Damages Recoverable Under Park
System Resources Protection Act
Tug Allie-B, Inc. v. United States
of America, 273 F.3d 936 (11th Cir. 2001).
Sarah Elizabeth Gardner, 3L
In its first case addressing damages that are recoverable
by the United States under the Park System Resources Protection Act,
the Eleventh Circuit ruled that a vessel owner could not limit his
liability to the value of the vessel and its cargo by relying on another
statute, the Limitation Act. The court reasoned that considering the
Resource Protection Acts history, language, and purpose, the
Limitation Act could not be applied to exonerate or limit a defendants
liability for damages.
The Limitation Act was passed in 1851 to facilitate shipbuilding by
encouraging investors to invest in the shipping industry. The Act
limits a vessel owners liability for any damages arising from
a maritime accident to the value of the owners interest in the
vessel and the value of its pending freight after the accident.1
The Park System Resources Protection Act (PSRPA) was enacted in 1990
to protect and preserve the resources of the United States. The PSRPA
authorized the Secretary of the Interior (the Secretary) to hold liable
any person or vessel that caused damage to or destroyed any living
or non-living part of the National Park System. The person or vessel
is responsible for response costs and damages,2 which
the Secretary may use for resource restoration.3
On July 20, 1998, the commercial tug, ALLIE-B, and its barge, collided
with and grounded on coral reefs near Ledbury Reef in Biscayne National
Park off the coast of Florida. When the tug finally freed itself from
the reef, it had caused a crater-like blow hole in the ocean
floor, in addition to destroying extensive tracts of coral
reef, including hard and soft corals and reef framework.4
The tug owner and the employer of the tug driver (together known as
Tug Allie) filed a petition to limit liability for any
damages caused by the tugboat and barge. Tug Allie claimed the Limitation
Act limited their liability to the post-accident value of the tug
and freight, which was approximately $1.2 million. The U.S. and Allied,
the barge owner, joined together and responded to Tug Allies
limitation claim with their own claim under the PSRPA for damages
amounting to $3 million.5
After comparing the goals of the two statutes and finding them to
be in direct conflict, the District Court found the Governments
claims under the PSRPA were not subject to limitation and that they
could recover the full damages if proven.6 Tug Allie
appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit claiming
that the two statutes could be read harmoniously because the Limitation
Act only limited damages recoverable under the PSRPA in relation to
damages caused by a vessel. The government countered that the statutory
language and the underlying intent created an irreconcilable conflict
between the two laws. The government also claimed that because the
PSRPA was the newer and more specific statute, the conflict must be
resolved by applying the PSRPA and not the Limitation Act. In addressing
the issue of harmony, the court reviewed the language of the two statutes
and found three main conflicts existed.
According to the Eleventh Circuit, the first conflict between the
two statutes concerned the amount of damages recoverable. Looking
first at the PSRPA, the court noted nothing in its language suggests
that damages awarded under this statute should be in any way limited
or capped. The court found that the terms response costs and
damages expressly allowed the government to recover all of its
losses.7 In finding no language to the contrary, the
court concluded, Congress contemplated that the Government could
seek full recovery . . . [for] injury to park lands.8
The court then looked to the language of the Limitation Act and found
that if it applied to the PSRPA, and a vessel destroyed park land,
the governments recoverable damages would be limited or not
recoverable. This put the two statutes in direct conflict and therefore,
the court concluded they could not be read harmoniously.
Further analysis of the two statutes showed that each was based on
a different theory of liability. The court, analogizing the PSRPA
to the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act, found the
PSRPA was a strict liability statute with only three defenses for
avoiding liability, none of which Tug Allie could claim.9
They also noted that the legislative history suggested that the defenses
were intended to be all-inclusive. On the other hand, the court found
the Limitation Act was based on negligence, which allows for many
defenses to be used. The court concluded that the two statutes could
not be read together because if the Limitation Act was applied to
the PSRPA, then all the available defenses to the Limitation Act would
necessarily apply to the PSRPA.
