Federal Maritime Comm'n v. South Carolina Ports Authority
Annotate this Case
535 U.S. 743 (2002)
OCTOBER TERM, 2001
FEDERAL MARITIME COMMISSION v. SOUTH CAROLINA STATE PORTS AUTHORITY ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
No. 01-46. Argued February 25, 2002-Decided May 28, 2002
South Carolina Maritime Services, Inc. (Maritime Services), filed a complaint with petitioner Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), contending that respondent South Carolina State Ports Authority (SCSPA) violated the Shipping Act of 1984 when it denied Maritime Services permission to berth a cruise ship at the SCSPA's port facilities in Charleston, South Carolina; and praying that the FMC, inter alia, direct the SCSPA to pay reparations to Maritime Services, order the SCSPA to cease and desist from violating the Shipping Act, and ask the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina to enjoin the SCSPA from refusing berthing space and passenger services to Maritime Services. The complaint was referred to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who found that the SCSPA, as an arm of the State of South Carolina, was entitled to sovereign immunity and thus dismissed the complaint. Reversing on its own motion, the FMC concluded that state sovereign immunity covers proceedings before judicial tribunals, not Executive Branch agencies. The Fourth Circuit reversed.
Held: State sovereign immunity bars the FMC from adjudicating a private party's complaint against a nonconsenting State. Pp. 751-769.
(a) Dual sovereignty is a defining feature of the Nation's constitutional blueprint, and an integral component of the sovereignty retained by the States when they entered the Union is their immunity from private suits. While States, in ratifying the Constitution, consented to suits brought by sister States or the Federal Government, they maintained their traditional immunity from suits brought by private parties. Although the Eleventh Amendment provides that the "judicial Power of the United States" does not "extend to any suit, in law or equity," brought by citizens of one State against another State, U. S. Const., Arndt. 11, that provision does not define the scope of the States' sovereign immunity; it is instead only one particular exemplification of that immunity. As a result, this Court's assumption that the FMC does not exercise the judicial power of the United States in adjudicating Shipping Act complaints filed by private parties does not end the inquiry whether sovereign immunity applies to such adjudications. Pp. 751-754.
744 FEDERAL MARITIME COMM'N v. SOUTH CAROLINA PORTS AUTHORITY
(b) Formalized administrative adjudications were all but unheard of in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, so it is unsurprising that there is no specific evidence indicating whether the Framers believed that sovereign immunity would apply to such proceedings. However, because of the presumption that the Constitution was not intended to "rais[e] up" any proceedings against the States that were "anomalous and unheard of when the Constitution was adopted," Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U. S. 1, 18, this Court attributes great significance to the fact that States were not subject to private suits in administrative adjudications at the time of the founding or for many years thereafter. Pp. 754-756.
(c) To decide whether the Hans presumption applies here, this Court must determine whether FMC adjudications are the type of proceedings from which the Framers would have thought the States possessed immunity when they agreed to enter the Union. This Court previously has noted that ALJ s and trial judges play similar roles in adjudicative proceedings and that administrative adjudications and judicial proceedings generally share numerous common features. Butz v. Economou, 438 U. S. 478, 513, 514. Turning to FMC adjudications specifically, neither the FMC nor the United States disputes the Fourth Circuit's characterization that such a proceeding walks, talks, and squawks like a lawsuit or denies that the similarities identified in Butz between administrative adjudications and trial court proceedings are present here. FMC administrative proceedings bear a remarkably strong resemblance to federal civil litigation. The rules governing pleadings in both types of proceedings are quite similar; discovery in FMC adjudications largely mirrors that in federal civil litigation; the role of the ALJ is similar to that of an Article III judge; and, in situations not covered by an FMC rule, the FMC's own Rules of Practice and Procedure provide that Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are to be used if consistent with sound administrative practice. Pp. 756-759.
(d) State sovereign immunity's preeminent purpose-to accord States the dignity that is consistent with their status as sovereign entitiesand the overwhelming similarities between FMC adjudicative proceedings and civil litigation lead to the conclusion that the FMC is barred from adjudicating a private party's complaint against a non consenting State. If the Framers thought it an impermissible affront to a State's dignity to be required to answer private parties' complaints in federal court, they would not have found it acceptable to compel a State to do the same thing before a federal administrative tribunal. And it would be quite strange were Congress prohibited from exercising its Article I powers to abrogate state sovereign immunity in Article III judicial proceedings, but permitted to use those same powers to create court-
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