Admiralty Law

'You don't need a peg leg or an eye patch' to be sued under piracy law, says 9th Circuit

Reversing an earlier decision by a federal district court judge in Seattle, a federal appeals court has given the green light to a lawsuit brought by Japanese whalers against a U.S. activist group known for its aggressive anti-whaling tactics and put a new trial court judge in charge of the case.

“You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch,” wrote Chief Judge Alex Kozinski in a Monday opinion (PDF) by a three-judge 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel. “When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.”

In addition to reviving the whalers’ suit against Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and its leader, “Captain” Paul Watson, the 9th Circuit also ordered the defendants not to attack any ships operated by the plaintiffs, who include the Institute of Cetacean Research, a corporation and two individuals, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

And, in an unusual move, the appeals court also ordered that the case be reassigned to a new federal judge in Seattle, after finding that U.S. District Judge Richard Jones made “numerous, serious and obvious errors.”

One member of the three-judge panel dissented (PDF) on the judge reassignment issue, but agreed that the lawsuit should be reinstated.

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