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Bouchard Transp. Co. v. Updegraff

ELR Citation: 29 ELR 20139
Nos. Nos. 96-3494 et al., 147 F.3d 1344/(11th Cir., 07/31/1998)

The court holds that a district court erred in ruling that Florida is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity in a limitation of liability proceeding, but it correctly dismissed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) and Florida Pollution Discharge Prevention Act claims brought against the owners of three vessels involved in a collision resulting in the discharge of oil. Each owner filed a complaint for limitation of liability under the Limitation of Shipowner's Liability Act of 1851 and in accordance with Rule F of the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims, which provides a mechanism for the pro rata distribution among claimants of the fund created by the Limitations Act's liability limits. The court first holds that Florida is not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from a limitation proceeding initiated pursuant to Rule F. The U.S. Supreme Court in California v. Deep Sea Research, 118 S. Ct. 1464 (1998), held that the Eleventh Amendment does not bar an in rem admiralty action where the state does not have actual possession of the res. Although this limitation proceeding is not an in rem action, it is sufficiently analogous for Deep Sea Research to compel the conclusion that Florida is not entitled to sovereign immunity. Like an in rem proceeding, the owners neither named any specific entities as defendants in their complaints nor formally served process on any defendants. Instead, the owners posted security bonds with the district court. Moreover, as in Deep Sea Research, Florida does not have possession of the disputed res—the bonds are part of the record of this case, currently in the possession of the federal judiciary.

The court next holds that Rule F does not apply to claims brought pursuant to the OPA. First, the OPA claimants do not face a limited fund necessitating a pro rata distribution because the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund ensures that every claim made pursuant to the OPA will be paid in full. Second, Congress has specifically set forth procedures to implement the strictures of the OPA. Thus, unlike the Limitations Act, the OPA can accomplish statutory goals without the assistance of Rule F. This conclusion is also supported by the principles of statutory construction. Furthermore, the convenience of the shipowner is not a legitimate goal of a Rule F limitation proceeding. Neither Rule F nor the Limitations Act grants the owners a right to a concursus.

The court also holds that Rule F does not apply to claims brought pursuant to the Florida Pollution Discharge Prevention Act. Like the OPA claimants, Florida Act claimants do not face a limited fund because the Florida Coastal Protection Trust Fund ensures that all claims are paid in full. In addition, the owners do not have a general entitlement to a concursus; Rule F is not designed to make litigation more convenient for vessel owners. Furthermore, the Florida Act sets forth an elaborate set of claims procedures to guide the administration of claims against responsible parties and against the Florida Fund.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Carl R. Nelson
Fowler, White, Gillen, Boggs, Villareal & Banker
501 E. Kennedy Blvd., Ste. 1700, Tampa FL 33601
(813) 228-7411

Counsel for Defendants
Andra T. Dreyfus
Johnson, Blakely, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel & Burns
911 Chestnut St., Clearwater FL 34617
(813) 461-1818

Before Cox and Dubina, JJ.