Florida Dept. of State v. Treasure Salvors, Inc.
458 U.S. 670 (1982)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Florida Dept. of State v. Treasure Salvors, Inc., 458 U.S. 670 (1982)

Florida Department of State v. Treasure Salvors, Inc.

No. 80-1348

Argued January 20, 1982

Decided July 1, 1982

458 U.S. 670

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

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,

Page 458 U. S. 671

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.

JUSTICE STEVENS, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE MARSHALL, and JUSTICE BLACKMUN, concluded that:

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. 458 U. S. 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 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. 458 U. S. 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. 458 U. S. 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. 458 U. S. 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. 458 U. S. 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,

Page 458 U. S. 672

and hence the Court of Appeals improperly adjudicated the State's right to the artifacts. Pp. 458 U. S. 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. 458 U. S. 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. 458 U. S. 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. 458 U. S. 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. 458 U. S. 702.

Page 458 U. S. 673

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.

I

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 Salvors [Footnote 1] located the wreck site in the spring of 1971 near shoals known as the "Quicksands," nine and one-half nautical miles west of the Marquesas Keys. [Footnote 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: [Footnote 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

Page 458 U. S. 674

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. [Footnote 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 (emphasis added). The contract further provided:

Page 458 U. S. 675

"In payment for the Salvager's satisfactory performance and compliance with this Agreement, the Division will award to the Salvager seventy-five percent (75%) of the total appraised value of all material recovered hereunder, which payment shall be made at the time division of such material is made by the parties hereto. Said payment may be made in either recovered material or fair market value, or in a combination of both, at the option of the Division's director."

Id. at 32-33.

The bargain, in brief, was between the Division of Archives, as the owner of the Atocha and its cargo, and Treasure Salvors, as a contractor that agreed to perform services for the Division. Treasure Salvors agreed to pay the Division $1,200 each year, to post a performance bond, and to perform its work in a specified manner, all in exchange for the Division's agreement to transfer ownership of 75% of the proceeds of the operation -- or its equivalent -- to Treasure Salvors. The contracts did not purport to transfer ownership of any property to the Division of Archives; the State's claim to the property was predicated entirely on a provision of state law.

In its attempt to salvage the lost treasure of the Atocha, Treasure Salvors was immensely successful. The salvager held some of the artifacts at its headquarters in Key West, while state officials held the remainder at the Division of Archives in Tallahassee. All of the property was deemed to belong to the State, however, subject to a subsequent distribution in which Treasure Salvors would receive its 75% contractual share.

In proceedings unrelated to the salvage operation, the United States and the State of Florida were engaged in litigation to determine the seaward boundary of submerged lands in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico in which the State had rights to natural resources. In February, 1974, a Special Master filed a Report that defined Florida's

Page 458 U. S. 676

boundary landward of the site of the wreck of the Atocha. The State's objections to the Report were overruled. United States v. Florida,420 U. S. 531 (1975). [Footnote 5] A final decree was entered providing that, as against the State of Florida, the United States was entitled to the lands, minerals, and other natural resources in the area in which the remains of the Atocha had come to rest. United States v. Florida,425 U. S. 791 (1976). [Footnote 6]

After this Court overruled Florida's exceptions to the Special Master's Report, Treasure Salvors filed a complaint in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida demanding that

"Plaintiffs be put into possession of the ATOCHA and other property and that all other persons, firms, and corporations or government agencies be enjoined from interfering with Plaintiffs title, possession, and property,"

and that "Plaintiffs title be confirmed against all claimants and all the world." App. 9. The complaint invoked the court's admiralty and maritime jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(h) and, as an admiralty action in rem, named the Atocha as defendant. Items recovered from the Atocha in Treasure Salvors' possession were duly served with process and brought into the custody of the court. Most of the remainder of the wreck and its valuable cargo lay buried under sand in international waters; state officials held other artifacts in Tallahassee. No attempt was made at this time to serve the artifacts in Tallahassee.

