow holding, but also distinct from the specific issues certified to the Miles Court, i. …