Jupiter Wreck, Inc. v. Unidentified Sailing Vessel

Decision Date15 July 1988
Docket Number87-8619-CIV.,No. 87-8548-CIV,87-8548-CIV
Citation691 F. Supp. 1377
PartiesJUPITER WRECK, INC., Plaintiff, v. The UNIDENTIFIED, WRECKED AND ABANDONED SAILING VESSEL, her tackle, armament, apparel, and cargo located within 1,000 yards of a point located at coordinates 26° 56.4' North Latitude, 80° 04.15' West Longitude, Defendant. STATE OF FLORIDA; Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund; the Department of Natural Resources; Department of Environmental Regulation; and The Division of Historic Resources, Florida Department of State, Plaintiffs, v. JUPITER WRECK, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida



David Paul Horan, Key West, Fla., for Jupiter Wreck, Inc.

Eric J. Taylor, Asst. Atty. Gen., State of Fla., Tallahassee, Fla., for the State, et al.


MARCUS, District Judge.

THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Jupiter Wreck, Inc.'s ("JWI") Motion for Entry of Preliminary Injunction filed in case 87-8548-CIV-MARCUS (the "in rem action"), and the Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand filed in case 87-8619-CIV-MARCUS (the "removed action"). These cases center on the remains of a Spanish Galleon which sunk off the coast of Florida sometime in the late seventeenth century. The "vessel" now lies beneath the shallow water in the Jupiter Inlet, about 100 yards from the beach. JWI seeks to uncover the artifacts from this site for their historical and monetary value. The State of Florida, and various departments of the State, have sought to prevent the excavation of the remains of the vessel by JWI because, as the holder of title to the land where the vessel is located, it has enacted licensing procedures with which JWI must comply in order to conduct the intended salvage activity. Moreover, the State legislature has enacted statutes which vest title of the artifacts in State agencies.

The status of historical shipwrecks located on State territory has generated significant controversy over the years. Courts presented with questions similar to those before us have produced divergent results based on conflicting rationale. Recognizing the "confusion over the ownership and authority to manage abandoned historic shipwrecks" in State waters, H.R.Rep. No. 100-514(I), 100th Cong., 2d Sess. 2, reprinted in 1988 U.S.Code Cong. & Ad. News 365, 366, Congress has recently enacted the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987, Pub.L. No. 100-298, 102 Stat. 432 (1988), which vests title to certain abandoned shipwrecks located on state lands in the respective States. Section 7(c) of this Act specifically states that it shall "not affect any legal proceeding brought prior to the date of enactment...." Since the in rem action was filed before that law was enacted it has no application to this suit.1

We believe that the two cases before this Court starkly present fundamental issues of federalism framed by the direct collision between federal admiralty jurisdiction and the immunity from suit afforded the State of Florida by the Eleventh Amendment, between federal salvage law and the State's police power, and finally between the power of federal courts and state courts.2 Since we conclude that the Eleventh Amendment bars the resolution of the issue of title to the res, a preliminary injunction may not issue in the in rem action. Further, since the Complaint in the removed action is based solely on state law, that cause must be remanded to state court. JWI's prayer for a salvage award need not be resolved on the motion for preliminary injunction and remains an open issue in this action.


1. On July 27, 1987 a complaint in rem was filed by JWI3 against the Unidentified, Wrecked and Abandoned Vessel, her tackle, armament, apparel and cargo located within 1,000 yards of a point located at coordinates 26° 56.4' North Latitude, 80° 04.15' West Longitude (the "vessel"). The Court assumed jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1333. A warrant of arrest was issued that day and JWI was appointed substitute custodian. In the Complaint, JWI sought the following: to be declared salvor of the vessel; to be put in possession of the vessel; that title and/or full possession be confirmed against all claimants and all the world; a full and liberal salvage award; and finally attorney's fees and costs.