The United States intervened in the action as a party defendant, and filed a counterclaim seeking a declaratory judgment that the United States was the proper owner of the

Page 458 U. S. 677

Atocha. [Footnote 7] The District Court rejected the Government's claim of ownership, and held that "possession and title are rightfully conferred upon the finder of the res derelictae." Treasure Salvors, Inc. v. Abandoned Sailing Vessel, 408 F.Supp. 907, 911 (1976). The court entered judgment in favor of Treasure Salvors "against the United States of America and all other claimants." Record 270. [Footnote 8]

The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the District Court as against the United States, but modified its decree. Treasure Salvors, Inc. v. Unidentified Wrecked and Abandoned Sailing Vessel, 569 F.2d 330 (CA5 1978). The United States had argued that the District Court lacked in rem jurisdiction to determine rights of the parties to that portion of the Atocha lying beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the court. The Court of Appeals agreed that the District Court lacked in rem jurisdiction over those portions of the res located outside the district; the court noted that, for a court to exercise admiralty in rem jurisdiction, the res itself must be brought within the district and seized by the court. Id. at 333. The appellate court held, however, that, by intervening in the action and stipulating to the court's admiralty jurisdiction, the Government had

"waived the usual requirement that the res be present within the territorial jurisdiction of the court and consented to the court's jurisdiction to determine

Page 458 U. S. 678

its interest in the extraterritorial portion of the vessel."

Id. at 335. The court concluded that jurisdiction thus existed to determine claims of the United States to those portions of the Atocha lying beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the court, but not claims of other parties who had not appeared and submitted to the jurisdiction of the court. [Footnote 9] On the merits, the Court of Appeals rejected the statutory and common law claims advanced by the United States.

Throughout these proceedings, valuable artifacts of the Atocha remained in the custody of officials of the Florida Division of Archives in Tallahassee. Since Tallahassee is located in the Northern District of Florida, these artifacts also were located beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the District Court. Immediately following the decision of the Court of Appeals, Treasure Salvors filed a motion in the District Court for an order commanding the United States Marshal to arrest and take custody of these artifacts and bring them within the jurisdiction of the court. Record 318. That motion forms the basis of the present controversy.

The District Court issued a warrant to arrest. [Footnote 10] Although

Page 458 U. S. 679

the warrant was addressed to two officers of the Division of Archives, the State itself filed a motion to quash the warrant, contending that the State of Florida was not a party in the case and had not waived the requirement that the court could exercise in rem jurisdiction only over that portion of the res within the territorial boundaries of the court. App. 43. [Footnote 11] The State also sought and obtained an emergency stay from the Court of Appeals. Record 368. The District Court denied the motion to quash, ruling that the extraterritorial seizure was proper under Supplemental Admiralty Rule C(5).

Page 458 U. S. 680

App. 51. [Footnote 12] Since the Court of Appeals had stayed execution of the warrant, the District Court issued an order to show cause why the State should not deliver the artifacts into the custody of the Marshal. [Footnote 13]

In response to the order to show cause, the State raised several substantive issues in the District Court. Record 425. Contending that a supplemental complaint filed by Treasure Salvors, seen 11, supra, demonstrated that the State of Florida was a defendant in the action, the State argued that the Eleventh Amendment barred an exercise of the court's jurisdiction. The State also repeated its arguments that the court lacked in rem jurisdiction in admiralty because the res was not present within the district, and that the decision of this Court in United States v. Florida did not affect the State's "contractual" right to a share of the artifacts. Record 429-439.

The District Court rejected these arguments in a comprehensive memorandum. Treasure Salvors, Inc. v. Unidentified Wrecked and Abandoned Sailing Vessel, 459 F.Supp. 507 (1978). The court first held that, just as all claims of the

Page 458 U. S. 681

United States had been resolved in the earlier proceeding, all claims of the State were barred because the State of Florida had acted in privity with the United States in that proceeding. Id. at 512; seen 7, supra. Alternatively, the court held that the extraterritorial arrest of the salvaged articles was proper under Supplemental Admiralty Rule C(5), and that the court thus had obtained jurisdiction in rem to resolve ownership of the res. 459 F.Supp. at 518. On the merits, the court rejected on multiple grounds the State's contractual claim to the property. Id. at 521.

