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United States v. Redwood City, City of

ELR Citation: 11 ELR 20341
Nos. No. 78-3162, 640 F.2d 963/15 ERC 1699/(9th Cir., 02/23/1981)

The court rules that negligent third parties may be held liable to the United States for oil sill cleanup and wreckage removal costs under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) and the Wreck Removal Act. The United States sued the owner/operator of a private security company that patrolled and maintained surveillance over the port of Redwood City for costs incurred in the removal of a sunken barge and cleanup of the subsequent oil spill. The court first rules that the district court erred in dismissing the complaint, finding that it set forth allegations that, if proved, would support appellant's claims. The court also rules that non-owners of vessels may be liable in negligence for wreck removal costs under §15 of the Wreck Removal Act. Liability may arise for either negligent acts of omission or commission because the Act was intended to provide a broad base of coverage in protecting innocent victims from paying removal costs. The court rejects appellees' contentions that, in order to recover for oil spill cleanup costs under §311 of the FWPCA, third parties must be solely responsible for the spill as a result of willful negligence or willful misconduct; §311 provides that the United States may sue negligent third parties directly. The provisions requiring willful negligence or misconduct and sole responsibility are limited to certain narrow circumstances. Finally, the court rules that the FWPCA does not limit the United States' right to seek damages under maritime tort or nuisance theories.

Counsel for Appellant
G. William Hunter, U.S. Attorney; Philip A. Berns, Ass't U.S. Attorney
U.S. Cthse., 400 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco CA 94102
(415) 556-1126

Counsel for Appellees
Joseph C. Howard
Branson, FitzGerald & Howard
500 Allerton St., Redwood City CA 94063
(415) 365-7710

David B. Paynter
Ericksen, Mackenroth & Arbuthnot, Inc.
Pier 1 1/2, The Embarcadero, San Francisco CA 94111
(415) 362-7126

Before CHOY, Circuit Judge, KASHIWA,* Court of Claims Judge, and TANG, Circuit Judge.