Askew v. American Waterways Operators, Inc.

RESPONDENT: American Waterways Operators, Inc.
LOCATION: Allegheny County District Court

DOCKET NO.: 71-1082
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)

CITATION: 411 US 325 (1973)
ARGUED: Nov 14, 1972
DECIDED: Apr 18, 1973

Daniel S. Dearing - for appellants
Leroy Collins - for appellees The American Waterways Operators, Inc., and others
Nicholas J. Healy - for appellees American Institute of Merchant Shipping and others
Robert L. Shevin - for appellants

Facts of the case


Media for Askew v. American Waterways Operators, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 14, 1972 in Askew v. American Waterways Operators, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

First this morning in number 71-1082 Askew against the American Waterways Operators, Incorporated.

Mr. Dearing you may proceed.

Daniel S. Dearing:

Thank you Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case is here on appeal from the Middle District of Florida wherein a three-judge panel struck the Florida Oil Spill Prevention and Pollution Control Act in 1970.

With permission of the Court, the argument will be divided between myself and the Attorney General Robert L. Shevin, State of Florida and I understand that the argument will also be divided to the appellees.

Essentially, the operating facts or the operative facts bring in this matter before the Court today of the passage in 1970 by the Florida Legislature of its Oil Spill Prevention and Pollution Control Act.

Now this Act, like most legislation was a result of recent history.

The Florida Legislature was not unaware of the serious and deleterious effects of oil spills, massive oil spills in state waters.

They are aware, all too aware of the results in the Torrey Canyon Disaster and the English Channel in 1967.

They are too aware also of spills up country.

For instance when the P.W. Thirtle went down and spilled 31,000 gallons of bunker sea oil into Narragansett Bay off to close to Rhode Island was reported to have ruined the fishing industry in Narragansett Bay as a pertain to oils spillage.

They were aware also that the United States Congress was considering the Federal Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970.

They are aware of the laborious steps taken by the various committees and the passage of this legislation.

The Florida Legislature had convened and had been in session for only a few weeks when this matter came before its attention.

The real impetus to the Florida Act however was the collision in collision in Tampa Bay of the tanker dealing the pump, and the spillage of 21,000 gallons of bunker fuel oil into Tampa bay.

This brought home adequately and clearly to the legislature the dangers involved and being vulnerable as the State is to the ravages of oil spill pollution of its territory waters and so the legislature met and passed this Act.

The Florida Oil Spill Prevention and Pollution Control Act which provides for absolute and unlimited liability against the owners of vessels, in any event, other major spill and which also provides for certain mechanics for the -- before the fact enforcement of the Act itself.

Shortly, before the Act was to go into effect that is to say the financial responsibility provisions which are going to the effect the appellees before the Court today, plaintiff below file suit challenging constitutionality of the Act on several grounds.

The lower court, the state defendant on the grounds that the Act was a valid expression of the State’s police power.

But the lower court decided that instead of being a valid expression of the State’s police power it was in fact an intrusion into an exclusive federal admiralty domain and although the Act was challenged on other grounds, the court below decided issue on that fact alone, in that decision alone.

Now the Florida, I think it is absolutely necessary to bring the Court -- invite the Court’s attention to two sections of the Act.

First of all, Section 2 which sets forth the legislative intent contains this very brief but important paragraph.

It says the legislative further declares that it is the intent of this Act to support and complement applicable provisions of the Federal Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970 and in Section 21 of the Act states that this Act being necessary for the general welfare the public health, the public safety of the state and its inhabitants shall be liberally construed to effect the purposes set forth under this Act and the Federal Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970.

Under the provisions of the Act the State Department of Natural Resources was to issue certain regulations going to the mechanics of enforcement.

These regulations, it is submitted must reflect the intent as set forth in this two phrases, the regulations as well as all other enforcement provisions of this Act, it is submitted, would have to comply and supplement the Federal Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970 and this is particularly important to the position of the State of Florida before the Court today.

Now, the court -- the lower court found that the Act violated provisions of uniformity absolutely necessary to the Federal Admiralty Maritime Domain.

Now, we submit to the Court that this is not true.

In the first place, we submit that the concern with prevention and control of oil spill collision of territorial waters is not a maritime matter at all.

But if it is, it is certainly a non-exclusive maritime matter where there is concurrent jurisdiction between both the state and the federal governments and we would illustrate that fact.

Byron R. White:

You mean without any shoreside damage?