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United States v. Marathon Pipe Line Co.

ELR Citation: 9 ELR 20004
Nos. No. 78-1453, 589 F.2d 1305/12 ERC 1588/(7th Cir., 12/22/1978)

The Seventh Circuit upholds the Coast Guard's assessment of a $2,000 civil penalty against the owner of a pipeline from which oil was spilled into navigable waters through the act of a third party. Section 311(b)(6) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act makes owners of facilities from which oil is spilled liable to a civil penalty of up to $5,000 in an amount to be determined by the Coast Guard, taking into account ability to pay and the gravity of the violation. The provision makes no mention of any defenses to the imposition of such penalties and thus quite clearly envisions strict liability. The intent of Congress, as manifested in §311 as a whole, is that a substantial penalty be imposed, even where the owner is not at fault. Defendant's assertion that only a nominal amount may be imposed because of the lack of fault on its part is therefore erroneous. The claim that the civil penalty provision violates substantive due process limitations because the assessment of a substantial penalty in the absence of fault bears no reasonable relation to the single legislative purpose of deterring spills is likewise mistaken. The Act has a remedial as well as a deterrent purpose, and holding owners strictly liable is rationally related to the proper goal of placing the financial burden of achieving and maintaining clean water on the owners or operators of polluting facilities. The district court's grant of summary judgment enforcing the $2,000 penalty is affirmed.

Counsel for Plaintiff-Appellee
James R. Burgess Jr., U.S. Attorney
Room 330, 750 Missouri Ave., East St. Louis IL 62202
(618) 274-2361

Counsel for Defendant-Appellant
Gregory C. Ray
Craig & Craig
1807 Broadway, Mattoon IL 61938
(217) 234-6481

Before CASTLE, Senior Circuit Judge, BAUER and WOOD, Circuit Judges.