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Maritime Update: Angelex, Ltd. v. United States of America

District Court did not have Jurisdiction to Review USCG Actions Enforcing Pollution Prevention Statutes

Angelex, Ltd. v. United States of America, — F.3d —-, 2013 WL 3782748, C.A.4 (Va.), July 22, 2013 (NO. 13-1610)

Angelex, Ltd. is the owner of the Antonis G. Pappadakis, an ocean-going bulk cargo carrier registered in Malta.  On April 14, 2013, the vessel arrived at the Norfolk Southern Terminal and loaded a cargo of coal for delivery to a customer in Brazil.  During a routine Port State Control inspection, a crewmember of Pappadakis passed a note to Coast Guard personnel advising that the vessel had discharged oily bilge water overboard in violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, 33 U.S.C. secs. 1901-1915 (“APPS”).  The Coast Guard confirmed that the vessel’s oily water separator was inoperable and likely discharged bilge water overboard and that the vessel’s oil record book was incomplete or falsified. 

The Coast Guard referred its finding to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution.  It also withheld clearance for the vessel to depart Norfolk.  Angelex and the Coast Guard began negotiating a security agreement.  The Coast Guard required a $2.5 million bond and a number of obligations to ensure the cooperation and availability of the crew and officials.  Angelex and the Pappadakis (in rem) filed an emergency petition in the Eastern District of Virginia seeking immediate release of the vessel or imposition of an appropriate bond.  The Petition alleged 1) that the Coast Guard was wrongfully withholding clearance;  the vessel was unlawfully detained;  3)  the amount of surety was unjustified; 4) such actions were causing irreparable harm to Anglelex;  and 5) the government was improperly making Angelex act as its proxy in detaining the crewmembers in violation of their due process rights.

The district court issued an opinion setting forth new bond conditions.  The court explained that it had jurisdiction under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. sec. 551, et seq. (“APA”), federal question jurisdiction or in rem admiralty jurisdiction.  The government appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the district court’s subject matter jurisdiction.  The Fourth Circuit reversed.

The Court held that the action that occurred in this case is explicitly committed to the discretion of the Coast Guard and, therefore, the matter was not reviewable under the APA.  Thus, the district court had no subject matter jurisdiction.  The Court found that 33 U.S.C. sec. 1908(e) gives the Coast Guard broad discretion to deny bond altogether and can dictate the terms of any bond that it may accept.  Furthermore, sec. 1908(e) does not provide any “judicially manageable standards” by which to review Coast Guard actions.  Finally, the Court noted that APPS contains built-in safeguards to prevent government abuses.  APPS provides for compensation for loss or damage as a result of any unreasonable detention by the Coast Guard.  This remedy gives Angelex a remedy distinct from the injunctive relief it sought.

The Court further held that the district court did not have in rem admiralty jurisdiction.  The Coast Guard’s withholding of the vessel’s departure clearance is not tantamount to an attachment pursuant to a civil action, such as a maritime lien, under Supplemental Admiralty and Maritime Claims Rule E. 



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