Monday, November 28, 2011

Buffalo Marine Services, Inc. v. USA

Nov 23: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, Case No. 10-41108. Appealed from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. The appeal arises out of an oil spill on the Neches River. Appellants challenge the National Pollution Funds Center's (NPFC's) final claim determination denying reimbursement for costs arising from the spill. The district court rejected appellants' challenge to the Agency's claim determination and the Appeals Court affirmed the decision.
    By way of background, Buffalo Marine's barge collided with the TORM MARY, rupturing the vessel's skin and adjacent fuel-oil tank. As a result of the rupture, approximately 27,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil spilled into the Neches River. Buffalo Marine, the Torm, and their insurers coordinated the clean-up effort, assessed at a cost of $10.1 million.
    The Appeals Court said in part, "Given the evidence on record and the concessions of the parties, we find no error in the NPFC's conclusion that the claimants failed to establish by a preponderance of evidence that the acts or omissions of Buffalo Marine's barge in approaching and colliding with the TORM MARY were other than those occurring in connection with a contractual relationship with the responsible party for the TORM MARY. Because the claimants failed to demonstrate by a
preponderance of evidence that the sole cause of the spill was a third-party act or omission that did not occur in connection with any contractual relationship with the responsible party, the Torm's third-party affirmative defense could not succeed. Thus, we also find no error in the NPFC's failure to decide whether the claimants could satisfy the additional requirements in § 2703(a)(3)(A) and (B)."
    In its conclusion, the Appeals Court said, "We conclude that the NPFC's interpretation of 33 U.S.C. § 2703 is entitled to deference and that appellants have not demonstrated that the NPFC's denial of the Torm's third-party affirmative defense claim should be overturned under the standard set forth in the APA."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Remed, #CA5]

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