Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental 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

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MARPOL is the common name for the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1340 U.N.T.S. 62. At issue was whether the United States had jurisdiction to prosecute a nominated surveyor for knowingly violating the MARPOL treaty while aboard a foreign vessel docked in the United States. After thorough review of the relevant treaty and U.S. law, the court held that the United States had jurisdiction to prosecute surveyors for MARPOL violations committed in U.S. ports. Further, under the court's lenient standards of review for issues raised for the first time on appeal, the court found no reversible error in the indictment or jury instructions. Finally, the court affirmed the district court's denial of judgment of acquittal. Accordingly, the court affirmed defendant's conviction. View "United States v. Pena" on Justia Law

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Asian carp have migrated up the Mississippi River and are at the brink of the man-made Chicago-Area Waterway System path to the Great Lakes. The carp are dangerous to the eco-system, people, and property. States bordering the Lakes filed suit, alleging that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago manage the system in a manner that will allow carp to move into the Great Lakes, in violation of the federal common law of public nuisance. The district court denied a preliminary injunction that would have required additional physical barriers, new procedures to stop invasive carp, and an expedited study of how best to separate the Mississippi and Great Lakes permanently. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs presented enough evidence to establish a likelihood of harm, a non-trivial chance that carp will invade Lake Michigan in numbers great enough to constitute a public nuisance and that harm to the plaintiff states would be irreparable. The defendants have, however, mounted a full-scale effort to stop the carp and has promised that additional steps will be taken in the near future. This effort diminishes any role that equitable relief would otherwise play and an interim injunction would only get in the way. View "State of MI v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs" on Justia Law

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This case arose when an ocean-going tanker collided with a barge that was being towed on the Mississippi River, which resulted in the barge splitting in half and spilling its cargo of oil into the river. Following the filing of numerous lawsuits, including personal injury claims by the crew members and class actions by fishermen, the primary insurer filed an interpleader action, depositing its policy limits with the court. At issue was the allocations of the interpleader funds as well as the district court's finding that the maritime insurance policy's liability limit included defense costs. The court affirmed the district court's decision that defense costs eroded policy limits but was persuaded that its orders allocating court-held funds among claimants were tentative and produced no appealable order.View "Gabarick, et al. v. Laurin Maritime (America) Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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This case arose from an oil spill in the Mississippi River when an ocean-going tanker struck a barge that was being towed. Appellants (Excess Insurers) appealed the district court's decision requiring them to pay prejudgment interest on the funds deposited into the court's registry in an interpleader action. The Excess Insurers argued that the district court erred by: (1) finding that coverage under the excess policy was triggered by the primary insurer's filing of an interpleader complaint; (2) holding that a marine insurer that filed an interpleader action and deposited the policy limits with the court was obligated to pay legal interest in excess of the policy limits; and (3) applying the incorrect interest rate and awarding interest from the incorrect date. The court held that because the Excess Insurers' liability had not been triggered at the time the Excess Insurers filed their interpleader complaint, the district court erred in finding that they unreasonably delayed in depositing the policy limit into the court's registry and holding them liable for prejudgment interest. Therefore, the court reversed the judgment and did not reach the remaining issues.View "Gabarick, et al. v. Laurin Maritime (America), Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a complaint against defendant, seeking indemnity and/or contribution based on the damage defendant allegedly caused through gross negligence in removing plaintiff's vessel from a coral reef. At issue was whether the district court properly denied defendant's motion to compel arbitration of the dispute under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 1 et seq., where defendant alleged that the district court erred in refusing to apply English arbitrability law. The court held that based on the Supreme Court's reasoning in First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, courts should apply non-federal arbitrability law only if there was clear and unmistakable evidence that the parties intended to apply such non-federal law. Because there was no clear and unmistakable evidence in this case, federal arbitrability law applied. Under federal arbitrability law, the court's decisions in Mediterranean Enterprises, Inc. v. Ssangyong Construction Co. and Tracer Research Corp. v. National Environmental Services, Co., mandated a narrow interpretation of a clause providing for arbitration of all disputes "arising under" an agreement. Under this narrow interpretation, the present dispute was not arbitrable. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's judgment.View "Cape Flattery Ltd. v. Titan Maritime, LLC" on Justia Law

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Trade associations representing commercial ship owners and operators petitioned for review of a nationwide permit issued by the EPA for the discharge of pollutants incidental to the normal operation of vessels. Petitioners raised a number of procedural challenges, all related to the EPA's decision to incorporate into the permit conditions that states submitted to protect their own water quality. The court held that because petitioners had failed to establish that the EPA could alter or reject state certification conditions, the additional agency procedures they demanded would not have afforded them the relief they sought. Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review. View "Lake Carriers' Assoc. v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued defendant, the Executive Officer of the California Air Resources Board ("CARB"), alleging that California's Vessel Fuel Rules ("VFR")violated federal statutory and constitutional grounds. At issue was whether the VFR was preempted by the Submerged Lands Act and whether the VFR was preempted by the Commerce Clause and Supremacy Clause. The court held that summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff was properly denied where plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the VFR was "otherwise 'unlawful and impermissibly regulate navigation and foreign and domestic commerce as delegated to the United States Congress'" under the Submerged Lands Act. The court also held that summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff was properly denied where the Commerce Clause or general maritime law should be used to bar a state from exercising its own police powers when such powers were used to combat severe environmental problems.