Wyandotte Transportation Company v. United States

PETITIONER: Wyandotte Transportation Company
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: South Boston Court

DOCKET NO.: 31
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 389 US 191 (1967)
ARGUED: Oct 16, 1967 / Oct 17, 1967
DECIDED: Dec 04, 1967

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Wyandotte Transportation Company v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 17, 1967 in Wyandotte Transportation Company v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 16, 1967 in Wyandotte Transportation Company v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 31, Wyandotte Transportation Company et al., petitioners, versus United States.

Mr. Ray?

Lucian Y. Ray:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may I please the Court.

Two cases are involved here.

They were consolidated by the District Court for the purpose of disposing of motions for summary judgment and motions to dismiss.

All of these motions filed by the respondents below and the petitioners here.

Each of the cases, if the Court please, involve vessels which sank in the Mississippi River in March 1961.

The facts is to each of accidents are not complicated and with the Court's permission, I'd like to briefly review them.

One case involves the barge Wycom 112 which was being towed up the Mississippi River with 1000 tons of liquid chlorine and when the tow got to about seven miles below Natchez, Mississippi that vessel sank.

The vessel owner attempted to locate the barge was unsuccessful in doing so, tendered abandonment to the Core of engineers, that abandonment was at first rejected and then later on the Court through the District Engineer at Vicksburg, Colonel Edward accepted the abandonment and advised the Wyandotte that the barge would be removed under the provisions of Section 19 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899.

If the Court is interested in the full letter, it appears on pages 42 and 43 of the record.

After the abandonment had been accepted, the Core of engineers together with other agencies of the government, raised the barge without a loss of any of the chlorine, the chlorine was taken back to Gainesville, Louisiana where it was pumped into tanks.

The government filed a liable against the three petitioners in that case seeking the recovery of a little over $3 million for the cost of removal.

Now, the other case involves two barges, the L1 and M65 which where the Cargill, a barge fleet at Jackson's Landing which is in Baton Rouge.

Now two of those barges left the landing and were later found to be sunk and the owners marked those barges for a while and then tendered an abandonment to the Core of engineers.

The abandonment was rejected and the United States Government, the Department of Justice filed an action for a declaratory judgment asking the Court to require the owners of those barges to mark them and also to declare that they must be removed.

Now, those barges remained un-removed.

The barge in the Wycom case, it's back was broken when it went down and but the tanks and the chlorine were as I've said delivered back.

They were subsequently sold pursuant to the request of the government and the $80,000 that was derived from their sale has been covered into the registry of the Court to await the outcome of this litigation.

Now, the District Court rendered the motions for summary judgment and dismissed both actions and stated that the only right that the government had to recover removal expenses was against the cargo was against the vessels themselves and the cargo and there was no in personam right.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that a vessel negligently sunk in a navigable channel and I might say, if the Court please, that the negligent issue comes into this case as the Court can appreciate because it was decided on the pleadings.

We don't admit for one minute that negligence exists and in fact the Court below has, in its judgment, has centered back to the District Court for determination of both the question of causation and the question of negligence.

But the Court said that a sunken vessel did constitute an obstruction within the provisions of Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and that the removal of the vessels could be compelled by the injunctive process that is granted by Section 12 of that statute and then they shifted over -- then that Court below shifted over and said that because the injunctive process exists you have the alternative right to recover the expenses of removal.

Potter Stewart:

May I ask you two questions just to be sure I understand your factual presentation?

The second case, in addition to the territory judgment was a request for an injunction, was it not, to the --

Lucian Y. Ray:

To require and to remove --

Potter Stewart:

To require them, the court ordered making them to remove at their own expense?

Lucian Y. Ray:

You're right, you're right Mr. Justice.

Potter Stewart:

And am I also right in my understanding of the case of issues that that however this case is determined whether the District Court was right or the Court of Appeals was right, there could be no question that the Government's right to the proceeds of the proper sale of the chlorine?

Lucian Y. Ray:

We concede that and we conceded in this -- conceded here.