Christopher Weld Jr. and Ian J. Pinta in a case of first impression persuaded a U.S. District Court judge in Massachusetts that a contractual dispute involving the dredging of a harbor should remain in the federal district court.
Their client filed a lawsuit against the federal government asserting wrongful termination, breach of contract and other related claims following the government’s termination of a contract for dredging a navigable waterway in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
Judge Patti B. Saris denied the government’s request to dismiss the complaint, or, alternatively, transfer the case to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims on jurisdictional grounds.
The Court of Federal Claims has exclusive jurisdiction over construction contracts with the government involving amounts over $10,000, but the federal district courts have admiralty jurisdiction for lawsuits against the federal government arising out of maritime contracts.
The case should be heard in federal district court, Judge Saris determined, because the dispute, albeit concerning a construction contract, was for dredging and related principally to maritime commerce.
Even though the Court of Federal Claims has handled dredging contract disputes involving the government for more than 150 years, no court has directly considered whether a government dredging contract is a maritime contract, Judge Saris noted.
“The undisputed purpose of the contract [at issue in the case] was to dredge a navigable waterway and then deposit sand on a beach,” Judge Saris wrote. “Courts have held that dredging a navigable waterway is traditionally a maritime activity and that such a dredging contract facilitates maritime commerce, giving rise to maritime jurisdiction.”
She rejected the government’s argument that the principal objective of the contract was construction, finding that the land-based construction activities were not the primary purpose of the dredging contract.
Mr. Pinta, a partner at the firm, concentrates his litigation practice on complex business disputes.
Mr. Weld is a Founding Partner of the firm. He has over 30 years of experience in commercial litigation, arbitration and dispute resolution in cases generally involving business disputes with vigorously contested issues of substantial value.