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United States v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company

United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
259 F.3d 1300 (2001)


Facts

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Act (FK-NMSA) provided that the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (sanctuary) would be managed under all applicable provisions of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA), 16 U.S.C. §§ 1431-45. Section 1443(a)(1)(A) of the NMSA provided that any person who destroyed or injured marine-sanctuary resources was liable to the federal government (government) (plaintiff) for damages. The Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company (Great Lakes) (defendant) hired Coastal Marine Towing (Coastal) to tow equipment across the Florida coast. Coastal supplied two tugboats. A navigational error caused by one of the tugboats caused the other tugboat to run aground, creating a channel in the sanctuary that destroyed 7,495 square feet of sea bottom. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) developed a restoration plan consisting of three alternatives, including a no-action plan, a regrading plan, and an imported-fill plan. The government sued Great Lakes in federal district court for violating § 1443(a)(1)(A) of the NMSA. The government proposed NOAA’s imported-fill plan to the district court, and provided expert testimony that the site would recover in 70 years following the plan’s implementation. The district court used only the 70-year recovery period as the basis for selecting the no-action plan, finding that the imported-fill plan was not required because the site would recover on its own in 70 years. The district court also found Great Lakes to be strictly liable for all damages to the sanctuary. Great Lakes appealed, arguing that (1) the government could not bring suit, because the sanctuary was state-owned; and (2) the district court improperly denied Great Lakes an affirmative third-party defense under § 1443(a)(3)(A), which shielded a person from liability for injury to sanctuary resources if the person acted with due care, and if a third party’s act or omission caused the injury. The government cross-appealed, arguing that the district court erred by approving the no-action plan.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Roney, J.)

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