At the conclusion of its memorandum opinion, the court rejected the State's Eleventh Amendment defense. Id. at 526. The court first held that the State necessarily had waived the Amendment as to any claim to the property that it asserted in federal court. Ibid. The court then held that, apart from any claim advanced by the State, the Eleventh Amendment did not bar the seizure of the artifacts and subsequent transfer to the custody of the Marshal. [Footnote 14]

Page 458 U. S. 682

The Court of Appeals affirmed. 621 F.2d 1340 (CA5 1980). As had the District Court, seen 14, supra, the court concluded that the Eleventh Amendment did not prevent the court from resolving the controverted claims to ownership of the res, since resolution of that dispute was essential to a determination of whether the Eleventh Amendment in fact barred an exercise of jurisdiction by the federal court. 621 F.2d at 1345. [Footnote 15] The court then held that the extraterritorial process issued pursuant to Supplemental Admiralty Rule C(5) was proper, id. at 1346, and that the State did not have a valid claim to the property. Id. at 1349. [Footnote 16]

The Florida Department of State filed a petition for writ of certiorari, presenting only one question:

"Whether the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution bars an in rem admiralty action seeking to recover property owned by a state."

Pet. for Cert. I. We granted the petition. 451 U.S. 982. We hold that the federal court had jurisdiction to secure possession of the property from the named state officials, since they had no colorable basis on which to retain possession of the artifacts. The court did not have power, however, to adjudicate the State's interest in the property without the State's consent.

Page 458 U. S. 683

II

Stripped of its procedural complexities and factual glamor, this case presents a narrow legal question. The District Court attempted to seize artifacts held by state officials and to bring the property within its admiralty in rem jurisdiction. Although the seizure in this case was extraterritorial, and thus involved an application of Supplemental Admiralty Rule C(5), the question presented for our decision would not be any different if the State merely resisted an attachment of property located within the district.

In response to the warrant of arrest, the State contended that it was immune from the federal process under the Eleventh Amendment. [Footnote 17] It argued that the contracts executed with Treasure Salvors "alone determined the rights and obligations of the contracting parties. . . ." App. 44. The difficult question presented in this case is whether a federal court exercising admiralty in rem jurisdiction may seize property held by state officials under a claim that the property belongs to the State. [Footnote 18]

Page 458 U. S. 684

A suit generally may not be maintained directly against the State itself, or against an agency or department of the State, unless the State has waived its sovereign immunity. Alabama v. Pugh,438 U. S. 781. If the State is named directly in the complaint and has not consented to the suit, it must be dismissed from the action. Id. at 438 U. S. 782. [Footnote 19] Of course, the fact that the State should have been dismissed from an action that has proceeded to judgment does not mean that the judgment may not stand against other parties who are not immune from suit. [Footnote 20]

The Eleventh Amendment does not bar all claims against officers of the State, even when directed to actions taken in their official capacity and defended by the most senior legal officers in the executive branch of the state government. In Ex parte Young,209 U. S. 123, the Court held that an action brought against a state official to enjoin the enforcement of an unconstitutional state statute is not a suit against a State barred by the Eleventh Amendment. In response to the argument that the official in such a case could act only as an officer of the State, and that the suit therefore could be characterized only as an action against the State itself, the Court explained:

"The act to be enforced is alleged to be unconstitutional, and if it be so, the use of the name of the State to enforce

Page 458 U. S. 685

an unconstitutional act to the injury of complainants is a proceeding without the authority of and one which does not affect the State in its sovereign or governmental capacity. It is simply an illegal act upon the part of a state official in attempting by the use of the name of the State to enforce a legislative enactment which is void because unconstitutional. If the act which the state Attorney General seeks to enforce is a violation of the Federal Constitution, the officer, in proceeding under such enactment, comes into conflict with the superior authority of that Constitution, and he is in that case stripped of his official or representative character and is subjected in his person to the consequences of his individual conduct. The State has no power to impart to him any immunity from responsibility to the supreme authority of the United States."

Id. at 209 U. S. 159-160. There is a well-recognized irony in Ex parte Young; unconstitutional conduct by a state officer may be "state action" for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment, yet not attributable to the State for purposes of the Eleventh. Nevertheless, the rule of Ex parte Young is one of the cornerstones of the Court's Eleventh Amendment jurisprudence. See Edelman v. Jordan,415 U. S. 651, 415 U. S. 663-664; Quern v. Jordan,440 U. S. 332, 440 U. S. 337.

