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Myers v. American Triumph F/V

 

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The plaintiffs appealed the district court’s dismissal of their in rem class action suit in admiralty against a fishing vessel, the F/V American Triumph (the Vessel). The United States Coast Guard issued a certificate of documentation and fishery endorsement (Certificate) to the Vessel in 1986. The Certificate permitted the Vessel to engage in the fishing trade. In 1998, the Coast Guard determined that the Vessel did not meet the requirements for a vessel used in United States fisheries[1] and issued a notice of intent to cancel the Certificate. However, before the Coast Guard invalidated the Certificate, Congress passed the American Fisheries Act (Act).[2] The Act contained a provision excepting the Vessel from the normal requirements that would have prohibited the Vessel from participating in the fishing trade.[3] Despite the renewed validity of the Vessel’s Certificate, the plaintiff brought an admiralty action against the Vessel for conversion of fish, and for intentional and negligent interference with business opportunity, misrepresentation, and unjust enrichment. The district court dismissed the action. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that “the Vessel had an incontrovertible right to take fish during the years in question” and affirmed the district court’s decision.[4]

The court focused on whether the Vessel’s certificate entitled the Vessel to engage in the fishing trade during the period that the plaintiff claimed the vessel was converting fish. The Coast Guard issues certificates to vessels pursuant to 46 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12122.[5] These statutory sections provide the qualifications a vessel must meet to engage in a specific trade, and in particular, the fishing trade.[6] In addition, section 12104(2) states that once a certificate is issued, it is “conclusive evidence of qualification to be employed in [the fishing] trade.”[7] The court stated that this section is not open for judicial interpretation because the language of the statute clearly states that a certificate is incontrovertible evidence that the vessel is entitled to engage in the fishing trade and the canons of statutory construction prohibit the court from looking further than the text to determine the meaning of a clear statute. The court stated that by passing this statute, Congress limited the ability of parties to challenge a vessel’s right to fish once the vessel has obtained a certificate. Therefore, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court, holding that plaintiffs did not have a private right of action to challenge the Vessel’s taking of fish under the Certificate.


[1]See 46 U.S.C. § 12108(a)(3) (2000) (requiring vessels to be rebuilt in the United States).

[2]American Fisheries Act, Pub. L. 105-277, div. C, title II, 112 Stat. 2681-616 (1998).

[3]16 U.S.C. § 1851 (notes) (2000).

[4]Myers v. American Triumph F/V, 260 F.3d 1067, 1070 (9th Cir. 2001).

[5] 46 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12122 (2000).

[6] 46 U.S.C. § 12108(a) (2000).

[7] 46 U.S.C. § 12104(2) (2000).

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