Environmental Law Term Paper

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Nissan v. Maryland Shipbuilding

In the last several decades as industry has increased throughout the United States, there have been several court cases regarding industrial chemicals, their use, and the liability of those using potentially hazardous materials. From personal property cases to cases between industries, the court systems have struggled to determine criteria for negligence, trespassing, liability, and other aspects of potentially harmful materials in the air, water, and soil. With no specific federal criteria for such suits, and only common law to interpret in such cases, these issues can be solely up to interpretation of the law. With additional concerns about jurisdiction in cases of maritime commerce, such suits can be difficult to judge, at best.

This paper discusses the case of Nissan Motor Corp. v. Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, a case originally brought in 1982 that shows the difficulty of applying common law to corporate environmental issues. Throughout the paper, we will examine the history of the case, the background and specific requirements of the environmental issues and regulations cited in the lawsuit, and the reasons behind the use of such regulations. Additionally, this paper will discuss the final verdict of the court, the reasoning behind the judgment, and will discuss the judgment, citing the specific legal conditions in the case that justify the end judgment. Through such an analysis, we hope to show that the judges in this case were correct in their decision.

In Nissan Motor Corp. v. Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Company (1982), there are several issues one must first examine to fully understand the case at hand. Nissan Motor Corp. secured land from the Weyerhaeuser Lumber Company in the mid-1970s. This land was located in the Port of Baltimore, and was to be used as a docking point for vessels carrying new automobiles, and as a storage point for those vehicles. The company then distributed the vehicles to retailers for sale in various regions throughout the United States. By 1978, the land had been leased from Weyerhaeuser by the Maryland Port Authority, and sublet to Nissan. In February of 1978, Nissan opened the storage facility. Of the three lots located on the property, the main lot was immediately adjacent to a ship repair and drydock facility owned and operated by Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. This main lot, at any given time, could hold up to 6,000 vehicles as they waited for redistribution (Nissan Motor Corp. v. Maryland Shipbuilding, 1982).

The land owned by Maryland Shipbuilding was used, as mentioned, for ship repair and as a drydock facility, and had been in use by Maryland Shipbuilding for nearly fifty years. Vessels docked at Maryland Shipbuilding's piers for paint work and repair services, which included at times repairs to boilers and engines. In order to repair those boilers, the workers of the vessels shut them down, and then fired them up again upon exiting the pier. This procedure, called a "light off," could cause black smoke to emit from the vessel, and under specific wind conditions, this smoke blew onto the property of Nissan, and particulates settled on the exteriors of the vehicles stored there. Similarly, under proper conditions, paint spray from the painting activities of Maryland Shipbuilding blew onto the same lot (Nissan Motor Corp. v. Maryland Shipbuilding, 1982).

In July of 1978, Nissan claimed smoke and soot discharged from the smokestack of a vessel leaving the shipyard damaged the exterior paint of vehicles stored on the main lot. A similar occurrence was said to have happened in August if 1978. Nissan filed suit at that time, but the incident was settled outside of court (Yasuda Fire & Marine Insurance Company, Ltd. v. Maryland Shipbuilding & Drydock Company, Civil No. H-80-877, 1980).

In November of 1980, Nissan again filed suit against Maryland Shipbuilding, this time claiming damage due to paint spraying. The complaint originally listed four incidents, but as time went forward, the complaint was amended to include other paint incidents, as well as further claims of smoke damage to the vehicles. In all, the complaint, by the time the case came to trial, included twelve occurrences of smoke damage and four incidents of spray paint damage (Nissan Motor Corp. v. Maryland Shipbuilding, 1982).

The first question of the case was the jurisdiction under which the case would be heard. The original complaint asserted the claims by the plaintiff fell under admiralty jurisdiction (Nissan Motor Corp. v. Maryland Shipbuilding, 1982).

Otherwise known as maritime law, admiralty jurisdiction is a system of law that concerns commerce and navigation at sea. The United States Constitution, Article 3, section 2, gave federal courts the authority to govern over any incidents occurring within the navigable waters of the U.S. (Churchill and Lower, 1999).