2. On August 11, 1987 an enforcement action was brought by the State of Florida, the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund ("Board of Trustees"), the Department of Natural Resources ("DNR"), Department of Environmental Regulation ("DER"), and the Division of Historic Resources, Florida Department of State ("DHR") (collectively the "State") against JWI in the Circuit Court of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit in and for Palm Beach County, Florida. In a four count complaint the State sought to enjoin JWI from trespassing, damaging, or using State sovereignty submerged lands without first obtaining the required consent of the Board of Trustees, DER and DHR; civil penalties of $10,000 per day for each day of each violation of Chapters 253 and 403 of the Florida Statutes; an order requiring JWI to turn over to DHR all artifacts recovered from state-owned submerged lands; and money damages for damage to state-owned submerged lands and historic artifacts. An Order was entered that same day by the Circuit Court granting the injunctive relief sought by the State.

3. On August 21, 1987 JWI moved, in the in rem action, for a preliminary injunction seeking an order enjoining the officers, agents and employees of the State of Florida as well as all other persons, firms and corporation from interfering with JWI in its right to salvage.

4. JWI removed the state court action to federal court on August 24, 1987 and thereafter the two actions were consolidated before this Division. Order of Transfer, September 22, 1987.

5. On August 26, 1987 the State moved to remand the removed action to state court and also moved for an Order preliminarily enjoining JWI from working the wrecksite until the motion to remand had been resolved or until the proper permits had been issued.

6. Eric J. Taylor, Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida filed a notice of appearance in the in rem case on behalf of the State and its departments "for the sole purpose of answering the Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction. These parties do not appear in this Court for any other purpose in this case." Notice of Limited Appearance, August 28, 1987.

7. An evidentiary hearing was held before this Court on September 14 and 16, 1987. The matters have been fully briefed and argued, and we make the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.


1. JWI is a Florida Corporation and the Plaintiff and Substitute Custodian in the in rem action, and the Defendant in the removed action.

2. An unidentified, wrecked and abandoned vessel, her tackle, armament, apparrel and cargo located within 1,000 yards of a point located at coordinate 26° 56.4' North Latitude, 80° 04.15' West Longitude was arrested by Order of this Court dated July 27, 1987.

3. The wreck is believed to be that of a Spanish galleon that sank in the late seventeenth century. It is located approximately 100 yards offshore under approximately 10 to 20 feet of water in the Jupiter Inlet, Jupiter Beach, Florida. The wreck exists in an active marine environment which means that "the materials are covered and uncovered by storm action, they are in a surf zone where the water is reoxygenated continuously." Transcript of Hearing before the Honorable Stanley Marcus, September 14, 1987 at 52.

5. The vessel was located by JWI on or about July 13, 1987, and the salvage of artifacts began at that time. Various objects have been recovered including gold and silver coins, and other objects including one canon and two anchors. Other large artifacts remain embedded in the ground.

6. Some artifacts lie on the surface of the ground while others are buried under the sand at depths of six inches to several feet. Id. at 62-63. They are subject to deterioration but "not at a very fast rate." Id. at 62.

7. The beach along the Jupiter Inlet is subject to constant erosion, and "at least once every two years ... a dredge outfit or the Army Corp of Engineers ... will dredge through inside of the inlet and pump the soil out onto Jupiter Beach. So, Jupiter Beach basically is constantly eroded and filled in by dredge." Id., September 16, 1987 at 28.

8. On July 29, 1987 Florida Marine Patrol Officers instructed divers associated with JWI that all diving was to cease and no one was to be allowed near the wrecksite. After being informed that the salvage activity was being performed under the jurisdiction of this Court, the Patrol Officers stated that their earlier instructions could be disregarded. Interim Status/Salvage Report August 6, 1987 at 3.

9. The parties entered into a Stipulation, approved by the Court, which allowed JWI to conduct remote sensing and mapping surveys of the wrecksite and that the salvage operation could be conducted without major digging or excavation of the wrecksite. "Hand-fanning" was allowed while site-mapping, and JWI was allowed to recover small objects that could be lost if left at the wrecksite.

10. The artifacts removed from the remains of the vessel are listed in an inventory filed with the Court on January 15, 1988.

11. The remains of the vessel claimed by JWI are objects of antiquity which are of archeological interest.

12. Jupiter has neither applied for nor received a permit from the State to remove the artifacts of the defendant vessel.

13. Carl J. Clausen, associate professor at the University of Miami and formerly Chief Archeologist for Florida and Texas, has worked with the salvors to develop an archeological...

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