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Li-Shou v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 4, 2014

WUTIEN LI-SHOU
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

AMENDED MEMORANDUM

J. FREDERICK MOTZ, District Judge.

Wu Tien Li-Shou, the widow of Wu Lai-Yu, has brought this admiralty and maritime action against the United States of America for the wrongful death of her late husband and the destruction of JIN CHUN TSAI 68 ("the JCT 68"), a fishing vessel and its cargo he owned. Wu Lai-Yu was the master of the vessel. Master Yu was a hostage of Somali pirates and was killed from fire emanating from the USS Stephen W. Groves, owned and operated by the United States Navy off the coast of Somalia. After the firing had ceased, members of the crew of the USS Groves boarded and then sank the JCT 68.

The United States has moved to dismiss the complaint asserting that this court lacks jurisdiction under the political question doctrine. The motion will be granted.

In Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 217 (1962), the Supreme Court articulated six formulations, any one of which indicates a nonjusticiable political question:

(1) A textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinated political department; or
(2) A lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it; or
(3) The impossibility of deciding without an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion; or
(4) The impossibility of a court's undertaking independent resolution without expressing lack of the respect due coordinate branches of government; or
(5) An unusual need for unquestioning adherence to a political decision already made; or
(6) The potentiality of embarrassment from multifarious pronouncements by various departments on one question.

The first and perhaps the fourth of these formulations make the political question doctrine applicable here.[1]

At the time of the incident leading to the death of Master Yu and the sinking of the JCT 68, the USS Groves was part of a NATO-led counter-piracy operation whose commander was a Royal Netherlands Navy Commodore. The USS Groves was directed as part of the counter-piracy operation to force the JCT 68 (which had been hijacked by pirates and whose crew members were being held as hostages) to stop and surrender, using force if necessary. In accordance with an approved plan, the USS Groves employed a graduated use of force, including verbal warnings, and then rounds fired to disable the pirates' skiffs stowed on the JCT 68's bow.

After the warning shots were fired, the Commanding Officer of the USS Groves directed a cease fire but the pirates fired back. The USS Groves responded by firing additional shots at the pirates' skiffs on the bow of the JCT 68. After this exchange, the pirates surrendered. When members of the crew of the USS Groves boarded the JCT 68, they found Master Yu in his sleeping quarters amidships with the crown of his head shot off. Three pirates were also found dead forward of the pilot house. Twenty-two pirates were captured, and two hostages were rescued.

It is alleged in the complaint, and for purposes of the pending motion it is assumed to be true, that (1) when the USS Groves fired the shots that killed Master Yu, it positioned itself beyond the firing range of the pirates' weapons, (2) the shots that were fired hit the JCT 68 on the starboard side of the ship, well aft of the bow, and (3) the ...


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