389 U.S. 191 (1967), 31, Wyandotte Transportation Co. v. United States

Docket NºNo. 31
Citation389 U.S. 191, 88 S.Ct. 379, 19 L.Ed.2d 407
Party NameWyandotte Transportation Co. v. United States
Case DateDecember 04, 1967
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 191

389 U.S. 191 (1967)

88 S.Ct. 379, 19 L.Ed.2d 407

Wyandotte Transportation Co.

v.

United States

No. 31

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 4, 1967

Argued October 16-17, 1967

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

This case involves two libels arising out of the allegedly negligent sinking of vessels in navigable waterways of the United States. In United States v. Carill, Inc., the Government, after being notified of the sinking and abandonment of two barges, sought a decree that the parties responsible for the allegedly negligent sinking be declared responsible for removing the impediment to navigation which the wrecks constituted. In United States v. Wyandotte Transportation Co., the Government claimed that a barge had been negligently sunk and demanded that the wreck be removed. When this demand was rejected, the Government removed the sunken barge and cargo and brought suit in rem against the barge and its cargo and in personam against the barge owner and others to effect reimbursement for the substantial costs of removal. The District Court consolidated the actions and granted summary judgment in each instance against the United States, holding that the Government has no in personam rights against those responsible for having negligently sunk a vessel, but that it is limited to an in rem right against the vessel and its cargo. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case to the District Court for trial on the issue of negligence. It held that, under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, as amended, the Government may assert in personam rights against those responsible for the negligent sinking of a vessel. Section 15 of the Act makes it unlawful to "carelessly sink, or permit or cause to be sunk a vessel in navigable waters." Petitioners contend that the Act's specific remedies, which include criminal penalties, are exclusive, and preclude the Government from obtaining the relief it has sought in the two libels. They note that, under the Act, failure to remove a vessel is considered an abandonment, and subjects a craft to removal by the Government, which may retain the proceeds of the sale of a wreck.

Held: The remedies and procedures for the enforcement of § 15 are not exclusive, and do not foreclose in personam relief against a party who negligently sinks a vessel in a navigable waterway. Pp. 200-210.

Page 192

(a) The Government is a principal beneficiary of the Act, which was obviously intended to prevent obstructions in the Nation's waterways. P. 201.

(b) The general rule that the United States may sue to protect its interest is not necessarily inapplicable when the interest sought to be protected is expressed in a statute containing criminal penalties for its violation. Pp. 201-202.

(c) The criminal penalties of the Act and the Government's in rem rights would not adequately reimburse the Government for removal expenses. P. 202.

(d) The principles of United States v. Republic Steel Corp., 362 U.S. 482 (1960), where the Government was allowed injunctive relief to compel removal of an obstruction in a waterway even though such relief was nowhere specifically authorized in the Act, are applicable, by analogy, to the issues here. Pp. 202-203.

(e) The availability to the Government of declaratory relief in the form of an order that a negligent party is responsible for rectifying the wrong done to maritime commerce by a violation of § 15 is inferable from the prohibition contained in that section. P. 204.

(f) The exercise by the Government of the right of removal provided by the statute des not relieve negligent parties of the responsibility for making restitution for the removal. P. 205.

(g) Petitioners err in believing that the abandonment portions of the Act confer an absolute right upon a shipowner to abandon his sunken craft with no in personam liability. Those provisions merely grant a right of removal to the Government, and do not negate the Government's rights to declaratory relief or to recover removal expenses. Pp. 206-207.

(h) There is no support in the statute, in the legislative history, or in nonstatutory law, for the rule that a shipowner who has negligently sunk a vessel may abandon it and be insulated from all but in rem liability. Pp. 208-209.

