302 U.S. 1 (1937), 2, Kelly v. Washington

Docket Nº:No. 2
Citation:302 U.S. 1, 58 S.Ct. 87, 82 L.Ed. 3
Party Name:Kelly v. Washington
Case Date:November 08, 1937
Court:United States Supreme Court

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302 U.S. 1 (1937)

58 S.Ct. 87, 82 L.Ed. 3




No. 2

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 8, 1937

Argued March 9, 1937

Reargued October 11, 12, 1937



1. Tugboats plying navigable waters of the United States, and employed partly in towing other vessels on interstate and foreign voyages or in moving vessels engaged in interstate and foreign commerce in and about the harbors where the tugs are stationed are subject to regulation by Congress under the commerce clause. P. 4.

2. There is no express provision in federal laws and regulations for inspection of hull and machinery, in order to insure safety or determine seaworthiness of motor-driven tugs which do not carry passengers or freight for hire, or do not have on board any inflammable or combustible liquid cargo in bulk, or do not transport explosives or like dangerous cargo, or are not seagoing vessels of three hundred gross tons or over, or (with respect to requirements as to load lines) are under one hundred and fifty gross tons. Pp. 4, 8.

3. The federal statutes are not to be construed as implying a prohibition of inspection by state authorities of hull and machinery, to insure safety and determine seaworthiness, in the case of vessels which in this respect lie outside the federal requirements. P. 9.

4. State regulation of interstate commerce is invalid (a) if in conflict with an express regulation by Congress, (b) if the subject is one demanding uniformity of regulation so that state action is altogether inadmissible in the absence of federal action, (c) where federal regulation has occupied the field. P. 9.

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5. When Congress circumscribes its regulation of a subject of interstate commerce and occupies only a limited field,state regulation outside of that limited field and otherwise admissible is not forbidden or displaced. P. 10.

6. An exercise of state police power which would be valid if not superseded by federal action is superseded only where the repugnance or conflict is so direct and positive that the two acts cannot be reconciled or consistently stand together. P. 10.

7. Inspection of the hull and machinery of motor-driven tugs in order to insure safety and seaworthiness is not such a subject as, by its nature, requires uniformity of regulation, and therefore this field is open to the States in the absence of conflicting federal regulation under the commerce clause. P. 14.

If, however, the State goes farther and attempts to impose particular standards as to structure, design, equipment and operation which, in the judgment of its authorities, may be desirable but which pass beyond what is plainly essential to safety and seaworthiness, the State may encounter the principle that such requirements, if imposed at all, must be through the action of Congress, which can establish a uniform rule.

186 Wash. 589, 596, 59 P.2d 373, reversed.

Certiorari, 299 U.S. 539, to review a reversal of a judgment denying a writ of prohibition.

HUGHES, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondents, owners of motor-driven tugs, sought a writ of prohibition to prevent [58 S.Ct. 89] the enforcement of provisions

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of c. 200 of the Washington Laws of 1907 (Rem.Rev.Stat., § 9843 et seq.) relating to the inspection and regulation of vessels. The Supreme Court of the state directed judgment for respondents, holding the statute invalid "if applied to the navigable waters over which the federal government has control." 186 Wash. 589, 596, 59 P.2d 373, 376. We granted certiorari. 299 U.S. 539. After hearing, we ordered reargument, and requested the Attorney General of the United States to present the views of the government upon the question whether the state act or the action of the officers of the state thereunder conflicts with the authority of the United States or with the action of its officers under the acts of Congress. The case has been reargued accordingly, and the views of the government have been presented both orally and upon brief in support of the decision of the state court.

The material facts, as set forth in the opinion of the state court, are that respondents own and operate 139 motor-driven tugs, of which 111 are less than 65 feet in length. Some of these tugs are registered, and the remainder are enrolled and licensed under federal laws. For the most part, these tugs are employed in intrastate commerce, but some tow to and from British Columbia ports or across the Columbia river or from other ports in Washington to ports in Oregon. Practically all these tugs are capable of engaging in interstate or foreign commerce, and will do so if and when opportunity offers. Some of the larger tugs have towed and will tow to California ports. The main business, however, of most of the tugs is confined to moving vessels engaged in interstate and foreign commerce and other work in and about the harbors where they are stationed. 186 Wash. 589, 590.

