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United States v. Le Beouf Bros. Towing Co.

Citation: 6 ELR 20708
No. No. 74-3140, 537 F.2d 149/9 ERC 1118/(5th Cir., 08/16/1976)

Provisions in the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970, which are identical to those in the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, and which confer immunity from criminal prosecution upon persons reporting an oil spill, do not extend to the assessment of civil penalties against such persons under a strict liability standard. The statutory wording clearly shows that Congress did not intend to extend such immunity to civil cases. Forfeiture actions brought in rem against certain barges under the Refuse Act are also civil proceedings and thus do not trigger the immunity provisions. Because the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination does not extend to corporations, the court declines to consider whether such civil penalties are actually criminal in nature and thus constitutional only if applied in combination with a broad interpretation of the immunity provision. Lower court decision in two consolidated oil spill cases granting summary judgment against the government in a suit to recover a civil penalty from a corporation under the Water Quality Improvement Act and dismissing an in rem action against barges under the Refuse Act are reversed and remanded.

Counsel for Plaintiff-Appellant
Leonard Schaitman
Department of Justice
Washington DC 20530
(202) 739-3321

Counsel for Defendant-Appellee
Donald R. Abaunza
Lemle, Kelleher, Kohlmeyer & Matthews
1800 First National Bank of Commerce
New Orleans LA 70112
(504) 586-1241

Before TUTTLE and GEE, Circuit Judges.*