MOSCOW, January 17 - RAPSI, Ingrid Burke. The US Supreme Court held Tuesday that for legal purposes, a houseboat is a house, not a boat. In so holding, the court reversed by a 7-2 majority the decisions of two lower federal courts, both of which had categorized the plaintiff's houseboat as a vessel.

This determination was crucial to the issue of whether the City of Riviera Beach, Florida (respondent) had properly invoked federal maritime jurisdiction in its initial claim against Fane Lozman (petitioner).

Lozman's houseboat was a 60 by 12 ft. structure kept afloat by a hollow bilge space at its base. It was not self-propelled, but was capable of traveling under tow. It contained a living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, storage space, and a stair case leading to a second-story office space. Between 2002 and 2006, Lowman had it towed three times to various docks before ultimately mooring it in a Riviera Beach marina.

The city endeavored unsuccessfully to evict Lozman from the marina before filing a claim against him under federal maritime law seeking a lien for dock fees and damages for trespass.

Lozman challenged the propriety of admiralty jurisdiction over the claim.

Under the relevant US federal law, a vessel is defined as "every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water."

At first instance, the federal district court held that federal maritime jurisdiction was proper after having categorized Lozman's houseboat, for legal purposes, as a vessel.

After rendering its decision, the district court ordered the houseboat's sale in order to satisfy the judgment. The Riviera Beach then purchased the home and had it destroyed. Pending appeal, however, the district court required the petitioner to post a $25,000 bond in case matters were to turn in Lozman's favor down the line.

On appeal, the federal circuit court affirmed the district court's decision, based largely on the fact that despite Lozmans intent to keep his houseboat moored, it was "capable of being used... as a means of transportation on water."

Lozman then turned to the Supreme Court, citing a lack of certainty among the federal courts in defining "capable" in terms of the definition of "vessel" under federal law.
Delivering the opinion of the majority, Justice Breyer explained, "We believe that a reasonable observer, looking to the home's physical characteristics and activities, would not consider it to be designed to any practical degree for carrying people or things on water. And we consequently conclude that the floating home is not a vessel."

The majority held that the circuit court interpreted the relevant federal law too broadly in holding that the houseboat constituted a vessel based on the theory that its buoyancy and capacity to move under tow militated against a determination of its incapacity to be transported on water.

Breyer noted that, "But for the fact that it floats, nothing about Lozman's homesuggests that it was designed to any practical degree to transport persons or things over water."

Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Ginsburg, Alito, and Kagan sided with Breyer. Justice Kennedy joined in Justice Sotomayor's dissenting opinion.