458 U.S. 670 (1982), 80-1348, Florida Department of State v. Treasure Salvors, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 80-1348
Citation:458 U.S. 670, 102 S.Ct. 3304, 73 L.Ed.2d 1057
Party Name:Florida Department of State v. Treasure Salvors, Inc.
Case Date:July 01, 1982
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 670

458 U.S. 670 (1982)

102 S.Ct. 3304, 73 L.Ed.2d 1057

Florida Department of State


Treasure Salvors, Inc.

No. 80-1348

United States Supreme Court

July 1, 1982

Argued January 20, 1982




After respondents had located the wreck of a 17th-century Spanish galleon off the Florida coast, Florida immediately claimed ownership of the galleon pursuant to a Florida statute. Contracts were then entered into between the Florida Division of Archives, as owner of the galleon and its cargo, and respondents, whereby respondents agreed to conduct underwater salvage operations in exchange for the Division's agreement to transfer ownership of 75% of the appraised value of all material recovered from the galleon to respondents. The contracts did not purport to transfer ownership of any property to the Division. Ultimately, many valuable artifacts of the galleon were discovered. In the meantime, in proceedings unrelated to the salvage operations, it was held in United States v. Florida, 420 U.S. 531, that, as against Florida, the United States was entitled to the lands, minerals, and other natural resources in the area in which the remains of the galleon had come to rest. Respondents thereafter filed an admiralty in rem action in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida, naming the galleon as defendant but not the State of Florida and seeking a declaration of title to the galleon. Throughout the ensuing proceedings, in which the United States intervened and in which both the District Court and the Court of Appeals on appeal rejected the United States' claim to ownership of the galleon, some of the valuable artifacts remained in the custody of officials of the Florida Division of Archives in Tallahassee, which is located beyond the District Court's territorial jurisdiction. After the Court of Appeals' decision, respondents filed a motion in the District Court for an order commanding the United States Marshal to arrest and take custody of those artifacts and bring them within the court's jurisdiction. The District Court granted the motion and issued a warrant of arrest. Although the warrant was addressed to the state officials, the State itself filed a motion to quash the warrant, but the court denied this motion, ruling that the extraterritorial seizure was proper under Supplemental Admiralty Rule C(5), and issued an order to show cause why the State should not deliver the artifacts into the Marshal's custody. The State then argued that the Eleventh Amendment barred exercise of the District Court's jurisdiction, but the District Court rejected this argument,

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holding that the State had waived the Eleventh Amendment as to any claim to the property, and that, apart from any such claim, the Eleventh Amendment did not bar the seizure of the artifacts and subsequent transfer to the Marshal's custody. On the merits, the court also rejected the State's claim to the property based on the salvage contracts with respondents. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part.

621 F.2d 1340, affirmed in part and reversed in part.


1. The Eleventh Amendment did not bar the process issued by the District Court to secure possession of the artifacts held by the state officials. Pp. 683-699.

(a) The Eleventh Amendment, while barring an action directly against the state itself or any agency thereof, does not bar an action against a state official that is based on the theory that the official acted beyond the scope of his statutory authority or, if within that authority, that such authority is unconstitutional. The Eleventh Amendment, however, limits the relief that [102 S.Ct. 3308] may be recovered in the latter kind of action; the judgment may not compel the State to use its funds to compensate the plaintiff for his injury. Pp. 683-690.

(b) Here, the process at issue is not barred by the Eleventh Amendment as a direct action against the State, because it was directed only at state officials. Neither the fact that the State elected to defend on behalf of the officials, nor the fact that the District Court purported to adjudicate the State's rights, deprives that court of jurisdiction that had been properly invoked over other parties. Pp. 691-692.

(c) The state officials named in the warrant of arrest do not have a colorable claim to possession of the artifacts, and thus may not invoke the Eleventh Amendment to block execution of the warrant. The salvage contracts, whether valid or not, provide no authority for the officials' refusal to surrender possession of the artifacts, and no statutory provision that even arguably would authorize the officials to retain the artifacts has been advanced. Pp. 692-697.

(d) The relief sought by respondents is not barred by the Eleventh Amendment, but is consistent with the principles of Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651. The warrant of arrest sought possession of specific property. It did not seek any attachment of state funds, and would impose no burden on the state treasury. And respondents are not asserting a claim for damages against either the State or its officers. Pp. 697-699.

2. The proper resolution of the Eleventh Amendment issue does not require -- or permit -- a determination of the State's ownership of the artifacts,

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and hence the Court of Appeals improperly adjudicated the State's right to the artifacts. Pp. 699-700.

JUSTICE BRENNAN while agreeing with the opinion that the State of Florida has not established even a colorable claim to the artifacts, concluded that the Eleventh Amendment is inapplicable in this case because both respondents are Florida corporations, and thus the suit was not "commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another State," as the Eleventh Amendment provides. Pp. 700-702.

JUSTICE WHITE, joined by JUSTICE POWELL, JUSTICE REHNQUIST, and JUSTICE O'CONNOR, concurred in the Court's judgment insofar as it reverses the Court of Appeals' determination of the State's ownership of the artifacts. P. 703, n.

STEVENS, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 700. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, in which POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 702.

Page 673

STEVENS, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE STEVENS announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE MARSHALL, and JUSTICE BLACKMUN joined.

In this admiralty in rem action, a federal court attempted to arrest property held by two state officials and bring it within the jurisdiction of the court. The property -- artifacts of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, a 17th-century Spanish galleon -- was discovered by respondents on the floor of the ocean in international waters. The question presented is whether the Eleventh Amendment immunized the property from the federal court's process.


Battered by a tropical hurricane, the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, a Spanish galleon carrying a cargo of New World treasure to King Philip IV of Spain, sank in 1622, 40 nautical miles west of what is today Key West, Fla. After years of searching the ocean floor and studying Spanish archives in Seville, respondent Treasure Salvors1 located the wreck site in the spring of 1971 near shoals [102 S.Ct. 3309] known as the "Quicksands," nine and one-half nautical miles west of the Marquesas Keys.2 The State of Florida immediately claimed that the Atocha belonged to the State. The State claimed ownership pursuant to Fla.Stat. § 267.061(1)(b) (1974), which then provided:3

It is further declared to be the public policy of the state that all treasure trove, artifacts and such objects having intrinsic or historical and archeological value which have been abandoned on state-owned lands or

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state-owned sovereignty submerged lands shall belong to the state with the title thereto vested in the division of archives, history, and records management of the department of state for the purpose of administration and protection.

(Emphasis added.) Officials of the Florida Division of Archives threatened to arrest Mel Fisher, president of Treasure Salvors, and to confiscate the boats and equipment of Treasure Salvors if it commenced salvage operations on the Atocha without a salvage contract from the State. Under this threat of arrest, Treasure Salvors executed a one-year contract with the State that permitted it to conduct underwater salvage operations on the vessel.4 Similar contracts were executed during each of the three succeeding years.

Each of the contracts was expressly predicated on the assumption that the Atocha was the property of the State of Florida because it had been found on submerged lands within the boundaries of the State. The contracts permitted Treasure Salvors "to conduct underwater salvage from and upon certain submerged sovereignty lands of and belonging to the State of Florida." App. 20. After describing in metes and bounds an area claimed to be "lying and being in Monroe County, Florida," the contract provided that the shipwreck site

is to be worked for the purpose of salvaging abandoned vessels or the remains thereof including, but not limited to, relics, treasure trove and other materials related thereto and located thereupon and therein, which abandoned material is the property of the State of Florida.

Id. at 22...

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