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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


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.


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

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