R.M.S. Titanic, Inc. v. Haver

Decision Date24 March 1999
Docket NumberNo. 98-1934,98-1934
Citation171 F.3d 943
PartiesR.M.S. TITANIC, INCORPORATED, successor in interest to Titanic Ventures, limited partnership, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Christopher S. HAVER; Deep Ocean Expeditions, Parties in Interest-Appellants, and The Wrecked and Abandoned Vessel, its engines, tackle, apparel, appurtenances, cargo, etc., located within one (1) nautical mile of a point located at 41o 43' 32" North Latitude and 49o 56' 49" West Longitude, believed to be the R.M.S. Titanic, in rem, Defendant, Liverpool and London Steamship Protection and Indemnity Association Limited, Claimant, Wildwings Worldwide Travel; Bakers World Travel; Quark Expeditions, Incorporated; Mike McDowell; Ralph White; Don Walsh, Ph.D.; Alfred S. McLaren, Ph.D.; R/V Akademik Mstislav Keldysh; Blackhawk Television, Parties in Interest, and John A. Joslyn, Movant. The Explorers Club; The Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology; Columbus-America Discovery Group, Amici Curiae.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

ARGUED: Alex Blanton, Dyer, Ellis & Joseph, Washington, D.C., for Appellants. F. Bradford Stillman, McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe, L.L.P., Norfolk, Virginia, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Michael Joseph, Joseph O. Click, Dyer, Ellis & Joseph, Washington, D.C., for Appellants. Mark S. Davis, Douglas E. Miller, Lee A. Handford, McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe, L.L.P., Norfolk, Virginia, for Appellee. David G. Concannon, Kohn, Swift & Graf, P.C., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for Amicus Curiae Explorers Club. John P. McMahon, McMahon & Connell, P.C., Charlotte, North Carolina, for Amicus Curiae Advisory Council. Richard T. Robol, Columbus-America Discovery Group, Columbus Before ERVIN, WILKINS, and NIEMEYER, Circuit Judges.

Ohio, for Amicus Curiae Columbus-America.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded by published opinion. Judge NIEMEYER wrote the opinion, in which Judge ERVIN and Judge WILKINS joined.


NIEMEYER, Circuit Judge:

This appeal presents questions about the authority of a United States court to regulate the salvage rights in the wreck of the luxury liner, R.M.S. Titanic, which lies in international waters.

The Titanic was launched in 1912 as the "largest and finest steamship ever built" and with the claim that she was "unsinkable." On her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, however, with 2,340 passengers on board, the Titanic collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank less than three hours later, on April 15, 1912. A nearby ship saved 745 persons and some lifeboats and took them to New York. Another ship recovered several hundred bodies and took them to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

In 1985, the wreck of the Titanic was discovered at the bottom of the North Atlantic in international waters, approximately 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland in 12,500 feet of water. Salvage efforts began two years later. In 1994, the district court in the Eastern District of Virginia, exercising "constructive in rem jurisdiction" over the wreck and the wreck site of the Titanic, awarded exclusive salvage rights, as well as ownership of recovered artifacts, to R.M.S. Titanic, Inc., ("RMST"), a Florida corporation. Two years later, the court rejected a challenge to the exclusive salvage rights of RMST, see R.M.S. Titanic, Inc. v. The Wrecked and Abandoned Vessel, ("Titanic I "), 924 F.Supp. 714 (E.D.Va.1996), and shortly thereafter, entered an injunction dated August 13, 1996, protecting the salvage rights of RMST against any person in the world "having notice of this Order," prohibiting any such person from "conducting search, survey, or salvage operations, or obtaining any image, photographing or recovering any objects, entering, or causing to enter" the area of the Atlantic Ocean surrounding the Titanic wreck site. On June 23, 1998, the court reaffirmed, "personalized and enforced" the 1996 injunction against new parties. R.M.S. Titanic, Inc. v. The Wrecked and Abandoned Vessel, ("Titanic II "), 9 F.Supp.2d 624, 626 (E.D.Va.1998). In that order, the court enjoined the appellants, Christopher S. Haver, an Arizona resident, and Deep Ocean Expeditions, ("DOE"), a British Virgin Islands corporation, as well as others from:

(i) interfering with the rights of [RMST], as salvor in possession of the wreck and wreck site of the R.M.S. Titanic, to exclusively exploit the wreck and wreck site, (ii) conducting search, survey, or salvage operations of the wreck or wreck site, (iii) obtaining any image, video, or photograph of the wreck or wreck site, and (iv) entering or causing anyone or anything to enter the wreck or wreck site with the intention of performing any of the foregoing enjoined acts.