In Tindal v. Wesley,167 U. S. 204, the Court applied the analysis later enshrined in Ex parte Young in a suit to recover property wrongfully held by state officials on behalf of the State of South Carolina. In Tindal, the plaintiff claimed title and a right of possession to certain real property held by a state official; the defendant answered that the property belonged to the State, and asserted the Eleventh Amendment as a defense to the action. The Court described the issue presented for decision:

"So that the question is directly presented whether an action brought against individuals to recover the possession of land of which they have actual possession and control

Page 458 U. S. 686

is to be deemed an action against the State within the meaning of the Constitution simply because those individuals claim to be in rightful possession as officers or agents of the State, and assert title and right of possession in the State. Can the court, in such an action, decline to inquire whether the plaintiff is, in law, entitled to possession, and whether the individual defendants have any right, in law, to withhold possession? And if the court finds, upon due inquiry, that the plaintiff is entitled to possession, and that the assertion by the defendants of right of possession and title in the State is without legal foundation, may it not, as between the plaintiff and the defendants, adjudge that the plaintiff recover possession?"

167 U.S. at 167 U. S. 212. Relying extensively on the earlier decision in United States v. Lee,106 U. S. 196, [Footnote 21] the Court in Tindal held that the

"settled doctrine of this court wholly precludes the idea that a suit against individuals to recover possession of real property is a suit against the State simply because the defendant holding possession happens to be an officer of the State and asserts

Page 458 U. S. 687

that he is lawfully in possession on its behalf."

167 U.S. at 167 U. S. 221. The Court refused to accept the proposition that the

"doors of the courts of justice are . . . closed against one legally entitled to possession by the mere assertion of the defendants that they are entitled to possession for the State."

Id. at 167 U. S. 222. In explaining the extent of its decision, the Court stated:

"[T]he Eleventh Amendment gives no immunity to officers or agents of a State in withholding the property of a citizen without the authority of law. And when such officers or agents assert that they are in rightful possession, they must make good that assertion when it is made to appear in a suit against them as individuals that the legal title and right of possession is in the plaintiff. If a suit against officers of a State to enjoin them from enforcing an unconstitutional statute, whereby the plaintiff's property will be injured . . . be not one against the State, it is impossible to see how a suit against the same individuals to recover the possession of property belonging to the plaintiff and illegally withheld by the defendants can be deemed a suit against the State."

Ibid. [Footnote 22]

In holding that the action was not barred by the Eleventh Amendment, the Court in Tindal emphasized that any judgment awarding possession to the plaintiff would not subsequently

Page 458 U. S. 688

bind the State.

"It is a judgment to the effect only that, as between the plaintiff and the defendants, the former is entitled to possession of the property in question, the latter having shown no valid authority to withhold possession from the plaintiff,"

id. at 167 U. S. 223;

"it will be open to the State to bring any action that may be appropriate to establish and protect whatever claim it has to the premises in dispute."

Ibid.

The rule of law set forth in United States v. Lee and Tindal v. Wesley was clarified in Larson v. Domestic & Foreign Commerce Corp.,337 U. S. 682. In that case, the plaintiff brought suit against a Government official to compel specific performance of a contract. [Footnote 23] The plaintiff theorized that, by withholding delivery of property as required by the contract the agent had exceeded his official authority, and could be sued in federal court. The Court in Larson stated that

"the action of an officer of the sovereign (be it holding, taking or otherwise legally affecting the plaintiff's property) can be regarded as so 'illegal' as to permit a suit for specific relief against the officer as an individual only if it is not within the officer's statutory powers or, if within those powers, only if the powers, or their exercise in a particular case, are constitutionally void."

Id. at 337 U. S. 701-702. The Court held that the fact that an officer wrongfully withholds property belonging to another does not necessarily establish that he is acting beyond the permissible scope of his official capacity. [Footnote 24] Since,

Page 458 U. S. 689

in Larson, it was not alleged that the Government official had exceeded his statutory authority -- indeed, the plaintiff had affirmatively contended that the officer had authority to bind the Government on the contract at issue [Footnote 25] -- or that the exercise of such authority was unconstitutional, [Footnote 26] the Court held that the action was barred by sovereign immunity.

