Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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Commercial-fishing associations challenged the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which was established by President Obama to protect distinct geological features and unique ecological resources in the northern Atlantic Ocean. The district court concluded that the President acted within his statutory authority in creating the Monument, dismissing the Fishermen's claims.The DC Circuit first drew a distinction between two types of claims: those justiciable on the face of the proclamation and those requiring factual development. The court determined that the Fishermens' first three claims could be judged on the face of the proclamation and resolved as a matter of law, and the last claim required factual allegations.As to the first three claims, the court held that Supreme Court precedent foreclosed the Fishermens' contention that the Antiquities Act does not reach submerged lands; ocean-based monuments are compatible with the Sanctuaries Act; and the federal government's unrivaled authority under both international and domestic law established that it controls the United States Exclusive Economic Zone. Finally, the court held that the Fishermens' smallest-area claim failed, because the complaint contained no factual allegations identifying a portion of the Monument that lacks the natural resources and ecosystems the President sought to protect. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association v. Ross" on Justia Law

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In 2004, after traveling from Venezuela to Paulsboro, New Jersey, Frescati’s single-hulled oil tanker, Athos, came within 900 feet of its intended berth and struck an abandoned anchor in the Delaware River, causing 264,000 gallons of crude oil to spill. The shipment was intended for CARCO. Frescati paid $143 million for the cleanup and was reimbursed $88 million by the government, under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), 33 U.S.C. 2701. The Third Circuit held that Frescati was a third-party beneficiary of CARCO’s warranty that CARCO’s berth would be safe if the ship had a draft of 37 feet or less and that CARCO had an unspecified tort duty of care. On remand, the district court held that CARCO was liable to Frescati and the government as Frescati’s subrogee, for breach of contract because the Athos had a draft of 36′7″ and exercised good seamanship; CARCO had a duty to use sonar to locate unknown obstructions in the berth approach and to remove obstructions or warn invited ships. CARCO argued that the conduct of the Coast Guard, NOAA, and the Army Corps of Engineers misled CARCO into believing that the government was maintaining the anchorage. The court awarded Frescati $55,497,375.958 for breach of contract and negligence, plus prejudgment interest. The government, after the court’s 50% reduction, was awarded $43,994,578.66 on its subrogated breach of contract claim. The Third Circuit affirmed in favor of Frescati on the breach of contract claim but vacated as to negligence. The court affirmed the government’s judgment with respect to its subrogated breach of contract claim but, because CARCO’s equitable recoupment defense failed, remanded for recalculation of damages and prejudgment interest. View "Frescati Shipping Co., Ltd. v. Citgo Asphalt Refining Co." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court order dismissing claims brought by Ironshore Specialty Insurance Company, the entity that paid the clean-up costs after a large military vessel spilled over 11,000 gallons of fuel next to Boston Harbor, against American Overseas Marine Company, LLC (AMSEA) and the United States. Ironshore sought cleanup costs and damages under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) of 1990, a declaratory judgment finding AMSEA and the United States to be strictly liable under the OPA, and damages sounding in general admiralty and maritime law as a result of AMSEA’s and the United States’ alleged negligence. The district court dismissed all claims. The First Circuit (1) affirmed the dismissal of all of Ironshore’s claims against AMSEA; (2) affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Ironshore’s OPA claims against the United States; but (3) reversed the district court’s dismissal of Ironshore’s general admiralty and maritime negligence claims brought against the United States under the Suits in Admiralty Act because these claims were not foreclosed by the OPA. View "Ironshore Specialty Insurance Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit asked the Louisiana Supreme Court: “What is the meaning of ‘good faith’ as that term is used in the Louisiana Environmental Quality Act, Louisiana Revised Statutes 30:2027?” Eric Borcik was employed by Crosby Tugs, L.L.C. (Crosby) as a deckhand. In July 2010, he was transferred to the M/V NELDA FAYE. Borcik claims that the lead captain of the NELDA FAYE ordered him to dump waste oil into navigable waters and otherwise violate environmental laws over a period of three years. He further claims that he followed these orders. In May 2013, Borcik emailed Crosby’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). His email communicated that he had “concerns” that he stated “have all fallen on deaf ears” and expressed “fear [of] some form of retaliation.” He later met with the CAO in person. Borcik was transferred to another boat and later fired. Borcik contends he was fired in retaliation for his complaints; Crosby contends that Borcik was fired for insubordination. Borcik sued Crosby in October 2013, alleging retaliatory termination in violation of Louisiana Environmental Quality Act (“LEQA”), specifically claiming that Crosby violated the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Act. The Supreme Court answered the certified question: the term “good faith,” as used in R.S. 30:2027, means an employee is acting with an honest belief that a violation of an environmental law, rule, or regulation occurred. View "Borcik v. Crosby Tugs, LLC" on Justia Law