The last conflict between the two statutes was the method of determining
liability. The PSRPA considered the cause of the injuries in establishing
liability and held the person or instrumentality liable for all damages
without considering the value of the instrumentality causing the damage.
Under the PSRPA, a judgment against a responsible party could be either
in personam or in rem meaning that it applied to the defendants
person or their property.10
The Limitation Act, however, limits a vessels liability through
showing the unseaworthiness of the vessel or a lack of negligence
or lack of knowledge on the owners part. Under the Limitation
Act, no matter if the judgment was against the person (in personam)
or the vessel (in rem), the amount of recoverable damages was limited
to the value of the vessel with its cargo, effectively limiting damages
to in rem.11 Therefore, the court found that the application
of the Limitation Act to the PSRPA would render the in personam clause
of the PSRPA completely meaningless.12
Tug Allie next argued that Congresss silence on the applicability
of the Limitation Act to the PSRPA proved that Congress intended for
it to apply, calling the courts attention to several statutes
that specifically stated the Limitation Act was not applicable. Tug
Allie reasoned that because the language of the PSRPA did not specify
to the contrary, Congress meant for it to apply, thereby limiting
Tug Allies liability to the value of the vessel. The court rejected
Tug Allies logic, concluding that the Supreme Court has traditionally
taken a restrictive view of the Limitation Act and finding
that Congress silence alone was not sufficient to determine
After considering all of the elements of statutory construction and
finding that the statutes conflicts render them unharmonious,
the Eleventh Circuit considered whether one implicitly overruled the
other. In making this determination, the court applied the principle
that, if two statutes conflict, the more recent or more specific
statute controls.14 Being enacted 140 years after
the Limitation Act, it was quite apparent the PSRPA was the more recent
statute. In addition, considering the incidents that each statute
covered, the PSRPA was found to be more narrowly tailored and the
court found that it controlled.
The purpose of the PSRPA was to provide the government with a way
to recover for the full restoration of park resources, whether on
land or in water, that were damaged by third parties. The Limitation
Acts purpose was to provide an exemption from or a limitation
on liability in order to encourage shipping. Under the Limitation
Act, if a vessel and all its freight were destroyed while damaging
or destroying resources in the National Park System, the government
could not recover anything. Or if the value of the vessel and its
freight were less than the amount of damage caused, then the governments
recovery would be limited to its value. Therefore, application of
the Limitation Act would frustrate the very purpose the PSRPA was
enacted to serve. The court expanded on this limitation to recovery
for water damages, noting the application of the Limitation Act would
require assuming that Congress intended to create a statutory
scheme that ensured full protection for park resources on land but
only partial protection of our marine park resources.15
After a lengthy examination of the statutory language, history, and
purpose of each act, the court found that the Limitation Act did not
apply to the PSRPA.
1. 46 U.S.C. app. § 183(a) (2001).
2. 16 U.S.C. § 19jj-1(a), (b), § 19jj(c), (b) (2001).
3. Tug Allie-B, Inc. v. United States of America, 273 F.3d 936, 947
(11th Cir. 2001).
4. Id. at 939. See also In re Tug Allie-B, Inc, 114 F.Supp.2d 1301,
1302 n.1 (M.D. Fla. 2000).
5. Allied claimed $1 million in damages and the U.S. originally claimed
$3 million but reduced their claim to $2 million.
6. Id. at 941. See also 16 U.S.C. § 19jj(b), (c) (2001).
7. Id. at 942.
9. The three defenses to liability are: (1) the destruction, loss
of, or injury to the park system resource was caused solely by an
act of God or an act of war; (2) such person acted with due care,
and the destruction, loss of, or injury to the park system resource
was caused solely by an act or omission of a third party, other than
an employee or agent of such person; or (3) the destruction, loss,
or injury to the park system resource was caused by an activity authorized
by Federal or State law. 16 U.S.C. § 19jj(c) (2001).
10. See 16 U.S.C. § 19jj-1(c) (2001).
11. Tug Allie-B, 273 F.3d at 944.
13. Id. at 947.
14. Id. at 948.