The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN H. PRATT
In this action, plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the United States levying a fee on certain recreational boat owners. Currently before the Court are defendants' Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment, plaintiffs' Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, the oppositions, and the replies thereto. For the reasons given below, we grant defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and deny plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment.
In an attempt to increase revenue, the Conference Agreement for the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 adopted a fee on certain recreational boats ("recreational fee") creating a graduated fee schedule for larger boats.
H. Conf. Rep. No. 964, 101st Cong., 2d. Sess., 1024, reprinted in 1990 U.S. Code Cong. & Adm. News 2729. As originally enacted, the annual fee applied to all recreational boats longer than 16 feet through fiscal year 1995.
In 1992, Congress repealed the recreational fee for vessels under 37 feet beginning in fiscal year 1994.
Section 2110(b) contains several provisions germane to this litigation. As is evident from its title, the recreational fee did not apply to commercial boats.
Each of the recreational fees listed in the statute was the maximum rate that could be assessed. Congress did not indicate whether lesser amounts could be levied or what calculation procedures should be followed. Furthermore, Congress ambiguously defined the scope of the recreational fee to include non-commercial vessels "operated on the navigable waters of the United States where the Coast Guard has a presence." 46 U.S.C. § 2110(b).
Congress delegated authority over the implementation of the recreational fee to the Secretary of Transportation ("the Secretary"). The Secretary passed rulemaking authority to the Coast Guard, an agency within the Department of Transportation. 56 Fed. Reg. 58771 (April 4, 1991). On March 28, 1991, the Coast Guard published in the Federal Register a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) entitled "Recreational User Fees". 56 Fed. Reg. 30244 (July 1, 1991).
Although the Coast Guard held no public hearing on the subject, it did accept written comments (totalling in excess of 4,000 pages) from various interested parties during a 45 day comment period.
In its final ruling on the recreational fee, the Coast Guard levied the maximum fee allowed under § 2110(b) for each boat length classification. The Coast Guard defined the phrase "navigable waters of the United States where the Coast Guard has a presence" to include
internal navigable waters of the United States, not subject to tidal influence, from which, during most of the boating season, a 16 foot long powered vessel with a displacement-type hull can navigate to waters subject to tidal influence.
33 CFR 1.30-1(c)(3). The Coast Guard defends such an expansive interpretation by pointing to its discretionary authority and the minimal guidance provided by Congress.
Plaintiff, Boat Owners Association of the United States ("Boat/U.S."),
is the largest association of recreational boat owners in the United States.
Boat/U.S. raises numerous claims
as to why the Court should strike down the recreational fee affecting its members. Initially, plaintiffs point out that recreational boatowners, unlike many of their commercial counterparts, are already subject to a gasoline tax on marine fuel that partially subsidizes the Coast Guard.
It is the basic contention of Boat/U.S. that § 2110(b) is a denial of the Constitutional right of Equal Protection. Plaintiffs employ two separate theories in support of this claim. First, they argue that it is a denial of equal protection for Congress to impose a user fee on recreational vessels but not on commercial ones because, it is alleged, commercial boats are far more likely to utilize Coast Guard services. Second, plaintiffs argue that the actions of the Coast Guard amount to a denial of equal protection when user fees are set at rates that exceed the estimated costs of the Coast Guard services.
Additionally, plaintiffs contend that the Coast Guard, when it issued the applicable regulations, violated Congress's intent in two ways. The first alleged violation occurred when the Coast Guard set user fees at the maximum rates allowable under the statute. Plaintiffs claim action was taken without any attempt to determine if those rates would produce substantially more than the actual costs of the Coast Guard's services.
Finally, plaintiffs contend that the Coast Guard exceeded statutory authority by giving a broad definition to the term "Coast Guard presence".
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) permits a court to grant summary judgment when the evidence in the record shows that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact
or that the opposing party has failed to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). When the moving party has carried its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to "come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (citations omitted) (emphasis in original). The nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Id. at 586. In reviewing the evidence, a court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor ...