In 1984, several boat owners and captains filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida to challenge the seizure of their boats and the assessment of substantial fines by the INS pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1323 for allegedly transporting Cuban refugees to the U.S. during the Mariel boat lift, which occurred between April and June 1980. During that time period, over 100,000 undocumented Cuban nationals arrived in the U.S. via boat. Plaintiffs claimed that they acted under duress in that Cuban authorities forced them to load their boats with unwanted Cuban nationals.
The INS conducted administrative proceedings and found that plaintiffs brought Cuban refugees to the U.S. without visas. The INS rejected plaintiffs' defense of duress to the charges and ordered the constructive seizure of their vessels and assessed fines in the statutory amount of $1000 per undocumented alien transported on plaintiffs' boats. Plaintiffs challenged the INS' rulings in this lawsuit, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the enforcement and collection of fines assessed them.
Following a non-jury trial on the merits, the District Court (Judge Lenore C. Nesbitt) entered its order and judgment dated March 26, 1985, finding in favor of the defendants on all claims. The Court recognized that the defense of duress was viable, but concluded that it was not available to the plaintiffs since they voluntarily sailed to Cuba and entered its harbors, fully aware that it was under the control of a Communist military dictatorship. Bruland v. Howerton, 606 F. Supp. 333 (S.D. Fla. 1985). Plaintiffs appealed.
On appeal, the Bruland case was consolidated with Lyden v. Howerton, Case no. 84-5681, a similar case that was tried in the Southern District of Florida. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (Judge Vance) vacated the judgments of the district courts and remanded with instructions that the cases be remanded to the INS for proceedings consistent with the Court's opinion. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district courts' determination that duress was a viable defense to violations of 8 U.S.C. § 1323. The Court, however, found that the district courts prematurely made factual findings and that the cases should be remanded to the INS. Lyden v. Howerton and Bruland v. Howerton, 783 F.2d 1554 (11th Cir. 1986).
Following remand, the Bruland case was sent back to the INS for further hearings. In February 1988, the INS issued a series of "Final Administrative Decisions" in which it reduced or eliminating previously imposed fines. Plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals. The INS did not respond to the notices. Plaintiff then moved for entry of a final judgment at the district court level.
On June 7, 1989, the District Court (Judge Nesbitt) granted Plaintiffs' unopposed motion for entry of a final judgment. The Court retained jurisdiction to rule on the issue of liability for attorneys' fees. On July 3, 1990, the Court awarded attorneys' fees to plaintiffs in amount of $ 19,604.40. Bruland v. Howerton, 742 F. Supp. 629 (S.D. Fla. 1990).Dan Dalton - 10/23/2007