367 F.2d 971, affirmed.

Page 193

FORTAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FORTAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Two cases, consolidated by the trial court and raising related issues, are here involved. In United States v. Cargill, Inc., the Government asked that parties responsible for the allegedly negligent sinking of a vessel in an inland waterway be declared responsible for removing the impediment to navigation thus created. In United States v. Wyandotte Transportation Co., the United States had itself removed a sunken vessel; claiming that the vessel had been negligently sunk, it sought reimbursement for the costs of removal. The question now before us for decision is whether the relief requested in these cases is available to the United States.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana concluded that such relief is not available. After the cases were consolidated, that court granted summary judgment against the United States in each instance. The court decided that the Government has no in personam rights against those responsible for having negligently sunk a vessel. In its view, the United States is limited to an in rem right against the cargo of the negligently sunk vessel and [88 S.Ct. 382] against the vessel itself. United States v. Cargill, Inc., 1964 A.M.C. 1742.

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed. It held that, under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, 30 Stat. 1151 et seq., as amended, 33 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., the United States may assert in personam rights -- to injunctive or declaratory relief or damages -- against those responsible for the negligent sinking of a vessel. United

Page 194

States v. Cargill, Inc., 367 F.2d 971 (1966). Because of a conflict among the circuits, and because of the important question regarding interpretation of a statute of the United States, we granted certiorari. 386 U.S. 906 (1967). We affirm the judgment below.

The crucial facts of both cases occurred in March, 1961. The Cargill libel alleges that, at that time, a supertanker bound up the Mississippi for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, collided with two barges moored by a tug. The barges were owned by petitioner Cargo Carriers, Inc., and petitioner Jeffersonville Boat and Machine Co., respectively. The Government was notified immediately after the accident that the two barges had sunk. A few days later, it was served with notice that the barges were being abandoned. The United States refused, however, to accept abandonment or to assume responsibility for removing the wrecks. In December, 1962, it brought suit against the owners, managers, charterers, and insurers of the two barges, seeking a decree that the respondents were responsible for removing the sunken vessels. The Government charged that negligence in the equipping, manning, and mooring of the barges had caused the sinking. To this date, the barges involved in this case remain in the Mississippi.

The Wyandotte libel is founded on facts more dramatic. A barge loaded with 2,200,000 pounds of liquid chlorine sank while being pushed in the Mississippi near Vidalia, Louisiana. Wyandotte, the owner of the barge, at first made some attempts to locate and raise the wreck. But then, in November, 1961, Wyandotte informed the Army Corps of Engineers that it believed further efforts to raise the barge would be unsuccessful. Wyandotte stated that it was abandoning the vessel. The Government began a study of the danger posed by such a substantial load of chlorine at the bottom of the Mississippi. It was feared that, if any chlorine escaped it would be

Page 195

in the form of lethal chlorine gas, which might cause a large number of casualties. The Government demanded that Wyandotte remove the barge. Wyandotte refused to do this.1

The United States then moved to avert a catastrophe by locating and raising the barge and its deadly cargo. In October, 1962, the President proclaimed the presence of the barge to be a major disaster under the Disaster Relief Act, 64 Stat. 1109, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1855-1855g. Safety precautions on a grand scale were taken, and a team of experienced divers sought gingerly to raise Wyandotte's barge. These operations, costing the United States some $3,081,000, proved successful.

The United States demanded that the owners and operators of the barge reimburse the Government for its expenses. This demand was rejected. In January, 1963, the Government brought suit, in rem against the barge and her cargo,2 [88 S.Ct. 383] and in personam against the owner of the barge, the owner of the boat that had been pushing the barge when it sank, and the owner of the chlorine cargo.3 The libel charged these parties with negligence

Page 196

and fault in the design, towing, manning, mooring, and equipping of the barge. The Government sought a decree for the costs it incurred in removing the wreck.4

I

Although the Government has advanced several discrete grounds for affirmance, we do not pause to examine each of them.5 We agree that § 15 of the Rivers and

Page 197

Harbors Act of 1899, 33 U.S.C. § 409, read in light of our decision in United States v. Republic Steel Corp., 362 U.S. 482 (1960), controls the issues here presented. Section 15 reads in relevant part as follows:

It shall not be lawful . . . to voluntarily or carelessly sink, or permit or cause to be sunk, vessels or other craft in navigable channels. . . . And whenever a vessel, raft or other craft is wrecked and sunk in a navigable channel, accidentally or otherwise, it shall be the duty of the owner of such sunken craft to immediately mark it with a buoy or beacon during...

