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Maritrans, Inc. v. United States

Citation: 28 ELR 21206
No. 96-483-C, 40 Fed. Cl. 790/47 ERC 1051/(Fed. Cl., 04/24/1998)

The court holds that shipping companies have a Fifth Amendment property interest in their single-hulled oil tankers. The companies brought suit against the United States alleging that their single-hulled tankers were effectively taken by the Oil Pollution Act requirement that all single-hulled vessels be retrofitted with double hulls or be phased out of service. The United States seeks dismissal on the basis that the companies have no property right protected by the Fifth Amendment. The court first holds that the heavy regulation of the maritime industry does not preclude a takings analysis. Legal precedent does not support the government's theory that the regulatory nature of the industry precludes a cognizable Fifth Amendment interest. Many cases involving regulated industries examine the three regulatory takings factors of Penn Central Transportation Co. v. City of New York, 8 ELR 20528 (U.S. 1978). In addition, these cases do not establish a blanket no-takings rule with respect to the regulation of industries. The court next rejects the governments' argument that because non-real property is afforded less Fifth Amendment protection than real property, the companies' claim must fail. Inherent in the ownership of vessels is the right to use them. Further, although it may be more difficult to assert a claim in the personal property context, it is not impossible under current case law. The Federal Circuit could have adopted a blanket rule based on a non-real property or heavy regulation rationale, but instead it chose to decide cases on a case-by-case, fact-specific basis as directed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Last, recent case law further supports the court's conclusion that it cannot be limited to the government's heavy regulation or personal property tests.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Laurie A. Frost
Law Offices of Laurie A. Frost
106 N. Fayette St., Alexandria VA 22314
(703) 739-9706

Counsel for Defendant
Lauren S. Moore
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000