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From 1987 to 2001, Bengis and Noll engaged in a scheme to harvest large quantities of South Coast and West Coast rock lobsters from South African waters for export to the United States in violation of both South African and U.S. law. Defendants, through their company, Hout Bay, harvested rock lobsters in amounts that exceeded the South African Department of Marine and Coastal Management’s quotas. In 2001, South Africa seized a container of unlawfully harvested lobsters, declined to prosecute the individuals, but charged Hout Bay with overfishing. Bengis pleaded guilty on behalf of Hout Bay. South Africa cooperated with a parallel investigation conducted by the United States. The two pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit smuggling and violate the Lacey Act, which prohibits trade in illegally taken fish and wildlife, and to substantive violations of the Lacey Act. Bengis pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act. The district court entered a restitution order requiring the defendants to pay $22,446,720 to South Africa. The Second Circuit affirmed, except with respect to the extent of Bengis’s liability, rejecting an argument the restitution order violated their Sixth Amendment rights. View "United States v. Bengis" on Justia Law

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The Parishes filed suit against BP and others involved in the "Deepwater Horizon" oil spill, seeking to recover penalties under The Louisiana Wildlife Protection Statute, La. R.S. 56:40:1. On appeal, the Parishes challenged the denial of its motion to remand to state court and dismissal of its claims as preempted by federal law. The court concluded that the state law claims were removable pursuant to the broad jurisdictional grant of section 1349 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), 43 U.S.C. 1349. The court also concluded that the district court correctly concluded that the Parishes' claims were preempted by the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1321, as interpreted in International Paper Co v. Ouellette, and that Congress did not reject that interpretation explicitly or by negative implication in the CWA or when it passed the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), 33 U.S.C. 2718(c). Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "In Re: Deepwater Horizon" on Justia Law

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The government appealed the district court's order which altered the terms of a bond the Coast Guard had fixed for the release of a detained ship that was under investigation and restricted the types of penalties the government could seek for the ship's potential violations of certain ocean pollution prevention statutes. The ship at issue, the Pappadakis, an ocean-going bulk cargo carrier carrying a shipment of coal to Brazil, was detained by the Coast Guard because the vessel had likely been discharging bilge water overboard. The court reversed and remanded for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) where the matter was not subject to review in the district court because the Coast Guard's actions were committed to agency discretion by law. Consequently, the district court lacked jurisdiction to consider the petition. View "Angelex Ltd. v. United States" on Justia Law

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As the tanker Athos neared Paulsboro, New Jersey, an abandoned anchor in the Delaware River punctured its hull and caused 263,000 gallons of crude oil to spill. The owner of the tanker, Frescati, paid $180 million in cleanup costs and ship damages, but was reimbursed for nearly $88 million by the U.S. government under the Oil Pollution Act, 33 U.S.C. 2701. Frescati made claims against CARCO, which ordered the oil and owned the terminal where the Athos was to unload, claiming breach of the safe port/safe berth warranty made to an intermediary responsible for chartering the Athos and negligence and negligent misrepresentation. The government, as a statutory subrogee for the $88 million reimbursement reached a limited settlement agreement. The district court held that CARCO was not liable for the accident, but made no findings of fact and conclusions of law, required by FRCP 52(a)(1). The Third Circuit remanded for findings, but stated that the Athos and Frescati were implied beneficiaries of CARCO‘s safe berth warranty; that the warranty is an express assurance of safety; and that the named port exception to that warranty does not apply to hazards that are unknown and not reasonably foreseeable. The court noted that it is not clear that the warranty was actually breached, absent findings as to the Athos‘s actual draft or the clearance provided. The court further stated that CARCO could be liable in negligence for hazards outside the approach to CARCO‘s terminal. View "United States v. Citgo Asphalt Ref. Co." on Justia Law

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The Village commenced this action against the Corps to require it to honor commitments made to the Village and other North Carolina towns when developing its plan to widen, deepen, and realign portions of the Cape Fear River navigation channel. The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court agreed with the district court's holding that the Corps' failure to implement "commitments" made to the Village during development of the plans for the project was not final agency action subject to judicial review. The court also concluded that the alleged contracts on which the Village relied for its contract claims were not maritime contracts that justified the exercise of admiralty jurisdiction. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Village of Bald Head Island v. U. S. Army Corps" on Justia Law

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The federal government has maintained navigation in the Delaware River for more than 100 years. In 1992, the Army Corps of Engineers published an Environmental Impact Statement, recommending deepening of five feet along 102-miles. The EIS identified potential adverse impacts, but concluded these would be minimal and were outweighed by benefits of reduced shipping costs. In 1997, after engineering, the Corps published a Supplemental EIS. The project stalled until 2008, when the Philadelphia River Port Authority agreed to share costs. Improved technology reduced the amount of sediment; wetlands restoration was deferred. An oil spill had increased sediment toxicity. Expected expansion of sturgeon, potentially increased blasting risks. A 2009 Environmental Assessment recommended the project proceed. The district court rejected state challenges under the Coastal Zone Management Act, which requires a “consistency determination” for any state whose coastal zone will be affected, 16 U.S.C. 1456(c)(1); the Clean Water Act, which requires compliance with state water pollution law, 33 U.S.C. 1323(a); and the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321. The states had attempted to revoke CZMA clearances. The Third Circuit affirmed, noting that dredging has begun. The 2009 EA was not arbitrary. CWA’s “congressionally authorized” exception to state approvals applies. The Corps reasonably concluded that it need not provide supplemental CZMA consistency determinations to states. View "State of DE v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs" on Justia Law