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  • 478 F.Supp. 646 (D. Puerto Rico 1979), Civ. 78-323, Romero-Barcelo v. Brown
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 1st Circuit District of Puerto Rico
    • 17 Septiembre 1979
    ...411, 549, 686 and 687 of this title; . . ." (Emphasis supplied). Plaintiffs rely on Wyandotte Transportation Co. v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 88 S.Ct. 379, 19 L.Ed.2d 407 (1967), for the proposition that in addition to the criminal sanctions of this penal statute, they as private pa......
  • 577 F.2d 579 (9th Cir. 1978), 75-2865, Riggle v. State of Cal.
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    • 26 Junio 1978
    ...Ash, 422 U.S. 66, 79 n.11, 95 S.Ct. 2080, 45 L.Ed.2d 26 (1975) (Supreme Court's decision in Wyandotte Transportation Co. v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 201-202, 88 S.Ct. 379, 19 L.Ed.2d 407 (1967) construed as recognizing that United States has private right of action under Rivers and Harb......
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    ...90 WASH. L. REV. 1643,1651-84 (2013). (80) U.S. CONST, art. I, [section] 8, cl. 3. (81) See Wyandotte Transp. Co. v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 201 (1967) (explaining that the RHA is "an assertion of the sovereign power of the United States" pursuant to the Commerce Clause). (82......
  • 643 F.2d 835 (1st Cir. 1981), 79-1626, Romero-Barcelo v. Brown
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • 26 Enero 1981
    ...498 F.2d 597 (3d Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 420 U.S. 927, 95 S.Ct. 1124, 43 L.Ed.2d 397 (1975). See Wyandotte Transp. Co. v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 88 S.Ct. 379, 19 L.Ed.2d 407 (1967); Connecticut Action Now, Inc. v. Roberts Plating Co., 457 F.2d 81 (2d Cir. 1972). Puerto Rico argues t......
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283 cases
  • 478 F.Supp. 646 (D. Puerto Rico 1979), Civ. 78-323, Romero-Barcelo v. Brown
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 1st Circuit District of Puerto Rico
    • 17 Septiembre 1979
    ...411, 549, 686 and 687 of this title; . . ." (Emphasis supplied). Plaintiffs rely on Wyandotte Transportation Co. v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 88 S.Ct. 379, 19 L.Ed.2d 407 (1967), for the proposition that in addition to the criminal sanctions of this penal statute, they as private pa......
  • 577 F.2d 579 (9th Cir. 1978), 75-2865, Riggle v. State of Cal.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 26 Junio 1978
    ...Ash, 422 U.S. 66, 79 n.11, 95 S.Ct. 2080, 45 L.Ed.2d 26 (1975) (Supreme Court's decision in Wyandotte Transportation Co. v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 201-202, 88 S.Ct. 379, 19 L.Ed.2d 407 (1967) construed as recognizing that United States has private right of action under Rivers and Harb......
  • 643 F.2d 835 (1st Cir. 1981), 79-1626, Romero-Barcelo v. Brown
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • 26 Enero 1981
    ...498 F.2d 597 (3d Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 420 U.S. 927, 95 S.Ct. 1124, 43 L.Ed.2d 397 (1975). See Wyandotte Transp. Co. v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 88 S.Ct. 379, 19 L.Ed.2d 407 (1967); Connecticut Action Now, Inc. v. Roberts Plating Co., 457 F.2d 81 (2d Cir. 1972). Puerto Rico argues t......
  • 763 F.Supp. 97 (D.N.J. 1991), Civ. A. 89-3438, American Tel. & Tel. Co. v. M/V Cape Fear
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • 1 Mayo 1991
    ...a civil cause of action of some sort lay in favor of someone." 422 U.S. at 79, 95 S.Ct. at 2088 (citing Wyandotte v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 201-02, 88 S.Ct. 379, 385-86, 19 L.Ed.2d 407 (1967)). However, in Cort, there was only "a bare criminal statute, with absolutely no ind......
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