Lake Carriers Association v. Mullan, No. 71-422

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRENNAN
Citation32 L.Ed.2d 257,92 S.Ct. 1749,406 U.S. 498
PartiesLAKE CARRIERS' ASSOCIATION et al., Appellants, v. Ralph A. MacMULLAN et al
Decision Date30 May 1972
Docket NumberNo. 71-422

406 U.S. 498
92 S.Ct. 1749
32 L.Ed.2d 257
LAKE CARRIERS' ASSOCIATION et al., Appellants,

v.

Ralph A. MacMULLAN et al.

No. 71-422.
Argued March 22 and 23, 1972.
Decided May 30, 1972.

Although Michigan authorities indicated that they would not prosecute under Michigan Watercraft Pollution Control Act of 1970 until adequate land-based pump-out facilities were available to service vessels equipped with sewage storage devices, where the authorities had sought to obtain compliance as soon as possible, and, to avoid prosecution, owners and operators of Great Lakes bulk cargo vessels would be required to install sewage storage devices to retain sewage on board as soon as pump-out facilities were available, there was an "actual controversy" as to validity of Act, within Declaratory Judgment Act, that was ripe for decision and complaint challenging Act should not have been dismissed on theory that an advisory opinion was sought. 28 U.S.C.A. § 2201; M.C.L.A. §§ 323.331 et seq., 323.333.

Syllabus

Michigan's Watercraft Pollution Control Act of 1970, appellees maintain, prohibits the discharge of sewage, whether treated or untreated, in Michigan waters and requires vessels with marine toilets to have sewage storage devices. Appellants, the Lake Carriers' Association and members owning or operating Great Lakes bulk cargo vessels, filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, contending that the Act unduly burdens interstate and foreign commerce; contravenes uniform maritime law; violates due process and equal protection requirements; and is invalid under the Supremacy Clause primarily because of conflict with or pre-emption by the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, as amended by the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970. That law appears to contemplate sewage control after appropriate federal standards have been issued through on-board treatment before disposal in navigable waters, unless the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency provides on special application for a complete prohibition on discharge in designated areas. A three-judge District Court dismissed the complaint for lack of a justiciable controversy. The court also found 'compelling reasons to abstain from consideration of the matter in its present posture'—the attitude of the Michigan authorities, who are not threatening criminal prosecution but are seeking industry cooperation; the availability of declaratory relief in the Michigan courts; the possibility of a complete prohibition on the discharge of sewage in Michigan's navigable waters under federal law; the absence of existing conflict between the Michigan requirements and other state laws; and the publication of proposed federal standards that Michigan might consider in interpreting and enforcing its law. Held:

1. The complaint presents an 'actual controversy' within the meaning of the Declaratory Judgment Act because the obligation to install sewage storage devices under the Michigan statute is presently effective in fact. Pp. 506-508.

Page 499

2. Abstention is permissible "only in narrowly limited 'special circumstances,' " Zwickler v. Koota, 389 U.S. 241, 248, 88 S.Ct. 391, 395, 19 L.Ed.2d 444 (1967), justifying "the delay and expense to which application of the abstention doctrine inevitably gives rise." England v. Louisiana State Board Medical Examiners, 375 U.S. 411, 418, 84 S.Ct. 461, 466, 11 L.Ed.2d 440 (1964). Those circumstances do not include the majority of grounds given by the District Court. Pp. 509-510.

(a) The absence of an immediate threat of prosecution is not a reason for abstention. In the absence of a pending state proceeding, exercise of federal court jurisdiction ordinarily is appropriate if the conditions for declaratory or injunctive relief are met. Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971), and Samuels v. Mackell, 401 U.S. 66, 91 S.Ct. 764, 27 L.Ed.2d 688 (1971), distinguished. Pp. 509—510.

(b) The availability of declaratory relief in state courts on federal claims is not a reason for abstention. Zwickler v. Koota, supra, 389 U.S., at 248, 88 S.Ct., at 395. P. 510.

(c) Just as the possibility of a complete prohibition on the discharge of sewage in Michigan's navigable waters under federal law and the asserted absence of existing conflict between the Michigan requirements and other state laws do not diminish the immediacy and reality of appellants' grievance, they do not call for abstention. P. 510.

3. The Michigan statute, however, is unclear in particulars that go to the foundation of appellants' grievance and has not yet been construed by any Michigan court. In this circumstance abstention was appropriate because authoritative resolution of those ambiguities in the state courts is sufficiently likely to "avoid or modify the (federal) constitutional (questions)," Zwickler v. Koota, supra, 389 U.S. at 249, 88 S.Ct. at 396, appellants raise to warrant abstention, particularly in view of the absence of countervailing considerations found compelling in prior decisions. Pp. 510-513.

