Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Angelex LTD. v. U.S.

Jul 22: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, Case No. 13-1610. Appealed from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Norfolk. The Appeals Court summarizes saying the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (collectively, Respondents or the government) appeal the district court's order, which, upon an emergency petition filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, (1) altered the terms of a bond the Coast Guard had fixed for the release of a detained ship that was under investigation; and (2) restricted the types of penalties the government could seek for the ship's potential violations of certain ocean pollution prevention statutes. The matter was not subject to review in the district court because the Coast Guard's actions were committed to agency discretion by law. As a result, the district court lacked jurisdiction to consider the petition and the Appeals Court also determined, ". . .we reverse and remand for dismissal of the Petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)."
    The case involves the fact that the U.S. is a signatory to MARPOL, which is a multi-national treaty aimed at achieving the complete elimination of international pollution of the marine environment by oil and other harmful substances and the minimization of accidental discharge of such substances. In fulfilling its obligations pursuant to MARPOL, Congress enacted the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS). which requires the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security  (DHS) to administer and enforce" MARPOL, as well as statutes and regulations designed to preserve the marine environment.
    There are two Petitioners in this appeal: the Antonis G. Pappadakis (Pappadakis or the vessel), an ocean-going bulk cargo carrier, which was built in 1995 and registered in Malta; and Angelex Ltd. (Angelex), a company that purchased the vessel on March 9, 2007. Kassian, a Greek company, serves as the vessel's operator.
    In this complicated case involving pollution by the vessel and subsequent detaining of the vessel by the Coast Guard subject to posting a bond, the amount of which was in dispute, Angelex asserts that the Coast Guard acted "arbitrarily, capriciously, and unreasonably" in detaining the Pappadakis, setting a bond which Angelex cannot post, and demanding a security agreement with terms that are not authorized by the operative statute.
    The Appeals Court says, ". . .we disagree with Appellees' characterization of the Petition as an attack on the statutory authority or constitutionality of the Coast Guard's actions. First, Appellees cannot with a straight face argue that the Coast Guard has acted outside the bounds of § 1908(e). Indeed, those bounds are quite limitless. The Coast Guard may demand a low bond, a high bond, or may refuse to grant clearance altogether. . . In short, the Coast Guard's stringent conformity to § 1908(e) simply does not give rise to a reviewable claim."
    The Appeals Court also notes that, "APPS contains a built-in safeguard to governmental abuses, which further convinces us that Angelex's Petition is out of place and time. In addition to the criminal and civil penalties that APPS authorizes the United States to seek, APPS provides for compensation for loss or damage as a result of unreasonable detention by the Coast Guard. . . the Coast Guard's decisions regarding bond conditions with regard to the Pappadakis are unreviewable, and the district court thereby did not possess subject matter jurisdiction under the APA."

    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Water, #CA4]

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