Criminal Indictment Precluded After Loss In Civil Action


On December 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a ruling holding that a lower court’s decision dismissing the federal government’s civil claim that the defendants were at fault in connection with a spill of clarified slurry oil had preclusive effect upon the government’s later-filed criminal enforcement case in the same matter. The case is U.S. v. Egan Marine Corporation and Dennis Michael Egan. In January 2005, a barge carrying slurry oil that was pushed along by a tug boat exploded, resulting in a spill of the cargo and the death of one of the barge’s deckhands. An employee of the tug allegedly directed the decedent to warm a pump by using a propane tank. The propane tank’s flame allegedly caused the explosion, the death and the oil spill.

The government initially filed a civil suit in federal court seeking damages, but the District Court ruled that the government failed to prove its case, and ruled against the it. There was no appeal.

Two years later, the government obtained a criminal indictment against the tugboat company and its employee Dennis Michael Egan. Egan was found guilty and sentenced to six month’s imprisonment, and both Egan and the tug boat company were ordered to pay $6.75 million in restitution.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit held that the outcome of the civil case had preclusive effect upon the criminal case, and the Seventh Circuit reversed the convictions and remanded the case to the District Court for the entry of judgments of acquittal.