Respondents' complaint challenged the validity of a large number of requirements of the state act which it was alleged the state authorities sought to enforce (186

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Wash., p. 591), but these authorities, by their answer and in the argument at bar, disclaim an intention to enforce any of the state regulations which conflict with those established under the laws of the United States.

First. The first question is whether the state legislation, as applied to respondents' motor-driven tugs, is in all respects in conflict with express provisions of the federal laws and regulations. Wherever such conflict exists, the state legislation must fall. Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, 210.

Chapter 200 of the Washington Laws of 1907 is described by the state court as

a comprehensive and complete code for the inspection and regulation of every vessel operated by machinery which is not subject to inspection under the laws of the United States.

Rem.Rev.Stat. § 9844; 186 Wash. p. 590.

It cannot be doubted that the power of Congress over interstate and foreign commerce embraces the authority to make regulations for respondents' tugs. Foster v. Davenport, 22 How. 244; Moran v. New Orleans, 112 U.S. 69; Harman v. Chicago, 147 U.S. 396. Has Congress exercised that authority, and, if so, to what extent?

The federal acts and regulations with respect to vessels on the navigable waters of the United States are elaborate. They were well described in the argument of the Assistant Solicitor General as a maze of regulation. Provisions with respect to steam vessels are extremely detailed. 46 U.S.C. c. 14, § 361 et seq. Provisions as to motor-driven vessels are far less comprehensive, and establish only a limited regulation. By section 4426 of the Revised Statutes, as amended by the Act of March 3, 1905, c. 1457, § 4, 33 Stat. 1029, 1030, and by the Act of May 16, 1906, c. 2460, 34 Stat. 193, 194, it was provided that all vessels

above fifteen gross tons carrying freight or passengers for hire, but not engaged in fishing as a regular business, propelled by gas, fluid,

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naptha, or electric motors

should be subject to the provisions of the statute relating to the inspection of hulls and boilers and requiring engineers and pilots. These vessels were also required to carry life preservers for passengers and, while carrying passengers, to be in charge of a person duly licensed by the federal local board. 46 U.S.C. § 404. It does not appear that respondents' motor-driven tugs [58 S.Ct. 90] are within the class of vessels which carry freight or passengers for hire.

In 1910, Congress enacted the Motor Boat Regulations Act, 36 Stat. 462. While this statute is applicable to respondents' tugs, so far as it goes, its scope is restricted. Section 1 defines the word "motor boat" as including "every vessel propelled by machinery and not more than sixty-five feet in length except tugboats and towboats propelled by steam." There follows in that section a proviso that the engine, boiler, or other operating machinery shall be subject to inspection by the local inspectors of steam vessels, and to the approval of the design thereof, where the vessels "are more than forty feet in length, and which are propelled by machinery driven by steam." Section 2 divides the motor boats which are subject to the act into three classes: (1) those less than 26 feet in length; (2) those 26 feet or over and less than 40 feet in length; (3) those 40 feet or over and not more than 65 feet in length. Section 3 then provides for the carrying of lights by motor boats of the respective classes. Section 4 relates to whistles, fog horns, and bells. Sections 5 and 6 provide that motor boats subject to the act, and also motor boats more than 65 feet in length, shall carry life preservers or life belts or similar devices, and fire extinguishing equipment. Section 5 requires that all motor boats carrying passengers for hire shall be in charge of a person duly licensed by the federal local board of inspectors, and has the proviso that motor boats shall not be required to carry

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licensed officers except as required by the Motor Boat Regulations Act. 46 U.S.C. §§ 511-516. Under the federal regulations, motor boats are required to have on board two copies of the pilot rules to be observed by them, with copies of the departmental circular.

As documented vessels of the United States, motor boats must be marked in a specified manner with their names and home ports. 46 U.S.C. § 46. All vessels, regardless of tonnage, size, or manner of propulsion, and whether or not carrying freight or passengers for hire (other than public vessels of the United States not engaged in commercial service), which have on board "any inflammable or combustible liquid cargo in bulk," are to be "considered steam vessels," and are made subject to the provisions of the statutes relating to such vessels. This provision...

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