309 F.3d 662 (9th Cir. 2002), 01-35762, SeaRiver Maritime Financial Holdings, Inc. v. Mineta

Docket Nº:01-35762
Citation:309 F.3d 662
Party Name:SeaRiver Maritime Financial Holdings, Inc. v. Mineta
Case Date:October 31, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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309 F.3d 662 (9th Cir. 2002)

SEARIVER MARITIME FINANCIAL HOLDINGS INC.; SeaRiver Maritime, Inc.; Seariver Maritime International Inc., Plaintiffs-Appellants,


Norman Y. MINETA, Secretary, United States Department of Transportation; John Ashcroft, Attorney General, United States Department of Justice; Native Village of Port Graham; Valdez Native Tribe, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 01-35762.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

October 31, 2002

Argued and Submitted April 3, 2002.

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E. Edward Bruce, Covington & Burling, Washington, DC, for the plaintiffs-appellants.

Mark B. Stern, Department of Justice, Civil Division, Washington, DC, for the defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Alaska, H. Russel Holland, Chief Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-97-00060-HRH.

Before D.W. NELSON, THOMPSON and PAEZ, Circuit Judges.


PAEZ, Circuit Judge.

At midnight on March 23, 1989, the T/V Exxon Valdez ran aground onto Bligh Reef in Alaska, spilling nearly eleven million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound (the "Sound"). The following year, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, increasing the penalties for oil pollution and instituting a regulatory regime aimed at improving oil tanker safety, preventing future oil spills, and enhancing oil spill response. See 33 U.S.C §§ 2701-61. Section 5007 of the Oil Pollution Act (the "Act") (codified at 33 U.S.C § 2737) excludes from the waters of Prince William Sound any vessel that spilled more than one million gallons of oil into the marine environment after March 22, 1989. The Act effectively bars the Exxon Valdez from operating in Prince William Sound.

SeaRiver Maritime Financial Holdings, Inc. and SeaRiver Maritime International, the owners of the Exxon Valdez, and SeaRiver Maritime, Inc., its operator, (collectively, "SeaRiver") brought this action seeking, inter alia, a declaration that, as applied to SeaRiver, § 2737 is an unconstitutional bill of attainder and denies SeaRiver due process and equal protection in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The district court ruled that § 2737 did not violate the Constitution, and dismissed the complaint. SeaRiver appealed.

We affirm. We hold that § 2737 is not an unconstitutional bill of attainder because it does not punish SeaRiver. We also hold that § 2737 does not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment because it furthers a rational legislative purpose. Nor is § 2737 inconsistent with the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection because there is a rational basis for Congress to have concluded that excluding the Exxon Valdez from Prince William Sound would further the legitimate purpose of protecting the Sound's environment from future oil spills.


The T/V Exxon Valdez began operation in 1986 as an oil tanker, transporting oil from Valdez, Alaska, to California. It was

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constructed at a cost of $125 million for the purpose of carrying oil from the Alaska North Slope to United States oil refineries. It is undisputed that the ship ran aground as a result of the actions of its master and crew.

On August 18, 1990, the President signed the Oil Pollution Act. 33 U.S.C. §§ 2701-61. In the Act, Congress recognized that Prince William Sound is an "environmentally sensitive area" and included provisions designed to protect the Sound's environment and reduce the likelihood of future oil spills. 33 U.S.C. § 2732(a)(2)(A). The Act established the Prince William Sound Oil Spill Recovery Institute and an Oil Terminal and Oil Tanker Environmental Oversight and Monitoring Demonstration Program for Prince William Sound. It provided for a Bligh Reef navigation light, a vessel tracking and alarm system, and increased equipment and requirements for oil spill response. 33 U.S.C. §§ 2731-35.

Section 2737 addressed the operation in Prince William Sound of vessels with histories of oil spills:

Notwithstanding any other law, tank vessels that have spilled more than 1,000,000 gallons of oil into the marine environment after March 22, 1989, are prohibited from operating on the navigable waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska.

Between March 22, 1989, and August 18, 1990, when the Oil Pollution Act was enacted, no other tank vessel engaged in transporting Alaska North Slope oil from Prince William Sound had spilled more than one million gallons of oil into the marine environment. Within that same period, at least nine tank vessels transporting oil in other regions had each spilled more than one million gallons of oil into the water. Prior to March 22, 1989, and since the passage of the Act, numerous tank vessels have spilled more than the requisite amount of oil.

