United States v. Kenneth McKee, No. 20-3671 (8th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
17 people were killed a commercial tourism duck boat operating on Table Rock Lake in the Ozarks, sank during a storm. The government charged the captain and the managers of the duck boat company, with felony counts of “seaman’s manslaughter” under 18 U.S.C. Section 1115 and misdemeanor counts of operating a vessel in a grossly negligent manner. The government alleged that the charged offenses occurred on “Table Rock Lake, a navigable water of the United States within the Western District of Missouri and within the admiralty jurisdiction of the United States.” The district court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss, adopting a report and recommendation that concluded the prescriptive reaches of Sections 1115 and 2302(b) is defined by admiralty law and do not cover the alleged conduct. The government appealed the dismissal.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that a review of the statute’s history leads to the conclusion that the origins of seaman’s manslaughter are in the admiralty jurisdiction of federal courts. Here, the government objected to the district court’s reliance on Edwards as binding precedent regarding the status of Table Rock Lake and argued that the evidence of commercial activity on Table Rock Lake presented, in this case, established that the lake is navigable in fact. However, before deferring to Edwards, the district court reviewed all of the evidence submitted by the parties and found that the nature and frequency of commercial shipping on the lake had not substantially changed since the Edwards decision. Thus, the court wrote that it detects no clear error in the district court’s finding or conclusion.
Court Description: [Kelly, Author, with Erickson and Grasz, Circuit Judges] Criminal case - Criminal law. Defendants were charged with "seaman's manslaughter" under 18 U.S.C. Sec 1115 and operating a vessel in a grossly negligent manner in violation of 46 U.S.C. Sec. 2302(b) for their actions in a storm-related accident on Table Rock Lake in the Ozarks on July 19, 2018 that led to the death of 17 passengers on defendants' tourism duck boat. Defendants moved to dismiss the indictment on the ground the district court's admiralty jurisdiction did not extend to Table Rock Lake because it is not navigable as a matter of law. The district court dismissed the indictment, and the government appeals. Held: the scope of 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1115 is defined by the reach of admiralty jurisdiction; 46 U.S.C. Sec. 2302(b) is also limited by the scope of federal admiralty jurisdiction; the district court did not err in applying this court's precedent in Edwards v. Hurtel, 717 F.2d 1204 (8th Cir. 1983) in determining that Table Rock Lake is not navigable as a matter of law; nor did the record support the government's argument that the lake is navigable in fact; as a result, the district court properly dismissed the criminal complaint for lack of jurisdiction. Judge Grasz, concurring. Judge Erickson, concurring in part, and dissenting in part. [ May 26, 2023 ]