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Steuart Transp. Co. v. Allied Towing Corp.

Citation: 9 ELR 20237
No. Nos. 77-2426, -2427, 596 F.2d 609/12 ERC 2035/(4th Cir., 04/10/1979) Aff'd

The court affirms the district court's opinion, 7 ELR 20658, in a suit in which the owner of a barge seeks to limits its liability for cleanup costs arising from an oil spill from the barge. The court first upholds the trial court's finding that the barge owner is solely at fault for the accident. Second, since the barge company was found not guilty of willful negligence, the court issues a limitation on its liability for cleanup costs pursuant to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA). Third, the court holds that the FWPCA is the exclusive remedy for recovery of cleanup costs, notwithstanding the government's assertion that either the Refuse Act, nuisance, or maritime tort law provide unlimited liability. Although the statutory language is vague on the point, the FWPCA legislative history makes it clear that the specific remedy in the FWPCA replaces rather than supplements remedies that were developed previously in the absence of a comprehensive statute and that are now inconsistent with it. Fourth, the barge company can not offset its cleanup expenses against the claim of the United States because its negligence caused the spill. Finally, Virginia is not barred from recovering its cleanup expenses from the barge company, pursuant to the state's oil pollution liability statute, because Congress has neither expressly preempted nor limited state authority to recover cleanup costs.

Counsel for Steuart Transportation Co.
Robert M. Hughes, III, Philip N. Davey, Michael F. Leban
Seawell, McCoy, Dalton, Hughes, Gore & Timms
936 Wainwright Bldg., Bute & Duke Sts., Norfolk VA 23510
(804) 622-5341

Counsel for Allied Towing Corp.
Morton H. Clark, G. William Birkhead, Carter T. Gunn
Vandevanter, Black, Meredith & Martin
2050 Virginia Nat'l Bank Bldg., 1 Commercial Pl., Norfolk VA 23510
(804) 622-4381

Counsel for the Commonwealth of Virginia
Timothy G. Hayes, Ass't Attorney General; Marshall Coleman, Attorney General; David E. Evans, Ass't Attorney General
1101 E. Broad St., Richmond VA 23219
(804) 786-2071

Counsel for United States
Allen Van Emmerik; Barbara Allen Babcock, Ass't Attorney General; Leonard Schaitman
Civil Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-3321

William B. Cummings, U.S. Attorney
117 S. Washington St., Alexandria VA 22314
(703) 557-9100

Counsel for Amicus Curiae The Maritime Ass'n of the United States
David R. Owen
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes
10 Light St., Baltimore MD 21202
(301) 539-5040

Nicholas J. Healy
Healy & Baillie
29 Broadway, New York NY 10006
(212) 943-3980

Butzner, J. (joined by Widener and Phillips, JJ.)