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American Shipper

FMC awaits appeal on Puerto Rico ports

FMC awaits appeal on Puerto Rico ports

A legal battle over the authority of U.S. shipping laws in Puerto Rico has shifted from the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission to a federal appeals court in Washington.

   The FMC issued an order Monday declaring that litigation proceeding within the jurisdiction of the commission in the Puerto Rico case is moot because the appeals court has ordered a stay pending a decision at the appeals court level.

   A Puerto Rico Port Authority request for a stay of proceedings before an FMC administrative law judge was rejected by the administrative law judge on February 12. However, the ALJ said the PRPA did have the right to appeal his decision before the full commission.

   The FMC issued its order this week saying that all the proceedings involving the Puerto Rico ports case should be put on hold within the FMC because of the stay order from the federal court.

   The case originates from three consolidated claims by stevedoring and ships agent companies in Puerto Rico that alleges the PRPA has violated the Shipping Act by limiting their operations within different port terminals in Puerto Rico.

   After the complaints were filed with the FMC, the PRPA argued that the Shipping Act does not apply to Puerto Rico port operations because of the principle of 'sovereign immunity,' which deals with the relationship between the federal government and states, and how the laws of each apply and overlap.

   The FMC rejected the sovereign immunity claim in a Nov. 30 decision, leading to PRPA appeals within the FMC legal process as well as in the federal court system.

   With the issue now squarely before the appeals court, the issue will remain on hold until a decision is made at that level, and possibly appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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