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United States v. Hollywood Marine, Inc.

ELR Citation: 11 ELR 21001
Nos. No. H-77-1870, 519 F. Supp. 688/16 ERC 2180/(S.D. Tex., 07/31/1981) On remand

In an action in which the United States seeks to recover the expenses incurred in cleaning up an oil spill, the court rules that a tugboat is not a "third party" under §311(f) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA). After a barge owner failed to clean up an oil spill caused when its vessel ran aground while under tow, the United States had the spill cleaned up and sued the vessel, its owner, and its insurer to recover the cleanup costs and a civil penalty from the owner. The court finds that under §311(b)(3) a vessel and its owner are liable without fault for actual cleanup costs incurred by the United States. Narrowly interpreting §311(f), which provides a "third-party defense" to absolute liability, the court rules that because the tugboat was acting on behalf of the vessel owner it did not constitute a third party. In addition, any claim by the United States for cleanup costs may be brought directly against the insurer. Because of the failure of the owner and the insurer to remove the oil, they are jointly and severally liable for the costs. The court also upholds the civil penalty assessed under §311(b)(6).

[The issues raised in this case are analyzed at 11 ELR 10140; previous decisions in this case are found at 10 ELR 20569, 20718, and 11 ELR 20679 — Ed.]

Counsel for Plaintiff
Carl Walker Jr., U.S. Attorney; Jack Shepherd
P.O. Box 61129, Cthse. & Fed. Bldg., 515 Rusk Ave., Houston TX 77002
(713) 226-4765

Rosemary A. Denson
Torts Branch Civil Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 724-7243

Counsel for Defendants
Ronald L. White
Brown, Sims & Ayre
Suite 1735, Post Oak Central, 2000 S. Post Oak Rd., Houston TX 77056
(713) 629-1580