Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Admiralty & Maritime Law

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Petitioner, a pilot, seeks review of the final order of the NTSB that permanently revoked his certificates based on his criminal conviction, contending that the FAA’s earlier administrative action bars the FAA’s permanent revocation order by operation of various preclusion doctrines, double jeopardy, and due process. In this case, petitioner fraudulently sold helicopter rotor blades with maintenance records he had altered to hide the fact that another mechanic had deemed the blades to be unrepairable scrap. The court concluded that 49 U.S.C. 44726(b)(1)(A) plainly authorizes revocation of any airman certificate after a qualifying conviction, even if the FAA unsuccessfully pursued a prior subsection (B) administrative action based on the events underlying the conviction. The court further concluded that revocation of airman certificates in those circumstances is a civil, remedial measure aimed at protecting public safety that does not offend principles of preclusion, double jeopardy, or due process. Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review. View "Lauterbach v. Huerta" on Justia Law

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Maher, a marine terminal operator, challenges a decision of the Commission authorizing preferential lease terms to a competitor, APM-Maersk. The court concluded that, assuming arguendo that the Commission adequately responded to Maher’s contention that the same rates should be extended to it, the Commission’s explanation as to why APM-Maersk’s preference was based on a “transportation factor” was hopelessly convoluted, particularly in light of its precedent. The court remanded the case to the Commission for a more adequate explanation of its decision and policy. Accordingly, the court granted the petition for review and remanded. View "Maher Terminals, LLC v. FMC" on Justia Law

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The Coast Guard, after receiving whistleblower complaints, initiated an investigation against two foreign-flagged vessels. The Coast Guard subsequently ordered Customs to withhold departure clearance and the vessels were held for investigation for differing lengths of time, ranging from a couple of days to over a month. The vessels were released after appellants, the ship owners and operators, posted a bond and executed a security agreement. At issue in this appeal is whether the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security – acting through the Coast Guard – may impose certain conditions (nonfinancial in nature) upon the release of ships suspected of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, 33 U.S.C. 1901(a)(4). Determining that the case is justiciable, the court concluded on the merits that the first sentence of section 1908(e) gives the Coast Guard the requisite authority. Section 1908(e) states that “[i]f any ship subject to the [Convention]…is liable for a fine or civil penalty...or if reasonable cause exists to believe that the ship...may be subject to a fine or civil penalty [Customs]...upon request of the Secretary [the Coast Guard]...shall refuse...clearance,” and as such it clearly provides authority in the Coast Guard to simply hold the ship in port until legal proceedings are completed. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Watervale Marine Co. v. DHS" on Justia Law

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Appellant, a Colombian citizen, was indicted under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA), 46 U.S.C. 70503(a), and extradited to the United States for prosecution. Appellant pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to distribute drugs “on board . . . a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States,” in violation of the MDLEA. The court concluded that the MDLEA’s conspiracy provision reaches appellant’s extraterritorial conduct in this case; the overt acts of other conspirators on board the vessel are attributable to appellant, satisfying any “on board a vessel” requirement that might arguably circumscribe the MDLEA’s extraterritorial application; the Felonies Clause provides Congress with authority to “punish” appellant for his role in the conspiracy; the application of the MDLEA in appellant's case does not violate the Due Process Clause; the district court did not err when it assumed the truth of the government’s proffered facts in denying appellant’s motion, including with regard to whether the pertinent vessel was subject to the jurisdiction of the United States; the court rejected appellant's Brady claims; and the court rejected appellant's sentencing claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed the conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Ballestas" on Justia Law

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Miranda and Carvajal, citizens of Colombia, participated in an operation that used high-speed boats to smuggle drugs from Colombia to Central American countries. Neither planned to, or did, leave Colombia in furtherance of the conspiracy. Carvajal was an organizer of the operations, and Miranda provided logistical support. In 2011, Colombian officials arrested them. They were extradited to the United States and pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA) 46 U.S.C. 70501. The D.C. Circuit affirmed, rejecting their arguments that the MDLEA was unconstitutional as applied to their conduct, that the MDLEA fails to reach extraterritorially to encompass their conduct in Colombia, and that the facts failed to support acceptance of their guilty pleas. They waived all but one of the arguments when they entered pleas of guilty without reserving any right to appeal. Their remaining claim, whether vessels used by the drug conspiracy were “subject to the jurisdiction of the United States” within the meaning of the MDLEA, implicates the district court’s subject-matter jurisdiction and could not be waived by appellants’ pleas. On the merits of the issue, the stipulated facts fully supported the conclusion that the vessels were subject to U.S. jurisdiction. View "United States v. Miranda" on Justia Law

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The Neutrality Act, 18 U.S.C. 962, passed in 1794, is generally recognized as the first instance of municipal legislation in support of the obligations of neutrality. The Act makes it unlawful to furnish, fit out, or arm a vessel within the U.S. with the intent of having the vessel used in the service of a foreign state or people to commit hostilities against another foreign state or people with whom the U.S. is at peace. Vessels covered by the Act are subject to forfeiture, and persons who give information leading to the seizure of such vessels may recover a bounty. Bauer sought to pursue a claim under the Act, claiming to have informed the government of vessels that had been funded, furnished, and fitted by anti-Israel organizations in the U.S., together with violent and militant anti-Israel organizations from other countries. The complaint alleged that the vessels were to be employed in the service of Hamas, a terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip, to commit hostilities against Israel. The district court dismissed, holding that the statute lacks an express private cause of action. The D.C. Circuit affirmed, holding that informers lack standing to sue on their own. View "Bauer v. Mavi Marmara" on Justia Law

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Appellee, a Somali national, helped negotiate the ransom of a merchant vessel and its crew after they were captured by marauders in the Gulf of Aden. Appellee received a share of the ransom and also received a separate payment for his negotiation services. After appellee was appointed Director General of the Ministry of Education for the Republic of Somaliland, he was invited to attend an education conference in the United States. When appellee landed in the United States, he was promptly arrested. Appellee was indicted for conspiracy to commit piracy under the law of nations (Count One); committing piracy under the law of nations (Count Two); and conspiracy to commit hostage taking and aiding and abetting hostage taking (Counts Three and Four). On appeal, the government challenged the district court's dismissal of Counts One, Three, and Four, as well as limitation of Count Two. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Count One; reversed the district court's narrowing of the scope of Count Two to acts appellee performed while on the high seas; and reversed the dismissal of Counts Three and Four. View "United States v. Ali" on Justia Law

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Trade associations representing commercial ship owners and operators petitioned for review of a nationwide permit issued by the EPA for the discharge of pollutants incidental to the normal operation of vessels. Petitioners raised a number of procedural challenges, all related to the EPA's decision to incorporate into the permit conditions that states submitted to protect their own water quality. The court held that because petitioners had failed to establish that the EPA could alter or reject state certification conditions, the additional agency procedures they demanded would not have afforded them the relief they sought. Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review.