336 F.Supp. 248, vacated and remanded.

Scott H. Elder, Cleveland, Ohio, for appellants.

Page 500

Robert A. Derengoski, Lansing, Mich., for appellees.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an appeal from the judgment of a three-judge District Court, convened under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281, 2284, dismissing a complaint to have the Michigan Watercraft Pollution Control Act of 1970, Mich.Comp.Laws Ann. § 323.331 et seq. (Supp.1971), declared invalid and its enforcement enjoined. 336 F.Supp. 248 (1971). We noted probable jurisdiction, 404 U.S. 982, 92 S.Ct. 450, 30 L.Ed.2d 366 (1971), and affirmed the District Court's determination to abstain from decision pending state court proceedings.

The Michigan statute, effective January 1, 1971, provides in pertinent part:

"Sec. 3. (1) A person (defined in § 2(i) to mean "an individual, partnership, firm, corporation, association or other entity") shall not place, throw, deposit, discharge or cause to be discharged into or onto the waters of this state, any . . . sewage (defined in § 2(d) to mean 'all human body wastes, treated or untreated") . . . or other liquid or solid materials

Page 501

which render the water unsightly, noxious or otherwise unwholesome so as to be detrimental to the public health or welfare or to the enjoyment of the water for recreational purposes.

"(2) It is unlawful to discharge, dump, throw or deposit . . . sewage . . . from a recreational, domestic or foreign watercraft used for pleasure or for the purpose of carrying passengers, cargo or otherwise engaged in commerce on the waters of this state.

"Sec. 4. (1) Any pleasure or recreational watercraft operated on the waters of this state which is moored or registered in another state or jurisdiction, if equipped with a pollution control device approved by that jurisdiction, may be approved by the (State Water Resources Commission of the Department of Natural Resources) to operate on the waters of this state.

"(2) A person owning, operating or otherwise concerned in the operation, navigation or management of a watercraft (defined in § 2(g) to include "foreign and domestic vessels engaged in commerce upon the waters of this state" as well as "privately owned recreational watercraft" having a marine toilet shall not own, use or permit the use of such toilet on the waters of this state unless the toilet is equipped with 1 of the following pollution control devices:

"(a) A holding tank or self-contained marine toilet which will retain all sewage produced on the watercraft for subsequent disposal at approved dockside or onshore collection and treatment facilities.

"(b) An incinerating device which will reduce to ash all sewage produced on the watercraft. The ash shall be disposed of onshore in a manner which will preclude pollution.

Page 502

"Sec. 8. . . . Commercial docks and wharfs designed for receiving and loading cargo and/or freight from commercial watercraft must furnish facilities, if determined necessary, as prescribed by the commission, to accommodate discharge of sewage from heads and galleys . . . (of) the watercraft which utilize the docks or wharfs.

"Sec. 10. The commission may promulgate all rules necessary or convenient for the carrying out of duties and powers conferred by this act.

"Sec. 11. Any person who violates any provision of this act is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be fined not more than $500.00. To be enforceable, the provision or the rule shall be of such flexibility that a watercraft owner, in carrying out the provision or rule, is able to maintain maritime safety requirements and comply with the federal marine and navigation laws and regulations."

Appellees—the State Attorney General, the Department of Natural Resources and its Director, and the Water Resources Commission and its Executive Secretary—read these provisions as prohibiting the discharge of sewage, whether treated or untreated, in Michigan waters and as requiring vessels with marine toilets to have sewage storage devices.

Appellants—the Lake Carriers' Association and individual members who own or operate federally enrolled and licensed Great Lakes bulk cargo vessels—challenge the Michigan law on a variety of grounds. They urge that the Michigan law is beyond the State's police power law places an undue burden on interstate and foreign commerce, impermissibly interferes with uniform maritime law, denies them due process and equal protection of the laws, and is unconstitutionally vague. They also contend that the Michigan statute conflicts with or is

Page 503

pre-empted by federal law, primarily1 the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, as amended by the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970, and is therefore invalid under the Supremacy Clause. Under the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency2 is directed "(a)s soon...

