United States v. American Commercial Lines, LLC, No. 16-31150 (5th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
After a tugboat collided with an oil-filled barge and caused 300,000 gallons of oil to spill in the Mississippi River, the United States filed suit against ACL, the statutorily-defined responsible party under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), 33 U.S.C. 2704(a), seeking a declaration that ACL was liable for all removal costs and damages, and to recover costs that it incurred. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the United States and final judgment ordering ACL to pay the United States $20 million. The court held that ACL failed to establish that it was entitled to the third-party defense because the conduct that caused the spill occurred "in connection" with DRD's contractual relationship with ACL. The court also held, in the alternative, that ACL was not entitled to OPA's general limit on liability because DRD's conduct fell within the exception from limited liability for spills proximately caused by gross negligence, willful misconduct, or federal regulatory violations.