Since 1987, United States regulations have required that shrimp trawlers generally install turtle excluder devices (TEDs) when operating in U.S. waters where sea turtles are located (Section 609 of Public Law 101-162). A group of countries brought a complaint to the Dispute Settle Mechanism of the WTO. The WTO Appellate Body ultimately ruled that Section 609 was a permissible conservation measure, but that U.S. enforcement of it was discriminatory. Then, a coalition of environmental groups sued defendant federal officials in the U.S. Court of International Trade, alleging that the officials’ regulations unlawfully permitted exported shrimp to enter the U.S. in violation of Section 609. Here, the defendant officials are appealing the Court of International Trade’s holding that the government’s regulations were unlawful. The appellate court found that the plain language of the statute only authorized an embargo of shrimp that was caught without the use of TEDs. This language did not authorize an embargo of TED-caught shrimp simply because the nation’s fleet as a whole lacks certification. The appellate court found no evidence in the legislative history to support the U.S. government’s position, but did find that the primary goal of the law was to protect the domestic shrimping industry from unfair competition (by foreign vessels able to catch shrimp without the costs of TEDs) rather than to protect sea turtles from drowning. The appellate court also held that Section 609 (b)(1) refers to shipments, not nations.
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284 F.3d 1282
The appellate court (the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit) reversed the lower court, upholding the U.S. government’s interpretation of Section 609. In other words, the appellate court agreed that the import ban operated on a shipment-by-shipment basis. As a result, the appellate court also upheld the denial of injunctive relief and attorney fees to the plaintiffs.
Court cases cited
I.N.S. v. Phinpathya, 464 U.S. 183, 190, 78L. Ed. 2d 401, 104 S. Ct 584 (1984)
Tenn. Valley Auth. V. Hill, 437 U.S. 153, 194, 57 L. Ed. 2nd 117, 98 S. Ct. 2279 (1978)
Public Law 101-162 (codified at 16 U.S.C. § 1537)
Text and analysis