359 U.S. 275 (1959), 233, Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Commission

Docket Nº:No. 233
Citation:359 U.S. 275, 79 S.Ct. 785, 3 L.Ed.2d 804
Party Name:Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Commission
Case Date:April 20, 1959
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 275

359 U.S. 275 (1959)

79 S.Ct. 785, 3 L.Ed.2d 804

Petty

v.

Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Commission

No. 233

United States Supreme Court

April 20, 1959

Argued March 4, 1959

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner sued in a Federal District Court to recover under the Jones Act for the death of her husband while working aboard a Mississippi River ferryboat owned by respondent, an agency of the States of Tennessee and Missouri created by a compact entered into between them with the consent of Congress. The compact authorizes respondent "to sue and be sued," and the Act of Congress approving it provides that it shall not be construed

to affect, impair, or diminish any right, power or jurisdiction of . . . any court . . . of the United States, over or in regard to any navigable waters, or any commerce between the States.

Held:

1. By entering into the compact and acting under it after Congressional approval, the States waived whatever immunity from a suit such as this in a federal court respondent, as their agency, might have enjoyed under the Eleventh Amendment. Pp. 276-282.

(a) The construction of a compact sanctioned by Congress under Art. I, § 10, cl. 3, of the Constitution presents a federal question over which this Court has the final say. Pp. 278-279.

(b) Congress approved the "sue and be sued" clause in the compact here involved under conditions that make it clear that the States accepting it waived any immunity from suit which they otherwise might have had. Pp. 279-280.

(c) The above-quoted proviso in the Act of Congress approving the compact, read in the light of the "sue and be sued" clause in the compact, reserves the jurisdiction of the federal courts to act in any matter arising under the compact over which they would have jurisdiction by virtue of the fact that the Mississippi is a navigable stream and that interstate commerce is involved. Pp. 280-282.

2. Respondent, as a bi-state corporation, is not excepted from the term "employer" as used in the Jones Act. Pp. 282-283.

254 F.2d 857 reversed.

Page 276

DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

When the Court in 1793 held that a State could be sued in the federal courts by a citizen of another State1 ( Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 419), the Eleventh Amendment2 was passed precluding it. But this is an immunity which a State may waive at its pleasure (Missouri v. Fiske, 290 U.S. 18, 24) as by a general appearance in litigation in a federal court (Clark v. Barnard, 108 U.S. 436, 447-448) or by statute. Ford Motor Co. v. Department of Treasury, 323 U.S. 459, 468-470. The conclusion that there has been a waiver of immunity will not be lightly inferred. Murray v. Wilson Distilling Co., 213 U.S. 151, 171. Nor will a waiver of immunity from suit in state courts do service for a waiver of immunity where the litigation is brought in the federal court. Chandler v. Dix, 194 U.S.

Page 277

590, 591-592. And where a public instrumentality is created with the right "to sue and be sued," that waiver of immunity in the particular setting may be restricted to suits or proceedings of a special character in the state, not the federal, courts. Cf. Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Comm'n v. Colburn, 310 U.S. 419. Suits against agencies of a State based on maritime torts are no exception to these rules. Ex parte New York, 256 U.S. 490.

The question here is whether Tennessee and Missouri have waived their immunity under the facts of this case.

Congress, under conditions specified in 33 U.S.C. § 525, et seq., gave its consent to the construction of bridges over the navigable waters in the United States. Respondent is a "body corporate and politic" created by Missouri (13 Vernon's Ann.Stat., Tit. 14, § 234.360) and Tennessee (P.L.1949, cc. 167, 168) acting pursuant to the Compact Clause of the Constitution. Art. I § 10, cl. 3.3 The compact prepared by the two States and submitted to the Congress provided in Art. I, §§ 1 and 2 that [79 S.Ct. 788] respondent should have the power to build a bridge and operate ferries across the Mississippi at specified points, and, in Art. I, § 3, that it should have the power "to contract, to sue and be sued in its own name." Congress granted its consent to the compact, 63 Stat. 930, stating in a proviso:

That nothing herein contained shall be construed to affect, impair, or diminish any right, power, or jurisdiction of the United States or of any court, department, board, bureau, officer, or official of the United States, over or in regard to any navigable waters, or any commerce between the States or with foreign countries, or any bridge, railroad, highway, pier, wharf, or other facility or improvement, or any

Page 278

other person, matter, or thing, forming the subject matter of the aforesaid compact or agreement or otherwise affected by the terms thereof.

(Italics added.)

The facts are that petitioner's husband was employed on a ferryboat operated by respondent as a common carrier across the Mississippi between a point in Missouri and one in Tennessee. He met his death when he was trapped in the pilothouse of the ferryboat as it sank, following a collision with another boat. Suit was brought under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 688, charging respondent with negligence.