SeaRiver repaired the Exxon Valdez. On August 29, 1990, it passed all Coast Guard inspections, confirming that it met federal regulatory standards. The tanker was renamed the S/R Mediterranean.1 It has apparently operated without spillage since its repair.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill spawned numerous civil and criminal actions. See In re Exxon Valdez, 270 F.3d 1215, 1224 n. 12 (9th Cir. 2001) (listing cases).2 The United States filed criminal charges against Exxon Corporation and Exxon Shipping, SeaRiver's predecessors, resulting in a plea agreement and fines that were remitted to $25 million. See id. at 1245-46. A consent decree resolving civil claims of the United States and the State of Alaska required Exxon to pay $100 million in restitution for governmental expenses spent on the cleanup and $900 million to restore damaged natural resources in exchange for the federal and state governments' release of all civil claims. Id.


Plaintiffs brought this suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas seeking a declaration that

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§ 2737 is unconstitutional and injunctive relief against enforcement of § 2737 resulting from operation of the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound. Plaintiffs brought a separate suit in the United States Court of Federal Claims seeking just compensation under the Fifth Amendment for an alleged taking of the Exxon Valdez. The parties agreed to a stay in the Court of Federal Claims pending resolution of this action.

Ultimately, the case was transferred to the United States District Court for the District of Alaska. On June 4, 1998, the district court dismissed SeaRiver's claims, concluding that it had waived the right to challenge § 2737. We reversed the dismissal in an unpublished memorandum disposition and remanded for the district court to consider the constitutional issues. Seariver Mar. Fin. Holding, Inc. v. Slater, 243 F.3d 549 (9th Cir. 2000) (unpublished table decision), available at 2000 WL 1763237. Defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, or in the alternative, for summary judgment. The district court granted Defendants' motion. It denied SeaRiver's cross-motion for summary judgment.


SeaRiver advances three constitutional grounds for invalidating § 2737:(1) it is an unconstitutional bill of attainder; (2) it violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment; and (3) it violates equal protection under the Fifth Amendment. We review de novo challenges to the constitutionality of a statute. Gerling Global Reins. Corp. v. Low, 296 F.3d 832, 837 (9th Cir. 2002), amended by 2002 WL 31007789 (9th Cir. Sept.9, 2002). We also review de novo a grant or denial of summary judgment. Id.

A. Bill of Attainder

SeaRiver urges us to reverse the district court's determination that § 2737 is not an unconstitutional bill of attainder. We decline, and hold that § 2737 does not work an attainder.3

The Constitution instructs Congress that "No Bill of Attainder . . . shall be passed." U.S. Const. art. I, § 9, cl. 3. A bill of attainder is "a law that legislatively determines guilt and inflicts punishment upon an identifiable individual without provision of the protections of a judicial trial." Nixon v. Adm'r of Gen. Servs., 433 U.S. 425, 468, 97 S.Ct. 2777, 53 L.Ed.2d 867 (1977). The Bill of Attainder Clause implements the doctrine of separation of powers. Id. at 469, 97 S.Ct. 2777. "Just as Article III confines the Judiciary to the task of adjudicating concrete 'cases or controversies,' so too the Bill of Attainder Clause was found to 'reflect . . . the Framers' belief that the Legislative Branch is not so well suited as politically independent judges and juries to the task of ruling upon the blameworthiness of, and levying appropriate punishment upon, specific persons.' " Id. (quoting United States v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437, 445, 85 S.Ct. 1707, 14 L.Ed.2d 484 (1965)).

Three key features brand a statute a bill of attainder: that the statute (1) specifies the affected persons, and (2) inflicts punishment (3) without a judicial trial.4

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Selective Serv. Sys. v. Minnesota Pub. Interest Research Group, 468 U.S. 841, 847, 104 S.Ct. 3348, 82 L.Ed.2d 632 (1984). Statutes are presumed constitutional. Heller v. Doe, 509 U.S. 312, 320, 113 S.Ct. 2637, 125 L.Ed.2d 257 (1993). Only the clearest proof suffices to establish the unconstitutionality of a statute as a bill of attainder. Communist Party of United States v. Subversive Activities Control Bd., 367 U.S. 1, 83, 81 S.Ct. 1357, 6 L.Ed.2d 625 (1961). In judging the constitutionality of § 2737, "we may only look to its terms, to the intent expressed by Members of Congress who voted its passage, and to the existence or nonexistence of legitimate explanations for its apparent effect." Nixon, 433 U.S. at 484, 97 S.Ct. 2777. We conclude that § 2737 is not a bill...

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