These cases make clear that the Eleventh Amendment does not bar an action against a state official that is based on a theory that the officer acted beyond the scope of his statutory authority or, if within that authority, that such authority is unconstitutional. In such an action, however, the Amendment places a limit on the relief that may be obtained by the plaintiff. If the action is allowed to proceed against the officer only because he acted without proper authority, the judgment may not compel the State to use its funds to compensate the plaintiff for the injury. In Edelman v. Jordan,415 U. S. 651, the Court made clear that

"a suit by private

Page 458 U. S. 690

parties seeking to impose a liability which must be paid from public funds in the state treasury is barred by the Eleventh Amendment."

Id. at 415 U. S. 663. See Ford Motor Co. v. Department of Treasury,323 U. S. 459; Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. at 440 U. S. 337. [Footnote 27] In determining the relief that may be granted if a state officer is found to have acted without valid statutory authority, the question is whether the relief "constitute[s] permissible prospective relief or a retroactive award which requires the payment of funds from the state treasury.'" Quern v. Jordan, supra, at 440 U. S. 346-347.

III

In light of the principles set forth above, the proper resolution of the Eleventh Amendment issue raised in this case requires an answer to each of three specific questions: (a) is this action asserted against officials of the State, or is it an action brought directly against the State of Florida itself? (b) does the challenged conduct of state officials constitute an ultra vires or unconstitutional withholding of property or merely a tortious interference with property rights? (c) is the relief sought by Treasure Salvors permissible prospective relief, or is it analogous to a retroactive award that requires "the payment of funds from the state treasury"?

Page 458 U. S. 691

A

Treasure Salvors filed this admiralty in rem action in federal court, seeking a declaration of title to an abandoned sailing vessel that had been discovered on the ocean floor. The State of Florida was not named as a party, and was not compelled to appear. Some of the property at issue, however, was held by officials of the Florida Division of Archives. Asserting that it was the rightful owner of the property, Treasure Salvors filed a motion

"for an Order commanding the United States Marshal to arrest and take custody of those portions of the Plaintiffs' vessel now being held by L. Ross Morrell or James McBeth or being held under their custody, care or control."

App. 11. [Footnote 28] As requested, the District Court issued a warrant of arrest commanding the Marshal of the United States for the Southern District of Florida

"to take into your possession the portions of said vessel which have been in the possession or are in the possession of L. Ross Morrell and/or James McBeth, or under their custody, care or control, and to bring said portions of said vessel within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court and transfer possession of same to the substitute custodian appointed in this action."

Id. at 41-42. It is this process from which the State contends it is immune under the Eleventh Amendment. [Footnote 29]

It is clear that the process at issue was directed only at state officials, and not at the State itself or any agency of the State. [Footnote 30] Neither the fact that the State elected to defend on

Page 458 U. S. 692

behalf of its agents, nor the fact that the District Court purported to adjudicate the rights of the State, deprived the federal court of jurisdiction that had been properly invoked over other parties. See Alabama v. Pugh,438 U. S. 781; n 20, supra. The process thus is not barred by the Eleventh Amendment as a direct action against the State.

B

The second question that must be considered is whether the state officials named in the warrant acted without legitimate authority in withholding the property at issue. In Treasure Salvors' first response to the State's Eleventh Amendment argument, it contended:

"If the Division of Archives were allowed to retain this property, its officials would be acting outside the scope of their authority under state law, since the state statute under which they claim [does] not apply outside the states territory. The rationale of Home Tel. & Tel. Co. v. Los Angeles, [227 U.S. 278 (1913),] prohibits this result, since to allow such action would be to deprive Treasure Salvors of their property without due process in violation

Page 458 U. S. 693

of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States."

Record 472. Thus, from the outset, Treasure Salvors has asserted that state officials do not have valid statutory authority to hold the property at issue.

