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March 08, 2004

Press Contact: Allegra Young, UT Law Communications, 512-471-7330 or Kirston Fortune, UT Law Communications, (512) 471.7330

UT Law Students Work on Three Cases Before the U.S. Supreme Court

Students work on Tennard, Kirby, and Stewart cases

AUSTIN, Texas — UT Law students are playing an important role in the litigation of three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004: Tennard v. Dretke (see related news release), Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. James N. Kirby Pty Ltd., and Stewart v. Dutra Construction Co.

Third-year students Marc D. Ellenbogen, Adam S. Harbin, Alex L. Kaplan, and Garrick B. Pursley are assisting Professor Michael Sturley in preparing the brief for the respondents in Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. James N. Kirby Pty Ltd., No. 02-1028, which will be heard in October 2004. In Kirby, Sturley is counsel of record for the respondents, and has arranged for UT Law alumnus David C. Frederick '89 to do the oral argument.

The case involves a train derailment in which about $1.5 million in cargo was damaged. Sturley's clients have sued the railroad, which denies liability but claims the benefit of the ocean carrier's limitations of liability under the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act (COGSA). In addition to addressing the extent to which third parties can claim COGSA's benefits, the case should resolve some questions about the contractual roles played by the various parties in modern multimodal transportation. In the 68 years since COGSA was enacted, this will be only the fourth time that the Court has decided a case implicating the Act.

Third-year student Nicholas W. Earles is assisting Professors David Robertson and Michael Sturley in briefing Stewart v. Dutra Construction Co., No. 03-814, in which Robertson and Sturley are co-counsel for the petitioner. Sturley was the primary author of Stewart's successful petition for certiorari.

Petitioner Willard Stewart was injured on a dredge in Boston Harbor while working on the Ted Williams Tunnel "Big Dig." The Jones Act provides generous remedies to "seamen," who must have an "employment-related connection to a vessel in navigation." The courts of appeals have defined "vessel" in several different ways. This case seeks to resolve the definition of the term under the Jones Act and to decide whether a special purpose watercraft, such as a dredge, qualifies as a Jones Act vessel.

"The chance to work—to really work—on a Supreme Court case is rare, even for lawyers. I am very grateful that, as law students, Alex, Garrick, and I have been afforded such an opportunity by Professor Sturley. I think it speaks volumes about both the high caliber of the UT faculty and the incredible academic and professional opportunities that the UT faculty is capable of passing down to its students," said Harbin.

Numerous UT Law faculty members are working on cases before the U.S. Supreme Court this semester. In addition to the work of Professors Jordan Steiker, Rob Owen (both for Tennard), David Robertson (for Stewart), and Michael Sturley (for Kirby and Stewart), UT Law professors Sarah Cleveland, Douglas Laycock, Thomas McGarity, and Lawrence Sager are also participating in litigation before the Court.

UT Law is also one of the top law schools to supply law clerks to the U.S. Supreme Court.