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United States v. Bear Marine Services

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
696 F.2d 1117 (5th Cir. 1983)


International Matex Tank Terminals, Inc. (IMTT) (defendant) maintained a structure called a dolphin in the Mississippi River. A tug pulling a barge struck the dolphin, causing an oil spill. The United States (the government) (plaintiff) sued IMTT and Bear Marine Services (defendant) for the damage under a tort theory of maritime negligence. IMTT sought dismissal, arguing that the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA), 33 U.S.C. §§ 1251-1376 was the exclusive option available to the government to seek damages for oil-spill cleanup and that the government could not sue under a tort theory of maritime negligence. The district court concluded that the FWPCA did not prevent the government from suing third parties contributing to an oil spill on a theory of maritime negligence. The district court refused to dismiss the negligence claim, but nevertheless certified for immediate appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) the question of whether the FWPCA was the only means for oil-spill recovery from third parties (which IMTT was, because even if it contributed to the spill, it did not discharge any oil). The motions panel preliminarily permitted the appeal. Subsequently, in United States v. M/V Big Sam, 681 F.2d 432 (5th Cir. 1982), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the government may sue third parties who contributed to oil spills under tort theories as well as the FWPCA. Both parties argued that, despite the resolution in the Big Sam case of the key issue for which the appeal was sought, the Fifth Circuit could speed resolution of the case as a whole by deciding other, ancillary questions raised by the parties.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Rubin, J.)

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