On July 17, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana reconsidered an earlier ruling in the case of Nguyen v. American Commercial Lines, Inc., concerning the requirements for a claim for oil spill damage under the Oil Pollution Action of 1990 (OPA). The case arose from a collision and oil spill on the Mississippi River, in which the Coast Guard designated American Cargo Lines (ACL) as the responsible party under OPA. ACL ultimately received 272 claims on behalf of commercial fishermen and seafood wholesalers allegedly affected by the spill. The claimants brought suit without providing certain supporting evidence for the claims that had been requested by the responsible party’s claims administrator.
In its initial ruling, the court dismissed the complaint, finding that the claimants had failed to provide the supporting evidence requested by the claims administrator, which the court had concluded was required by Coast Guard regulations. However, on reconsideration, the court looked more closely at the two alternative claim processes set out in the OPA. The Act permits a party seeking compensation for damages or removal costs incurred as a result of an oil spill incident to file a claim directly against the responsible party; or alternatively to seek reimbursement from the National Pollution Fund Center. The court recognized that for a claim directly against a responsible party, the statute only requires that a request be made in writing for a sum certain. The court went on to note that the Coast Guard regulations on which it had relied previously – which require that claims be supported by evidence – apply only to claims presented to the NPFC, not claims against responsible parties.