In Larson v. Domestic & Foreign Commerce Corp.,337 U. S. 682, this Court held that the actions of a federal official in withholding the delivery of goods pursuant to his interpretation of a disputed provision of a contract constituted, at most, a tortious deprivation of property. The proper remedy for the plaintiff was not an action in district court to compel delivery, but a suit for breach of contract in the Court of Claims. Actions of the Government official pursuant to legitimate contractual authority were neither ultra vires nor unconstitutional.

From the outset of the proceedings at issue here, the State of Florida has advanced the contracts that it executed with Treasure Salvors as a defense to the federal court's attempt to secure possession of the artifacts held by the named state officials. It is noteworthy, however, that the State has never argued that the contracts conferred upon the State a right of ownership in the artifacts; the contracts simply "determined the rights and obligations of the contracting parties. . . ." App. 44. The State has argued that the contracts are valid and "in no way affected" by the decision of this Court in United States v. Florida,420 U. S. 531. App. 44. [Footnote 31]

We are not called upon in this case to determine "the rights and obligations" of two parties to a contract. The issue presented

Page 458 U. S. 694

is whether state officials had authority to refuse to surrender possession of the artifacts to the District Court. The salvage contracts are not relevant to that question unless they provide a basis upon which the officials may claim a right to withhold possession of the property. Unless the contracts determine rights of the parties to the property, they are collateral to the issue before us.

It is apparent that the State does not have even a colorable claim to the artifacts pursuant to these contracts. The contracts did not purport to transfer ownership of any artifacts to the State; they permitted Treasure Salvors "to conduct underwater salvage from and upon certain submerged sovereignty lands of and belonging to the State of Florida," id. at 20-21, "for the purpose of salvaging abandoned vessels or the remains thereof . . . which abandoned material is the property of the State of Florida." Id. at 22 (emphasis added). The contracts provided for the performance of services on property that was believed to belong in toto to the State of Florida, in exchange for which the State agreed to "award to the Salvager seventy-five percent (75%) of the total appraised value of all material recovered. . . ." Id. at 33. The State did not "yield" its claim to 75% of the artifacts in order to receive an undisputed right to the remaining 25%; the State agreed to pay Treasure Salvors the equivalent of 75% of the proceeds in compensation for the difficult and expensive work undertaken by Treasure Salvors in retrieving from the floor of the ocean property that was believed to belong to the State.

The salvage contracts might well provide a basis for a claim to the property by Treasure Salvors; for the contracts did purport to transfer a portion of the artifacts from the State to Treasure Salvors in compensation for the latter's services. Treasure Salvors does claim a right to ownership, but based entirely on the fact that it was the finder of abandoned property, and therefore entitled to the property independently of

Page 458 U. S. 695

the contracts. [Footnote 32] Thus, neither party's rights to ownership is affected in any way by the salvage contracts; whether the contracts are valid or not, they provide no authority for the refusal of state officials to surrender possession of the artifacts.

The authority of state officials to claim the artifacts was derived solely from Fla.Stat. § 267.061(1)(b) (1974), which provided:

"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 archaeological value which have been abandoned on state-owned lands or 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.) This Court has determined, however, that the Atocha was not found on "state-owned sovereignty submerged lands." Rather, it was discovered on the Outer Continental Shelf of the United States, beneath international waters. [Footnote 33]

Page 458 U. S. 696

No statutory provision has been advanced that even arguably would authorize officials of the Division of Archives to retain the property at issue. Throughout this litigation, the State has relied solely on the contracts that it executed with Treasure Salvors as a defense to the federal court's process; those contracts were predicated entirely on a state statute that, on its face, is inapplicable in this case. [Footnote 34] Actions of state officials in holding property on the assumption that it was found on state land and for that reason belongs to the State -- when it is undisputed that the property was not found on state land -- is beyond the authority of any reasonable reading of any statute that has been cited to us by the State. [Footnote 35]

As recognized in Larson, "action of an officer of the sovereign (be it holding, taking or otherwise legally affecting the

Page 458 U. S. 697

plaintiff's property)" that is beyond the officer's statutory authority is not action of the sovereign, 337 U.S. at 337 U. S. 701; a suit for specific relief against the officer is not barred by the Eleventh Amendment. This conclusion follows inevitably from Ex parte Young. If conduct of a state officer taken pursuant to an unconstitutional state statute is deemed to be unauthorized and may be challenged in federal court, conduct undertaken without any authority whatever is also not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity.