The District Court granted the motion to dismiss, holding that respondent is an agency of the States of Tennessee and Missouri, and immune from suit in tort. 153 F.Supp. 512. The Court of Appeals, agreeing with that view, affirmed. 254 F.2d 857. The case is here on certiorari. 358 U.S. 811.

The construction of a compact sanctioned by Congress under Art. I, § 10, cl. 3, of the Constitution presents a federal question. Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Comm'n v. Colburn, supra, at 427. Moreover, the meaning of a compact is a question on which this Court has the final say.4 Dyer v. Sims, 341 U.S. 22, 28. The rule is no different when the contention is that a State has, by compact, waived its immunity from suit. Of course, when the alleged basis of waiver of the Eleventh Amendment's immunity is a state statute, the question to be answered is whether the State has intended to waive its immunity. Chandler v. Dix, supra. But where the waiver is, as here, claimed to

Page 279

arise from a compact between several States, the Court is called on to interpret not unilateral state action, but the terms of a consensual agreement, the meaning of which, because made by different States acting under the Constitution and with congressional approval, is a question of federal law. Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Comm'n v. Colburn, supra. In making that interpretation, we must treat the compact as a living interstate agreement which performs high functions in our federalism,5 including the operation of vast interstate enterprises.6

[79 S.Ct. 789] The Court of Appeals laid emphasis on the law of Missouri, which, it said, construes a "sue and be sued" provision as not authorizing a suit for negligence against a public corporation. It likewise cited Tennessee decisions strictly construing statutes permitting suits against the State. We assume arguendo that this suit must be considered as one against the States, since this bi-state corporation is a joint or common agency of Tennessee and Missouri. But we disagree with the construction given

Page 280

by the Court of Appeals to the "sue and be sued" clause. For the resolution of that question, we turn to federal, not state, law. Congress might, of course, adopt as federal law the law of either or both of the States. Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Comm'n, supra. Cf. Commissioner v. Stern, 357 U.S. 39; Helvering v. Stuart, 317 U.S. 154; Myers v. Matley, 318 U.S. 622. But Congress took no such step here. It approved a "sue and be sued" clause in a compact under conditions clause in a compact under conditions that make it clear that the States accepting it waived any immunity from suit which they otherwise might have.

This compact, approved by Congress in 1949, was made in an era when the immunity of corporations performing governmental functions was not in favor in the federal field. In Keifer & Keifer v. Reconstruction Finance Corp., 306 U.S. 381, decided nearly 10 years before the present compact was made, the authority to sue and be sued contained in a federal charter granted a government corporation was held to be broad enough to include suits in torts at least where the duties relied upon "have their source in contract even though the guilty agents may be merely tortfeasors." Id. at 395. There, the underlying contract was a bailment; here it is employment. To draw a distinction in either the Keifer case or in this case between tort and contract would be to

make application of a steadily growing policy of governmental liability contingent upon irrelevant procedural factors. These, in our law, are still deeply rooted in historical accidents to which the expanding conceptions of public morality regarding governmental responsibility should not be subordinated.

Id. at 396.

This case, like the Keifer case, involves the launching of a governmental corporation into an industrial or business field. In view of the federal climate of opinion which by that time had grown up around the "sue and be sued" clause, we cannot believe that Congress intended to

Page 281

confine it more narrowly here than in the Keifer case. But we need not rest on that alone. Congress, when it approved this compact, attached a condition that

nothing herein contained shall be construed to affect, impair, or diminish any right, power, or jurisdiction of . . . any court . . . of the United States over or in regard to any navigable waters or any commerce between the States. . . .

We need not stop to catalogue all the ends that may be served by this proviso. See S.Rep. No. 1198, 81st Cong., 1st Sess.;...

