On June 11, 1980, several boat owners or 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 (also called the "Cuban Refugee Freedom Flotilla"), 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 were mostly fishermen from Key West, Florida who went to Cuba with the intent to transport their relatives and friends, who they believed had valid visas for entry into the U.S. Plaintiffs claimed that instead of just picking up a few passengers, Cuban authorities forced them to load their boats with many unwanted Cuban nationals, which they did under duress. Plaintiffs' complaint alleged deprivation of Fifth Amendment Due Process and sought declaratory and injunctive relief, specifically asking for return of their boats without the imposition of any fines.
Note that a similar case can be found at IM-FL-12 of this collection (Richard Bruland, Raymond Bruland, Vance Hager, and William Baldwin v. Joe D. Howerton).
After an evidentiary hearing, the District Court entered a preliminary injunction, ordering the release of the thirty vessels so that they could be used for fishing operations, pending an administrative determination whether seizure or fines were warranted. Pollgreen v. Morris, 496 F.Supp. 1042 (S.D.Fla.1980).
Plaintiffs then proceeded with the administrative remedies before the District Director of the INS, who assessed over five million dollars in fines on the fishermen. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed and denied many of the appeals. Neither the Director nor the BIA would allow the plaintiffs to assert the defense of duress.
Plaintiffs then sought a permanent injunction in the District Court to enjoin imposition of the fines. The District Court entered summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs, finding that they had conclusively established the defense of duress and that the fines were unlawful. The Court issued a permanent injunction returning the boats to the owners and quashing all fines levied by the government. Pollgreen v. Morris, 579 F.Supp. 711 (S.D.Fla. 1984). The government appealed.
The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the court's finding that the duress defense was applicable, but vacated the court's judgment on the factual merits and ordered the District Court to remand the cases to the INS for rehearing, reconsideration, and redetermination of the plaintiffs liability in light of the duress defense. Pollgreen v. Morris, 770 F.2d 1536 (11th Cir. 1985). Rehearing was denied by Pollgreen v. Morris, 781 F.2d 905 (11th Cir. 1985).
Following remand, on February 1, 1988, the INS vacated its prior decisions and ruled that no fines would be imposed. Plaintiffs then filed an amended motion for attorneys' fees. The District Court granted the motion and awarded $181,080 in fees. The government appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the award of fees, but remanded so that the amount of the award could be recalculated. Pollgreen v. Morris, 911 F.2d 527 (11th Cir. 07, 1990).
We have no further information on the case.Dan Dalton - 12/30/2007