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Maryland v. Amerada Hess Corp.

Citation: 2 ELR 20606
No. No. 72-101-HM, 350 F. Supp. 1060/4 ERC 1625/(D. Md., 09/22/1972)

A federal district court has admiralty jurisdiction in a suit by a state for damages to compensate for injury to its waters by an oil discharge from the defendants' shore facility. In this type of case the tort takes place, not where the negligent act occurs but, rather, where the act or omission becomes operative or effective. Although the allegedly negligent act occurred on land when the pipelines parted from the shore facility, the tort did not arise until the oil polluted the waters of the State of Maryland in Baltimore Harbor, and the locality of the tort alone determines whether or not a tort claim is within the admiralty jurisdiction. Even though a Maryland statute to provide for recourse in the case of oil spillage, passed and made effective on a date after the oil spillage had occurred, could not be applied retroactively to this suit, the state has standing to bring a common law suit to combat the problem. A state has technical ownership in its waters that gives it the legal right to bring suit on behalf of the public in order to serve the "common good" of its citizens, whether or not separate legislative authority exists. The oil discharged into the waters of the State of Maryland did not create a public nuisance. One act does not create a nuisance, and a nuisance ncessarily involves the idea of continuance. In this case there was only a single act of spillage, Finally, the doctrine of the warranty of seaworthiness cannot be extended in order to impose on a ship and its owner the absolute duty to provide the state and its waters with a seaworthy vessel. The doctrine is limited to the privity of contract situation or runs to the benefit of those performing the historical functions of seamen. The court denies in part and grants in part the motions to dismiss of the defendants, directing the plaintiff to file an amended complaint.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Francis B. Burch Attorney General of Maryland
Baltimore, Maryland

Warren K. Rich Special Ass't Attorney General
Department of Natural Resources
1825 Virginia Avenue
Annapolis, Maryland

Counsel for Defedants
Joseph H. Kaplan
Benjamin Rosenberg
William Giacofci
Venable, Baetjer & Howard
1800 Mercantile Band & Trust Building
2 Hopkins Plaza
Baltimore, Maryland 21201

Richard R. Jackson, Jr.
Robert V. Barton, Jr.
Ober, Grimes & Shriver
1600 Maryland Building
Baltimore, Maryland 21202