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315 practice notes
  • 241 B.R. 862 (Bkrtcy.N.D.Ohio 1999), 98-3134, In re Pitts
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Sixth Circuit
    • September 9, 1999
    ...of Treasury of Indiana, 323 U.S. 459, 467-70, 65 S.Ct. 347, 352-53, 89 L.Ed. 389 (1945); Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Commission, 359 U.S. 275, 276, 79 S.Ct. 785, 787, 3 L.Ed.2d 804 (1959); Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 396 n. 2, 95 S.Ct. 553, 555 n. 2, 42 L.Ed.2d 532 (1975). Page 878 ......
  • 171 A.2d 688 (Md. 1961), 1, Dutton v. Tawes
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • June 12, 1961
    ...of the expenses of an interstate commission was binding and enforceable. See also Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Commission, 359 U.S. 275, 79 S.Ct. 785, 3 L.Ed.2d 804; New York v. O'Neill, 359 U.S. 1, 79 S.Ct. 564, 3 L.Ed.2d 585; and annotation in 134 A.L.R. 1411. We note also in passin......
  • 204 B.R. 132 (E.D.Pa. 1997), 96-6172, In re Sacred Heart Hosp. of Norristown
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • January 17, 1997
    ...Life Ins. Co. v. Read, 322 U.S. 47, 53-54, 64 S.Ct. 873, 876-77, 88 L.Ed. 1121 (1944); see also Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Comm'n, 359 U.S. 275, 276-77, 79 S.Ct. 785, 787-88, 3 L.Ed.2d 804 (1959). DPW argues that §§ 106(b) and (c) are not sufficiently clear to waive a state's sovere......
  • 221 B.R. 795 (Bkrtcy.W.D.Okl. 1998), 96-10919, In re Barrett Refining Corp.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Tenth Circuit
    • June 5, 1998
    ...27 L.Ed. 780 (1883); Missouri v. Fiske, 290 U.S. 18, 24, 54 S.Ct. 18, 78 L.Ed. 145 (1933); Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Commission, 359 U.S. 275, 276, 79 S.Ct. 785, 3 L.Ed.2d 804 (1959); Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 238, 105 S.Ct. 3142, 87 L.Ed.2d 171 (1985). 22......
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303 cases
  • 241 B.R. 862 (Bkrtcy.N.D.Ohio 1999), 98-3134, In re Pitts
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Sixth Circuit
    • September 9, 1999
    ...of Treasury of Indiana, 323 U.S. 459, 467-70, 65 S.Ct. 347, 352-53, 89 L.Ed. 389 (1945); Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Commission, 359 U.S. 275, 276, 79 S.Ct. 785, 787, 3 L.Ed.2d 804 (1959); Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 396 n. 2, 95 S.Ct. 553, 555 n. 2, 42 L.Ed.2d 532 (1975). Page 878 ......
  • 171 A.2d 688 (Md. 1961), 1, Dutton v. Tawes
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • June 12, 1961
    ...of the expenses of an interstate commission was binding and enforceable. See also Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Commission, 359 U.S. 275, 79 S.Ct. 785, 3 L.Ed.2d 804; New York v. O'Neill, 359 U.S. 1, 79 S.Ct. 564, 3 L.Ed.2d 585; and annotation in 134 A.L.R. 1411. We note also in passin......
  • 204 B.R. 132 (E.D.Pa. 1997), 96-6172, In re Sacred Heart Hosp. of Norristown
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • January 17, 1997
    ...Life Ins. Co. v. Read, 322 U.S. 47, 53-54, 64 S.Ct. 873, 876-77, 88 L.Ed. 1121 (1944); see also Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Comm'n, 359 U.S. 275, 276-77, 79 S.Ct. 785, 787-88, 3 L.Ed.2d 804 (1959). DPW argues that §§ 106(b) and (c) are not sufficiently clear to waive a state's sovere......
  • 221 B.R. 795 (Bkrtcy.W.D.Okl. 1998), 96-10919, In re Barrett Refining Corp.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Tenth Circuit
    • June 5, 1998
    ...27 L.Ed. 780 (1883); Missouri v. Fiske, 290 U.S. 18, 24, 54 S.Ct. 18, 78 L.Ed. 145 (1933); Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Commission, 359 U.S. 275, 276, 79 S.Ct. 785, 3 L.Ed.2d 804 (1959); Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 238, 105 S.Ct. 3142, 87 L.Ed.2d 171 (1985). 22......
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  • Disability harassment in the public schools.
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    • William and Mary Law Review Vol. 43 Nbr. 3, February 2002
    • February 1, 2002
    ...Stat. 1103, 1106 (1990) (codified as amended at 20 U.S.C.A. [section] 1403 (2000)). (379.) See Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Comm'n, 359 U.S. 275 (1959). (380.) The Eighth Circuit found the exaction of the waivers clear and unambiguous. Jim C., 235 F.3d at 1081 ("The Rehabilitatio......
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    ...467 U.S. 512 (1984). (73.) Id. at 514-16 (citing 39 U.S.C. [section] 401(1)). (74.) Id. at 519. (75.) Petty v. Tenn.-Mo. Bridge Comm'n, 359 U.S. 275, 276-77 (1959). (76.) See id. at 277-78. (77.) Id. at 278-80. (78.) See United States v. Nordic Vill., Inc., 503 U.S. 30, 31 (1992). (79.) Id.......
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    ...(273.) In Florida Prepaid, the Court characterized interstate compact cases, such as Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Commission, 359 U.S. 275 (1959), as analogous to the Spending Clause, since states cannot form interstate compacts unless Congress expressly agrees. 527 U.S. at 686. Munic......
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    ...also New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144, 167 (1992) (citing Dole, 483 U.S. at 207-08 & n.3). (151.) 527 U.S. 666 (1999). (152.) 359 U.S. 275 (1959). (153.) College Say. Bank, 527 U.S. at 686. (154.) Id. at 686-87 (citations omitted). (155.) 301 U.S. 548 (1937). (156.) See, e.g., Ka......
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