If a statute of the State of Florida were to authorize state officials to hold artifacts in circumstances such as those presented in this case, a substantial constitutional question would be presented. In essence, the State would have authorized state officials to retain property regardless of the manner in which it was acquired, with no duty to provide compensation for a public taking. If the Constitution provided no protection against such unbridled authority, all property rights would exist only at the whim of the sovereign.

Thus, since the state officials do not have a colorable claim to possession of the artifacts, they may not invoke the Eleventh Amendment to block execution of the warrant of arrest. Of course, the warrant itself merely secures possession of the property; its execution does not finally adjudicate the State's right to the artifacts. See Tindal v. Wesley, 167 U.S. at 167 U. S. 223. In ruling that the Eleventh Amendment does not bar execution of the warrant, we need not decide the extent to which a federal district court exercising admiralty in rem jurisdiction over property before the court may adjudicate the rights of claimants to that property as against sovereigns that did not appear and voluntarily assert any claim that they had to the res.

C

Finally, it is clear that the relief sought in this case is consistent with the principles of Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S.

Page 458 U. S. 698

651. The arrest warrant sought possession of specific property. It did not seek any attachment of state funds, and would impose no burden on the state treasury.

This case is quite different from In re New York (I),256 U. S. 490, and In re New York (II),256 U. S. 503, relied on by the State. In In re New York (I), the plaintiff brought an action in federal court to recover damages caused by canal boats chartered by the State of New York. Pursuant to admiralty practice, the action was brought in rem against the vessels themselves. The owner of the vessels answered the complaint, contending that the action should be directed against the Superintendent of Public Works of the State of New York. The District Court agreed, and ordered the Superintendent to appear and answer; in the event that he could not be found, the court directed that "the goods and chattels of the State of New York used and controlled by him" should be attached. 256 U.S. at 256 U. S. 496.

The Attorney General of the State appeared on behalf of the Superintendent and asserted the Eleventh Amendment as a defense to the action. This Court held that the District Court lacked jurisdiction to proceed against the Superintendent. The Court noted that

"the proceedings against which prohibition is here asked have no element of a proceeding in rem, and are in the nature of an action in personam against Mr. Walsh, not individually, but in his capacity as Superintendent of Public Works of the State of New York,"

id. at 256 U. S. 501; moreover,

"[t]here is no suggestion that the Superintendent was or is acting under color of an unconstitutional law, or otherwise than in the due course of his duty under the constitution and laws of the State of New York."

Id. at 256 U. S. 502. The Court concluded:

"In the fullest sense, therefore, the proceedings are shown by the entire record to be, in their nature and effect, suits brought by individuals against the State of New York, and therefore -- since no consent has been given -- beyond the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States."

Ibid.

Page 458 U. S. 699

In In re New York (II), the plaintiff filed an action in admiralty to recover damages caused by the negligent operation of a canal boat owned by the State of New York. The action was brought in rem, and the vessel was arrested. This Court held, as it had in In re New York (I), that the federal court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the claim. In broad language urged upon us here, the Court stated that property owned by a State and employed solely for governmental uses was exempt from seizure by admiralty process in rem. 256 U.S. at 256 U. S. 511. The force of the holding in In re New York (II), however, is that an action -- otherwise barred as an in personam action against the State -- cannot be maintained through seizure of property owned by the State. Otherwise, the Eleventh Amendment could easily be circumvented; an action for damages could be brought simply by first attaching property that belonged to the State, and then proceeding in rem.

In these cases, the plaintiff did not claim an ownership interest in the vessels, and did not question the State's assertion of ownership. The sole purpose of the attempted arrests was to enable the court to acquire jurisdiction over a damages claim that was otherwise barred by the Eleventh Amendment. In this case, Treasure Salvors is not asserting a claim for damages against either the State of Florida or its officials. The present action is not an in personam action brought to recover damages from the State. The relief sought is not barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

IV

The Eleventh Amendment thus did not bar the process issued by the District Court to secure possession of artifacts of the Atocha held by the named state officials. The proper resolution of this issue, however, does not require -- or permit -- a determination of the State's ownership of the artifacts.

