U.S. district judge dismisses ABS counterclaims in ôPrestigeö suit
In New York, U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain has dismissed counterclaims by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), a vessel classification society, in an ongoing lawsuit between Spain and ABS.
The lawsuit, likely to come to trial in 2006, is focused on the sinking of the tanker 'Prestige' Nov. 19, 2002, which discharged millions of gallons of oil into Spain's costal waters. Spain sought damages from ABS, alleging ABS was negligent in classifying the 'Prestige' as fit to carry oil. ABS asserted counterclaims seeking a declaratory judgment that Spain was obligated to indemnify ABS, or contribute to payment of damages assessed against ABS, because of Spain's alleged negligence in responding to the 'Prestige' disaster.
In her ruling, Swain noted that Spain contended that her court lacked jurisdiction of ABS's counterclaims because they were barred by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities ACT (FSIA), under which a foreign state is immune from jurisdiction of U.S. courts except as stipulated in certain subsections of FSIA. ABS had specifically invoked the counterclaim exception provisions of subsections 1607 (b) and (c).
Swain determined 'ABS's counterclaims suffer ' from the fact that it seeks indemnification and contribution for judgments it has not yet incurred, in favor of parties not yet identified, on the basis of claims not yet plead. Consequently, the court cannot even determine on the current record whether or not the claims and potential claims underlying ABS's counterclaims, and thus the counterclaims (themselves), are sufficiently logically related to Spain's claims ' because the issues those counterclaims will present are not yet clear.'
Swain ruled ABS 'has failed to show that the FSIA does not deprive the court of subject matter jurisdiction of its counterclaims.' She ordered that trial proceedings begin in January 2006, allowing both Spain and ABS almost a year and a half to complete discovery processes that are now underway.
For the complete ruling, see 'Reino de Espana, on its own behalf and as trustee, v. The American Bureau of Shipping Inc.'; docket number 03 Civ. 3573 (LTS) (RLE); date of ruling: August 3.