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Ironshore Specialty Insurance Co. v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 15, 2017

IRONSHORE SPECIALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, in its own right and as subrogee of NORTHEAST SHIP REPAIR, INC., Plaintiff, Appellant,


          George M. Chalos, with whom Chalos & Co, P.C. was on brief, for appellant.

          Anne Murphy, Attorney, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice, with whom Benjamin C. Mizer, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Carmen Milargros Ortiz, United States Attorney, and Matthew M. Collette, Attorney, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice, was on brief, for appellee United States of America.

          Thomas J. Muzyka, with whom Olaf Aprans and Clinton & Muzyka, P.C. were on brief, for appellee American Overseas Marine Corporation.

          Before Barron, Stahl, and Lipez, Circuit Judges.

          LIPEZ, Circuit Judge.

         This appeal arises out of an incident on the South Boston Waterfront, where a large military transport vessel, the FISHER, unexpectedly spilled over 11, 000 gallons of fuel next to Boston Harbor. Ironshore Specialty Insurance Company ("Ironshore"), the entity that paid the cleanup costs, appeals from a district court order dismissing claims it brought against American Overseas Marine Company, LLC ("AMSEA") and the United States under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 ("OPA"), 33 U.S.C. §§ 2701-2761, general admiralty and maritime law. After carefully considering the parties' arguments and the relevant law, we affirm in part and reverse in part.


         The FISHER is a large, medium speed, "roll on, roll off" transport vessel and vehicle cargo ship. The Military Sealift Command, a division of the United States Navy, owns the FISHER. The vessel is deployed principally to carry military vehicles and containerized cargo for the Department of Defense.

         In 2010, the Military Sealift Command entered into a contract with AMSEA, in which AMSEA agreed to crew, maintain, and make routine repairs to the FISHER. In June 2014, pursuant to that contract, the FISHER entered a Boston graving dock owned by Boston Ship Repair ("BSR"), with whom AMSEA had subcontracted to perform routine maintenance.[1] No aspect of the maintenance related to fueling the FISHER, and only AMSEA crew members were permitted to conduct fuel transfers. On July 9, while the FISHER was propped up on blocks within the graving dock, an oil spill occurred as a result of the allegedly negligent conduct of AMSEA crew members. More than 11, 000 gallons of diesel fuel poured out of the vessel and into the graving dock. To prevent the fuel from escaping into Boston Harbor -- and to minimize damages to the FISHER and BSR's graving dock -- BSR quickly acted to contain and remove the fuel. BSR incurred nearly $3, 000, 000 in costs associated with cleaning up the FISHER's fuel spill, which Ironshore reimbursed as BSR's pollution policy insurer. As BSR's subrogee, Ironshore filed this action in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts against AMSEA and the United States to recover the money it paid to reimburse BSR's cleanup costs. Ironshore's three-count complaint sought (1) cleanup costs and damages under the OPA; (2) a declaratory judgment finding AMSEA and the United States to be strictly liable parties under the OPA; and (3) damages sounding in general admiralty and maritime law as a result of AMSEA's and the United States' alleged negligence.

         The United States and AMSEA each filed a motion to dismiss Ironshore's OPA claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). AMSEA also asked the district court to dismiss Ironshore's negligence claims against it. The district court granted both parties' motions to dismiss in full. The district court went further, however, and also dismissed sua sponte Ironshore's negligence claim against the United States, concluding that the OPA foreclosed the option of bringing any negligence claim relating to oil spills under general admiralty and maritime law. Ironshore timely appealed, asserting that (1) the district court inappropriately considered documents outside the pleadings when it decided the defendants' motions to dismiss; and (2) it erroneously dismissed each of Ironshore's OPA and negligence claims.


         We review a district court's grant of dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) de novo, treating as true all well-pleaded facts in the complaint. Isla Nena Air Servs., Inc. v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 449 F.3d 85, 87 (1st Cir. 2006).

         A. Documents Outside the Pleadings

         Ironshore argues that, as a threshold matter, the district court committed reversible error when it relied upon materials outside the pleadings in granting AMSEA's and the United States' 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. Specifically, Ironshore challenges the district court's decision to consider the Military Sealift Command's contract with AMSEA. Ironshore did not include or append this contract to its complaint. Rather, AMSEA and the United States provided excerpts of the contract to the district court alongside their respective motions to dismiss, and the United States appended the full contract to its reply to Ironshore's opposition to its motion to dismiss.[2] Ironshore asserts that, by relying on the contract in its disposition of the defendants' motions, the district court inappropriately converted the Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss into Rule 56 summary judgment motions that "could not be properly resolved until the completion of discovery." We disagree.[3]

         "Ordinarily[] . . . any consideration of documents not attached to the complaint, or not expressly incorporated therein, is forbidden, unless the proceeding is properly converted into one for summary judgment under Rule 56." Watterson v. Page, 987 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1993). We have recognized, however, that when considering 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss, "courts have made narrow exceptions for documents the authenticity of which are not disputed by the parties; for official public records; for documents central to plaintiffs' claim; or for documents sufficiently referred to in the complaint." Id. Moreover, "[u]nder First Circuit precedent, when 'a complaint's factual allegations are expressly linked to -- and admittedly dependent upon -- a document (the authenticity of which is not challenged), ' then the court can review it upon a motion to ...

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