Wyandotte Transportation Company v. United States, No. 31

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtFORTAS
Citation389 U.S. 191,88 S.Ct. 379,19 L.Ed.2d 407
PartiesWYANDOTTE TRANSPORTATION COMPANY et al., Petitioners, v. UNITED STATES
Docket NumberNo. 31
Decision Date04 December 1967

389 U.S. 191
88 S.Ct. 379
19 L.Ed.2d 407
WYANDOTTE TRANSPORTATION COMPANY et al., Petitioners,

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 31.
Argued Oct. 16 and 17, 1967.
Decided Dec. 4, 1967.

[Syllabus from pages 191-192 intentionally omitted]

Page 192

Lucian Y. Ray, Cleveland, Ohio, for petitioners.

Alan S. Rosenthal, Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Page 193

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 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, 87 S.Ct. 854, 17 L.Ed.2d 781 (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 Docember 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, coating 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 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, 80 S.Ct. 884, 4 L.Ed.2d 903 (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 the day and a lighted lantern at night, and to maintain such marks until the sunken craft is removed or abandoned, and the neglect or failure of the said owner so to do shall be unlawful; and it shall be the duty of the owner of such sunken craft to commence the immediate removal of the same, and prosecute such removal diligently, and failure to do so shall be considered as an abandonment of such craft, and subject the same to removal by the United States as provided for in sections 411—416, 418, and 502 of this title.' 33 U.S.C. § 409.

Petitioners do not dispute, as indeed they could not, that the negligent sinking of a vessel falls within the prohibition of the first above-quoted clause of § 15.6 They contend, however, that the Act contains specific remedies for such a violation of § 15, and that those remedies were meant by Congress to be exclusive of all

Page 198

others. Petitioners point to the § 15 duty of the owner to mark and remove a sunken craft. They note that failure to remove 'shall be considered as an abandonment of such craft, and subject the same to removal by the United States.' And petitioners call our attention to §§ 19 and 20 of the Act, 33 U.S.C. §§ 414, 415, which set forth the procedure whereby the United States may remove a sunken craft that 'shall be considered as' abandoned under § 15. Section 19 provides that whenever a sunken vessel exists as an obstruction to any navigable waters of the United States for a period longer than 30 days, or whenever the abandonment of such obstruction can be legally established in a shorter time, the sunken vessel 'shall be subject to be broken up, removed, sold, or otherwise disposed of by the Secretary of the Army at his discretion, without liability for any damage to the owners of the same.' That section further contemplates '(t)hat any money received from the sale of any such wreck * * * shall be covered into the Treasury of the United States.' 33 U.S.C. § 414. Section 20, an emergency provision applicable only when a sunken vessel obstructs a waterway 'in such manner as to stop, seriously interfere with, or specially endanger navigation,' 33 U.S.C. § 415, is similar in structure to § 19.7

Finally, petitioners emphasize that § 16 of the Act provides criminal penalties for '(e)very person and every corporation that shall violate, or that shall knowingly aid, abet, authorize, or instigate a violation of the pro-

Page 199

visions (of § 15).' 33 U.S.C. § 411.8 They point out that § 12 of the Act, 33 U.S.C. § 406, which provides penalties for violations of § 10, 33 U.S.C. § 403,9 expressly authorizes the injunctive remedy. They argue that the lack of such an authorization in § 16 should be taken to mean that Congress did not intend the United States to be able to obtain what is, in effect, injunctive relief as a remedy for a violation of § 15.10

The position of petitioners is, therefore, that in the case of a negligently sunk vessel, the Government may require the owner to mark it; it may expect him to remove it or forfeit his interest in the vessel; and if the Government proceeds to remove the vessel, it possesses the right to sell vessel and cargo and retain the proceeds of these sales.11 Moreover, the Government may proceed criminally, under § 16, against those responsible for the negligent sinking. But, petitioners argue, the Government may do no more. Under their view, the very detail of the Rivers and Harbors Act negates the possibility that Congress intended the Government to be

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able to recover removal expenses exceeding the value of the vessel and its cargo. Petitioners would apply the same analysis to a government action for declaratory or injunctive relief. Indeed, petitioners believe that authorization of the injunction remedy in another, analogous, section of the Act indicates congressional intent to withhold declaratory or injunctive relief as a means of enforcing § 15.12

We do not agree. Petitioners' interpretation of the Rivers and...

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280 practice notes
  • U.S. v. City of Philadelphia, No. 80-1348
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • February 19, 1981
    ...for any term of years or for life. The Attorney General relies principally upon Wyandotte Transportation Co. v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 88 S.Ct. 379, 19 L.Ed.2d 407 (1967), and Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S. 66, 95 S.Ct. 2080, 45 L.Ed.2d 26 (1975), as authority for inferring a civil cause of ac......
  • Blue Shield of Virginia v. Cready, No. 81-225
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 21, 1982
    ...was intended to forestall.' " Page 482 Id., at 487-488, 97 S.Ct., at 696-697, quoting Wyandotte Transportation Co. v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 202, 88 S.Ct. 379, 386, 19 L.Ed.2d 407 (1967). Indeed, the Court noted that respondents sought in damages "the profits they would have realized ......
  • King v. United States, No. 248-65.
    • United States
    • Court of Federal Claims
    • February 16, 1968
    ...and alien practices. The United States has instituted many declaratory actions. See, e. g., Wyandotte Transportation Co. v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 88 S.Ct. 379, 19 L.Ed.2d 407 (1967); State of Wyoming v. United States, 310 F.2d 566 (C.A.10, 1962), cert. denied, 372 U.S. 953, 83 S.Ct. ......
  • Asylum Hill Problem Solving Revit. v. King, No. 17313.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • February 21, 2006
    ...States in cases where the statute creates a duty in favor of the public at large. See Wyandotte Transportation Co. v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 200-202 [88 S.Ct. 379, 19 L.Ed.2d 407 (1967)] (33 U.S.C. § 409: It shall not be lawful [to obstruct navigable waterways]) ...." (Citations omitt......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
282 cases
  • U.S. v. City of Philadelphia, No. 80-1348
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • February 19, 1981
    ...for any term of years or for life. The Attorney General relies principally upon Wyandotte Transportation Co. v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 88 S.Ct. 379, 19 L.Ed.2d 407 (1967), and Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S. 66, 95 S.Ct. 2080, 45 L.Ed.2d 26 (1975), as authority for inferring a civil cause of ac......
  • Blue Shield of Virginia v. Cready, No. 81-225
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 21, 1982
    ...was intended to forestall.' " Page 482 Id., at 487-488, 97 S.Ct., at 696-697, quoting Wyandotte Transportation Co. v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 202, 88 S.Ct. 379, 386, 19 L.Ed.2d 407 (1967). Indeed, the Court noted that respondents sought in damages "the profits they would have......
  • King v. United States, No. 248-65.
    • United States
    • Court of Federal Claims
    • February 16, 1968
    ...and alien practices. The United States has instituted many declaratory actions. See, e. g., Wyandotte Transportation Co. v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 88 S.Ct. 379, 19 L.Ed.2d 407 (1967); State of Wyoming v. United States, 310 F.2d 566 (C.A.10, 1962), cert. denied, 372 U.S. 953, 83 S.Ct. ......
  • Asylum Hill Problem Solving Revit. v. King, No. 17313.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • February 21, 2006
    ...States in cases where the statute creates a duty in favor of the public at large. See Wyandotte Transportation Co. v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 200-202 [88 S.Ct. 379, 19 L.Ed.2d 407 (1967)] (33 U.S.C. § 409: It shall not be lawful [to obstruct navigable waterways]) ...." (Citations ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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