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533 practice notes
  • McKnight v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Authority, No. 77-2563
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • September 29, 1978
    ...(1976); Harris County Comm'rs Court v. Moore, 420 U.S. 77, 82-84, 95 S.Ct. 870, 43 L.Ed.2d 32 (1975); Lake Carriers' Assn. v. MacMullen, 406 U.S. 498, 509-10, 92 S.Ct. 1749, 32 L.Ed.2d 257 (1972). See generally, P. Bator, P. Mishkin, D. Shapiro & H. Wechsler, Hart and Wechsler's The Federal......
  • Salvati v. Dale, Civ. A. No. 73-461
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • October 5, 1973
    ...in our cases from Railroad Commission v. Pullman, 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941) to Lake Carriers' Assn. v MacMullan, 406 U.S. 498, 92 S.Ct. 1749, 32 L.Ed.2d 257 (1972), required the District Court to stay its proceedings until the appellees had presented unsettled question......
  • Mariniello v. Shell Oil Co., No. 74--1385
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • February 14, 1975
    ...788, 25 L.Ed.2d 68 (1970); Zwickler v. Koota, 389 U.S. 241, 88 S.Ct. 391, 19 L.Ed.2d 444 (1967). See Lake Carriers Ass'n v. MacMullan, 406 U.S. 498, 92 S.Ct. 1749, 32 L.Ed.2d 257 (1972); England v. Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners, 375 U.S. 411, 84 S.Ct. 461, 11 L.Ed.2d 440 42 For......
  • 44 274 Ellis v. Dyson 8212 130, No. 73
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • May 19, 1975
    ...plaintiff. E.g., Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179, 188—189, 93 S.Ct. 739, 745—746, 35 L.Ed.2d 201 (1973); Lake Carriers' Assn. v. MacMullan, 406 U.S. 498, 506—508, 92 S.Ct. 1749, 1755—1756, 32 L.Ed.2d 257 (1972). See CSC v. Letter Carriers, 413 U.S. 548, 551 553, 93 S.Ct. 2880, 2883—2884, 37 L.E......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
533 cases
  • McKnight v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Authority, No. 77-2563
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • September 29, 1978
    ...(1976); Harris County Comm'rs Court v. Moore, 420 U.S. 77, 82-84, 95 S.Ct. 870, 43 L.Ed.2d 32 (1975); Lake Carriers' Assn. v. MacMullen, 406 U.S. 498, 509-10, 92 S.Ct. 1749, 32 L.Ed.2d 257 (1972). See generally, P. Bator, P. Mishkin, D. Shapiro & H. Wechsler, Hart and Wechsler's The Federal......
  • Salvati v. Dale, Civ. A. No. 73-461
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • October 5, 1973
    ...in our cases from Railroad Commission v. Pullman, 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941) to Lake Carriers' Assn. v MacMullan, 406 U.S. 498, 92 S.Ct. 1749, 32 L.Ed.2d 257 (1972), required the District Court to stay its proceedings until the appellees had presented unsettled question......
  • Mariniello v. Shell Oil Co., No. 74--1385
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • February 14, 1975
    ...788, 25 L.Ed.2d 68 (1970); Zwickler v. Koota, 389 U.S. 241, 88 S.Ct. 391, 19 L.Ed.2d 444 (1967). See Lake Carriers Ass'n v. MacMullan, 406 U.S. 498, 92 S.Ct. 1749, 32 L.Ed.2d 257 (1972); England v. Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners, 375 U.S. 411, 84 S.Ct. 461, 11 L.Ed.2d 440 42 For......
  • 44 274 Ellis v. Dyson 8212 130, No. 73
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • May 19, 1975
    ...plaintiff. E.g., Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179, 188—189, 93 S.Ct. 739, 745—746, 35 L.Ed.2d 201 (1973); Lake Carriers' Assn. v. MacMullan, 406 U.S. 498, 506—508, 92 S.Ct. 1749, 1755—1756, 32 L.Ed.2d 257 (1972). See CSC v. Letter Carriers, 413 U.S. 548, 551 553, 93 S.Ct. 2880, 2883—2884, 37 L.E......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • The Supremacy Clause and Federal Preemption of State Water Quality Law
    • United States
    • The Clean Water Act and the Constitution. Legal Structure and the Public's Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment Part I
    • April 20, 2009
    ...37 (2000). 69. 33 U.S.C. §1225(a). 70. Id . §2718. 71. Locke , 529 U.S. at 106. 72. Id . at 147-48. 73. Lake Carriers’ Ass’n v. MacMullan, 406 U.S. 498, 502, 506, 512, 2 ELR 20283 (1972). 74. Bass River Assocs. v. Mayor, Township Comm’r, Planning Bd. of Bass River Township, 743 F.2d 159, 16......
  • Defining the Problem
    • United States
    • Environmental justice: legal theory and practice. 4th edition
    • February 20, 2018
    ...reality to warrant the issuance of a declaratory judgment.” McInnis-Misenor , 319 F.3d at 70 (quoting Lake Carriers’ Ass’n v. MacMullan , 406 U.S. 498, 506, 92 S. Ct. 1749, 32 L. Ed. 2d 257 (1972)). his determination ordinarily involves a formalistic evaluation of (1) the itness of the issu......

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