Spain files a notice of appeal in the US Court of Appeals
Rajesh Joshi | LLOYD’S LIST
SPAIN has appealed against a US district court ruling from last month that threw out the country’s $1bnPrestige lawsuit against ABS.
This is Spain’s second appeal in this case since 2008. The appeal perpetuates the seven-year-old lawsuit, which already has become legendary in certain quarters as the biggest lawsuit in maritime history.
Spain yesterday filed a notice of appeal in the US Court of Appeals against the district court’s August 20 order dismissing Spain’s complaint.
As Lloyd’s List has reported, a Spanish appeal appeared to be inevitable following the August 20 ruling, in which district court Judge Laura Taylor Swain threw out the country’s case for the second time in 32 months.
The content of Spain’s new appeal, as well as the appellate judge before whom the appeal would come up, would become clear only in the weeks ahead, after a scheduling conference takes place.
In the country’s first public statement since the August verdict, Spain’s lead counsel Brian Starer told Lloyd’s List on Wednesday night: “Clearly, the district court decision is out of step with maritime law that has existed for hundreds of years.
“In short, ABS cannot partake in reckless misconduct which causes damage to a third party and then simply walk away with no responsibility. Our appeal will face this finding head on, and seek to establish that ABS does, indeed, bear liability for reckless conduct.”
ABS vice-president for external affairs Stewart Wade countered: “We are not at all surprised that Spain appealed. However, we remain confident that the circuit court will uphold the district court verdict, and vindicate ABS’ victory.”
At issue is Judge Swain’s verdict in August that accepted Spain’s contention that US law and not the laws of China or the United Arab Emirates as contended by ABS applied to the case, but held that US law “imposed no duty on ABS that is enforceable by Spain”.
Judge Swain was ruling on Spain’s insistence on holding ABS accountable for recklessness on top of negligence, which in Spain’s view makes a jury trial mandatory.
Spain’s case came up short twice in Judge Swain’s courtroom. The first instance was in January 2008 when she stymied Spain’s pursuit of the case by ruling that it was precluded by the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution to which the country and Prestige flag state Bahamas are signatories.
In an apparent U-turn, Judge Swain ruled last month that the CLC was a non-issue because US law indeed applied, but she was throwing out Spain’s case anyhow.
Legal sources close to Spain had expressed outrage to Lloyd’s List after Judge Swain’s August verdict, stating that as a sovereign nation, Spain was entitled to “its day in court” regardless of the alleged whims of a solitary American judge.
Now that the case has officially left Judge Swain’s docket, Spain also hopes for an entirely “new beginning” before a new set of judges.
Spain sued ABS in May 2003 for alleged negligence in certifying the 1976-built, 81,564 dwt tanker Prestige as fit. It sank off Spain in November 2002, for which $1bn was sought to reimburse Spain for claims paid out.
Observers are following the matter with deeper interest in light of the fact that ABS classed Deepwater Horizon.