In re the Complaint of Metlife Capital Corp.
Citation: 28 ELR 20431
The court holds that oil pollution claims arising under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) are not subject to the Limitation of Shipowner's Liability Act of 1851 or to the concursus of claims under Rule F of the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This case concerns claims arising from the grounding of a barge, which caused fuel oil to spill into the waters of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The court first holds that the OPA repealed the Limitation Act with respect to removal costs and damages claims against responsible parties. Accordingly, the procedural rules incorporated into the Limitations Act are also inapplicable to such claims. In addition to the OPA's subsection that states, "Notwithstanding any other provision or rule of law," at least four other provisions in the statute explicitly repeal the Limitation Act with respect to certain types of claims. Moreover, the OPA's legislative history is consistent with the court's interpretation, and the OPA's scheme is in irreconcilable conflict with the Limitation Act. The purpose of the OPA is to encourage rapid private-party responses. The Limitation Act, however, allows vessel owners to virtually eliminate liability for catastrophic damages.
The court next holds that the Rule F concursus, even if independent of the Limitation Act, is inapplicable to OPA claims. Rule F's requirements on venue and limitation of liability cannot be reconciled with the OPA's provisions regarding oil spill damages. The OPA offers claimants a much broader choice of forums than Rule F's venue requirements. In addition, Rule F's deadline for claims is also inconsistent with the OPA's statute of limitations. Under Rule F, the court may fix a date that requires claims to be filed in as little as 30 days after issuance of notice. The OPA, however, allows claimants three years to commence an action to recover removal costs and damages. The shortened claims period under Rule F would interfere with U.S. subrogation rights under the OPA. Furthermore, the claims procedure under Rule F and the OPA are also inconsistent. The OPA requires all claims for removal costs or damages to be presented firstto the responsible party or guarantor to promote settlement and avoid litigation. In contrast, Rule F forces all claimants into litigation against the vessel owner.
Counsel for Plaintiff
Michael P. Mirande
Bogle & Gates
Two Union Sq., 601 Union St., Seattle WA 98101
Counsel for Defendants
Mee L. Lam
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice. Washington DC 20530
Before Lynch and Keeton,* JJ.