The current grant of admiralty jurisdiction falls under 28 U.S.C. section 1333, and continues to grant state courts the right to share jurisdiction through the "savings to suitors" clause. In particular, tort cases require that there be a "potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce," and there must be a "significant relationship to traditional maritime activity" in order for there to be admiralty jurisdiction. In those cases, the Admiralty Extension Act, 46 U.S.C. section 740, extends admiralty jurisdiction for damages (Orlando, 2001).

In this case, the Court ruled that the case existed under the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act, 46 U.S.C. 740. Under this extension of the Admiralty Jurisdiction, maritime jurisdiction is extended to all cases of damage or injury to persons or property caused by a vessel on navigable water (46 U.S.C. 740). The Court's decision rested on the idea that the alleged paint damage to Nissan vehicles would have occurred as a result of a floating crane barge located on navigable waters, and that any alleged smoke damage would have occurred as a result of the actions of vessels located in navigable waters or docked at Maryland Shipbuilding's piers (Nissan Motor Corp. v. Maryland Shipbuilding, 1982).

Once jurisdiction was determined, the Court then had to determine whether common law or the law of Maryland could be applied in the case. In Byrd v. Byrd (657 F. 2d 615, 4th Cir. 1981), the same Court decided that to follow state law in admiralty cases would negate the entire point of maritime law, that of a simplistic principle of uniform law. Thus, the Court determined that it would look to common law and, in particular, the Restatement Second of Torts, to determine criteria for nuisance and trespass in determining liability (Nissan Motor Corp. v. Maryland Shipbuilding, 1982).

It is important to understand the Restatement of Torts in a general sense prior to continuing the discussion of this particular case. The Restatements of the Law are treatises by the American Law Institute that take common law, and address any uncertainty of basic legal practice to ensure a clear and concise understanding of base issues. Originally published between 1923 and the end of World War II, the Restatements originally addressed Torts, Contracts, Property, Restitution, Trusts, and several other areas of common law. However, in 1950, the Institute realized a need to revise and update the common law principles within the Restatements, and thus published new volumes as "Second Restatements" (Thierer, 2003).

Once these issues were determined, the Court had to determine the environmental issues at hand. To do so, the Court first noted there were two distinct issues in this case, those of the alleged smoke damage, and the alleged paint damage. The reasoning for the distinction between two similar issues was simply that the smoke damage complaints stemmed from smoke rising from vessels operated by ship owners, rather than by Maryland Shipbuilding employees. On the other hand, the paint spraying issue was clearly done by employees of the shipyard (Nissan Motor Corp. v. Maryland Shipbuilding, 1982).

In terms of the smoke damage, the Court noted that neither party disputed the fact that smoke from the shipyard occasionally landed in Nissan's property. Instead, the issue at hand was whether or not such occurrences were the result of negligence, trespass, or nuisance, as prescribed under common law in order for a plaintiff to collect damages. In terms of negligence, common law prescribes that the plaintiff must prove the defendant was "required to conform to a certain standard of conduct...," that the defendant "failed to meet" those standards by "acting negligently or unreasonably," that the defendant's failure was the "proximate cause" of damages suffered, and that the plaintiff suffered damages (Kidner, 2004).

In Nissan Motor Corp. v. Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, the Court first had to determine whether Maryland Shipbuilding was negligent, and therefore responsible, for the damage to the vehicles of Nissan caused by smoke emissions (Nissan Motor Corp. v. Maryland Shipbuilding, 1982). First, the Court had to determine if the smoke its self was caused by negligence. According to expert testimony in the case, the smoke was a byproduct of normal functions of specific vessels. Steamships using Bunker C. fuel emitted black smoke during the "light off" procedure. These emissions were not considered hazardous materials, as they were… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Environmental Law.  (2007, November 13).  Retrieved January 20, 2020, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/environmental-law/8438861

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https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/environmental-law/8438861.