Id. at 640. The district court declared that the wreck site subject to the injunction was a 168-square-mile rectangular zone in the North Atlantic bounded by the following points:

41o 46' 25" North Latitude, 050o 00' 44" West Longitude, then east to 41o 46' 25" North Latitude, 049o 42' West Longitude, then south to 41o 34' 25" North Latitude, 049o 42' West Longitude, then west to 41o 34' 25" North Latitude, 050o 00' 44" West Longitude, then returning north to the start.

Id. DOE had planned an expedition to view and to photograph the Titanic for the late summer of 1998, and Haver had planned to be a passenger.

DOE, never a party to the proceedings in the district court, and Haver, who filed a declaratory judgment action in the district court to challenge the court's jurisdiction over the wreck and over him, appealed to this court to challenge the June 1998 injunction. They claim (1) that the district court lacked jurisdiction over the wreck and wreck site, (2) that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over them, and (3) that the scope of the injunction is too broad. As they summarize their position,

No theory of "constructive in rem jurisdiction" permits a court to adjudicate the rights of persons over which it lacks personal jurisdiction with respect to a vessel [in international waters] that has never been within the court's territory. Nor does any such theory authorize an injunction prohibiting persons from viewing and photographing a wreck when the salvor is not actively conducting salvage operations.

For the reasons that follow, we affirm in part and reverse in part the injunctions and remand the case to the district court with instructions to modify them in accordance with this opinion.


A procedural history, while somewhat involved, is nonetheless necessary for an understanding of the jurisdictional discussions that follow.

In 1985, a joint American-French expedition discovered the wreck of the Titanic. Two years later, in the summer of 1987, Titanic Ventures, a Connecticut limited partnership, in conjunction with the Institute of France for the Research and Exploration of the Sea, the French government's oceanographic institution, voluntarily undertook efforts to salvage the wreck. Titanic Ventures conducted 32 dives over 60 days, recovering approximately 1,800 artifacts. It thereafter sold both its interest in the salvage operation and the artifacts it recovered to RMST. RMST recovered another 800 artifacts during a second expedition to the Titanic 's wreck site in 1993.

In August 1993, RMST filed this action in the Eastern District of Virginia, requesting, among other things, that the district court exercise in rem jurisdiction over the Titanic to award it exclusive salvage rights. In support of its request, RMST presented the court with a wine decanter salvaged from the Titanic and stated that numerous other artifacts were physically within the Eastern District of Virginia. The court issued a warrant directing the United States Marshal to arrest the wreck and all artifacts already salvaged and yet to be salvaged from the wreck and, at the same time, ordered that RMST be substituted for the Marshal as custodian of the wreck, the wreck site, and the artifacts. Formal notice of the court's order appeared in three newspapers, The Virginian-Pilot, The Wall Street Journal, and The Journal of Commerce.

Only one party, Liverpool and London Steamship Protection and Indemnity Association ("Liverpool & London"), filed a claim asserting an interest in the wreck. After RMST and Liverpool & London entered into a settlement agreement, the district court dismissed Liverpool & London's claim on June 7, 1994. On the same day, the court entered a separate order granting RMST not only exclusive salvage rights over the wreck and the wreck site of the Titanic, but also "true, sole and exclusive owner[ship] of any items salvaged from the wreck."

In 1996, a competing salvor, John A. Joslyn, filed a motion in the action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), challenging RMST's status as exclusive salvor of the Titanic and requesting that the court rescind its June 1994 order. Joslyn claimed not only that RMST had failed diligently to salvage the Titanic, but also that RMST lacked the financial capacity to undertake future salvage operations. Following a hearing, the district court denied Joslyn's motion, finding that RMST had successfully undertaken a number of salvage operations and that its favorable prospects for ongoing and future salvage demonstrated that RMST deserved to remain the exclusive salvor-in-possession. See Titanic I, 924 F.Supp. at 722-24.

When Joslyn, nonetheless, expressed an intention to visit the wrecksite for the sole purpose of taking photographs, the district court issued a temporary restraining order to prevent him from doing so. The court reasoned that "the need for R.M.S. Titanic, Inc. to have jurisdiction over the wreck site" brought with it a power to determine "who could enter the site for any purpose and who could photograph the ship and the locale." The district court converted the temporary restraining order to a preliminary injunction, dated August 13, 1996, enjoining Joslyn as well as "[a]ny other person...

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