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Federal Maritime Commission v. South Carolina State Ports Authority

    Brief Fact Summary.

    South Carolina Maritime Services, Incorporated filed a complaint with the Federal Maritime Commission after the South Carolina State Ports Authority would not allow a cruise ship to dock.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A state has sovereign immunity when a private party files a complaint under the Federal Maritime Commission.

    Facts.

    South Carolina Maritime Services, Incorporated (Maritime Services) sought to dock a cruise ship on the Port of Charleston. South Carolina State Ports Authority denied Maritime Services request to dock the ship because they had a policy to prevent ships from docking whose primary purpose is gambling. Maritime Services filed a complaint with the Federal Maritime Commission alleging that South Carolina State Ports Authority violated the Shipping Act of 1984.

    Issue.

    Whether a state has sovereign immunity when a private party files a complaint under the Federal Maritime Commission?

    Held.

    Yes. Under the Eleventh Amendment, states are not subject to complaints by private citizens. Maritime Services is a private body trying to bring a claim against a state.

    Dissent.

    (Breyer, J.) Although the eleventh amendment protects against the judicial power of the United States, the eleventh amendment does not protect against the executive power of the United States. Thus, the Federal Maritime Commission is asking the federal government to exercise its executive power over a state if the state has violated federal law. If the state has violated federal law then the federal government would be the plaintiff in a federal suit against the state.

    Discussion.

    Yes. The eleventh amendment provides immunity for states against suits filed by private citizens in other states. The purpose of the eleventh amendment is to prevent states from having to answer to private citizens in administrative proceedings just as the eleventh amendment prevents states from having to answer to private citizens in federal court.


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