ripe and plaintiffs do not have standing at this time to challenge the Coast Guard's determinations.
The ripeness doctrine prevents courts from "entangling themselves in abstract disagreements over administrative policies" through avoiding premature adjudications. Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 87 S. Ct. 1507, 1515, 18 L. Ed. 2d 681 (1967). In addition, it protects agencies from "judicial interference until an administrative decision has been formalized and its effects felt in a concrete way by the challenging parties." Id. See also State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Dole, 255 U.S. App D.C. 398, 802 F.2d 474, 478 (D.C.Cir. 1986) cert. denied, 480 U.S. 951, 107 S. Ct. 1616, 94 L. Ed. 2d 800 (1987). The determination of whether or not something is ripe, as this Court pointed out in Genentech, Inc. v. Bowen, 676 F. Supp. 301, 309 (D.D.C. 1987), is very much a matter of practical common sense. The Supreme Court in Abbott Laboratories set forth a two-step level of inquiry to help in the determination of ripeness. First, "the fitness of the issues for judicial decision" must be determined. Second, a court must examine the "hardship" incurred by the parties should the court withhold consideration. 87 S. Ct. at 1515.
The "fitness" inquiry involves several factors: (1) Is the agency position merely tentative, or is it sufficiently final to demand compliance with its announced position? Ciba-Geigy Corp. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, 255 U.S. App. D.C. 216, 801 F.2d 430, 436 (D.C.Cir 1986). (2) Is the issue in dispute a matter of law or will the Court be called on to resolve factual disputes properly left to the agency? Genentech, 676 F. Supp. at 309. (3) Will the Court's deliberations benefit from letting the question arise "in some more concrete and final form?" Eagle Picher Industries v. EPA, 759 F.2d 905, 915 (D.C.Cir. 1985).
In considering the fitness prong of the test, the Court finds that the agency positions are not merely tentative. However, because Seabulk has not applied for final documentation, the preliminary decisions made by the Coast Guard and the Board of Appraisers are not sufficiently final to demand compliance, nor are they ripe for review.
In addition, at this point the factual and legal disputes are too closely linked to separate out for appropriate review. As in Manhattan I, Civ.Action No. 82-3471 at 10, the Court is faced with factual as well as legal questions. See also Manhattan II, 596 F. Supp. at 982. Thus, the Court would be in a better position to review the Coast Guard's decisions after final administrative action is taken.
In considering the hardship prong, the Court must look at the countervailing interests of the parties. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., 802 F.2d at 479. "It is well settled that for an institutional interest in deferral to be outweighed, postponing review must impose a hardship on the complaining party that is immediate, direct, and significant." Id. at 480. The Court finds that the hardship incurred by Keystone, should review of the Coast Guard's decisions be delayed until final documentation and approval occurs, if in fact they do, is minimal. Keystone Shipping argues that they are losing shipping contracts based on the anticipated approval of the new Seabulk America. The Court finds this harm tenuous at best. Defendant-intervenors' Seabulk have a better argument. They argue that they are investing millions of dollars based on the Coast Guard's preliminary decisions. However, regardless of the results of this case, the Seabulk intervenors still run the risk that the improvements will not be appraised as repairs equal to or greater than three times the salved value. Thus, while immediate review might mitigate the risk, it would not remove it.
On the other hand, allowing plaintiffs to challenge Coast Guard decisions at each step would place undue burdens on the Coast Guard -- to say nothing of the courts -- and would be contrary to the purposes of the statute.
Compared to the unending litigation that the Coast Guard would face should the Court allow its preliminary decisions to be questioned judicially, neither parties' hardship justifies immediate review.
Accordingly, since the Court is not satisfied that the issues at hand now are proper for judicial review or that the plaintiffs will suffer hardship should the Court withhold consideration, the Court finds that plaintiffs' complaint is not ripe and dismisses this action.
In addition to not being ripe, the Court concludes that plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the Coast Guard's preliminary decisions. To establish standing, "a litigant must plead an injury in fact fairly traceable to the conduct complained of and likely to be redressed by the relief requested." American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO v. United States Postal Service, 282 U.S. App. D.C. 5, 891 F.2d 304, 308 (1989) (citing Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 751, 82 L. Ed. 2d 556, 104 S. Ct. 3315 (1984)). Except for broad allegations that their shipping charges are being affected because of rumors of the Seabulk America, plaintiffs provide no injury in fact which is likely to be redressed by the relief requested. In fact, most of the alleged injury is based upon the likelihood of the rebuilt vessel's competing against them in coastwise trade. As the Court has pointed out, until final repairs have been completed, and applications for documentation approved, no one knows if the rebuilt vessel actually will compete against them.
Accordingly, the plaintiffs' alleged injuries are too speculative to confer standing at this time.
Accordingly, the defendants' motion to dismiss is granted. An appropriate Order accompanies this Opinion.
Date: January 17, 1990
ORDER - January 17, 1990, Filed
Upon consideration of defendants' motion to dismiss, plaintiffs' opposition, defendant-intervenors' opposition, defendants' reply, and the entire record, defendants' motion is granted for the reasons set forth in the accompanying Opinion. Consistent therewith, it hereby is
ORDERED, that the case is dismissed.