Page 458 U. S. 700

This resolution of the immunity issue is not consistent with the disposition of the Court of Appeals. The court properly held that the Eleventh Amendment did not bar execution of the warrant of arrest; in making that determination, however, the Court of Appeals improperly adjudicated the State's right to the artifacts. While such an adjudication would be justified if the State voluntarily advanced a claim to the artifacts, it may not be justified as part of the Eleventh Amendment analysis, the only issue before us.

For these reasons, the judgment of the Court of Appeals must be affirmed in part and reversed in part. To the extent that the court held that the Eleventh Amendment did not prohibit an execution of the warrant and transfer of the artifacts to Treasure Salvors, its judgment is affirmed. To the extent that the court determined the State's ownership of the artifacts as part of its Eleventh Amendment analysis, its judgment is reversed.

It is so ordered.

[Footnote 1]

The two respondents in this action, Treasure Salvors, Inc., and Armada Research Corp., were organized by the same parties. Throughout these proceedings they have been treated as a single entity referred to as "Treasure Salvors."

[Footnote 2]

The story of the Atocha and its discovery is recounted in Lyon, The Trouble with Treasure, 149 National Geographic 787 (1976).

[Footnote 3]

The statute since has been amended in a manner not relevant to this case.

[Footnote 4]

The District Court found that the contract was entered into as a result of the "coercive acts of the Division of Archives in threatening arrest and confiscation." Treasure Salvors, Inc. v. Unidentified Wrecked and Abandoned Sailing Vessel, 459 F.Supp. 507, 522 (SD Fla.1978). The State admits that, if Treasure Salvors had salvaged without a contract, arrests would have been made. Tr. of Oral Arg. 9.

[Footnote 5]

In its exceptions to the Special Master's Report, the State contended that the Master should have recognized that the boundaries of the State extended to the boundaries defined in the State's 1868 Constitution, rather than to the limits specified in the Submerged Lands Act of 1953. See 420 U.S. at 420 U. S. 532. This Court considered that exception and held that the Master had properly rejected the State's argument. Id. at 420 U. S. 533.

[Footnote 6]

This area is on the Continental Shelf of the United States, in international waters. Treasure Salvors, Inc. v. Abandoned Sailing Vessel, 408 F.Supp. 907, 909 (SD Fla.1976).

[Footnote 7]

The United States asserted a right of ownership under several federal statutes and the common law doctrine of "sovereign prerogative." The State of Florida did not intervene at this time. It had notice of the litigation, however, and both assisted the United States in the lawsuit and entered into preliminary negotiations with the United States Department of the Interior regarding disposition of the Atocha's treasure in the event the Federal Government prevailed. See 621 F.2d 1340, 1343-1344 (CA5 1980).

[Footnote 8]

The court explained:

"General principles of maritime and international law dictate that an abandonment constitutes a repudiation of ownership, and that a party taking possession under salvage operations may be considered a finder under the doctrine of 'animus revertendi,' i.e., the owner has no intention of returning. Ownership in the vessel would then vest in the finder by operation of law."

408 F.Supp. at 909 (citation omitted).

[Footnote 9]

The court stated:

"[T]he district court properly adjudicated title to all those objects within its territorial jurisdiction and to those objects without its territory as between plaintiffs and the United States. In affirming the district court, we do not approve that portion of its order which may be construed as a holding that plaintiffs have exclusive title to, and the right to immediate and sole possession of, the vessel and cargo as to other claimants, if any there be, who are not parties or privies to this litigation."

569 F.2d at 335-336 (footnote omitted).

[Footnote 10]

The warrant provided:

"WARRANT FOR ARREST IN REM"

"THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA"

"TO: THE MARSHAL OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE SOUTHERN"

"DISTRICT OF FLORIDA"

"GREETING:"

"WHEREAS, on the 18th day of July, 1975, Treasure Salvors, Inc., a corporation and Armada Research Corporation, a corporation, filed a Complaint under Rule 9(h) against the Unidentified Wrecked and Abandoned Sailing Vessel, her tackle, armament, apparel and cargo located with 2500 yards of a [sic] at coordinates 24

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