United States of America v. Marshalls 201

Type of court
Seat of court
Court jurisdiction
Date of opinion

The defendant is the owner of the Marshall 201, a vessel spotted by a U.S. Coast Guard within the U.S. EEZ surrounding Baker and Howland Islands. The vessel had no permission to fish in the zone. Nevertheless, the vessel carried 130 tons of tuna presumably harvested from U.S. waters. The vessel owner did not contest the allegation of illegal fishing as such, but rather argued that it was an “innocent owner”. Thus, the court decided this case under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act’s “innocent owner” provision. This provision precludes civil forfeiture of an asset where the owner proves, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it (a) “did not know of the conduct giving rise to the forfeiture,” or (b) “upon learning of the conduct giving rise to the forfeiture, did all that reasonably could be expected under the circumstances to terminate such use of the property.” 18 U.S.C. § 983(d)(2)(A). Here, the owner argued both options, claiming that it did not know of the illegal fishing or, in the alternative, that it took all reasonable steps to halt the illicit activity upon learning of it. Considering all the evidence, the court ruled that the owner had failed to carry its burden of proving the absence of a “genuine issue of material fact” regarding its claim of innocent ownership.

Language of document
Reference number
Civil Case No. 06-00030
Illegal fishing (without a license)
The court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, rejecting the owner’s argument that forfeiture was improper under the “innocent owner” defense.
Penalty note
After the court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the defendant company agreed to settle on terms favorable to the government (including payment of a $500,000 fine and provision of real-time Vessel Monitoring System tracking information to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the entire fleet going forward).
Court cases cited
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)
Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 631 (9th Cir. 10 1988)
Nissan Fire & Marine 22 Ins. Co., Ltd., v. Fritz Cos., Inc., 210 F.3d 1099, 1106 (9th Cir.2000)
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 18 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. 16 v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)
Legislation cited
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act
Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)