United States v. Locke, 529 U.S. 89 (2000)

Author: U.S. Supreme Court

Show Summary

United States v. Locke, 529 U.S. 89 (2000)

United States v. Locke

No. 98-1701

Argued December 7, 1999
Decided March 6, 2000 *
529 U.S. 89



After the supertanker Torrey Canyon spilled crude oil off the coast of England in 1967, both Congress, in the Port and Waterways Safety Act of 1972 (PWSA), and the State of Washington enacted more stringent regulations for tankers and provided for more comprehensive remedies in the event of an oil spill. The ensuing question of federal preemption of the State’s laws was addressed in Ray v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 435 U.S. 151. In 1989, the supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska, causing the largest oil spill in United States history. Again, both Congress and Washington responded. Congress enacted the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA). The State created a new agency and directed it to establish standards to provide the "best achievable protection" (BAP) from oil spill damages. That agency promulgated tanker design, equipment, reporting, and operating requirements. Petitioner International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko), a trade association of tanker operators, brought this suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against state and local officials responsible for enforcing the BAP regulations. Upholding the regulations, the District Court rejected Intertanko’s arguments that the BAP standards invaded an area long preempted by the Federal Government. At the appeal stage, the United States intervened on Intertanko’s behalf, contending that the District Court’s ruling failed to give sufficient weight to the substantial foreign affairs interests of the Federal Government. The Ninth Circuit held that the State could enforce its laws, save one requiring vessels to install certain navigation and towing equipment, which was "virtually identical to" requirements declared preempted in Ray.

Held: Washington’s regulations regarding general navigation watch procedures, crew English language skills and training, and maritime casualty reporting are preempted by the comprehensive federal regulatory scheme governing oil tankers; the case is remanded so the validity of other Washington regulations may be assessed in light of the considerable federal interest at stake. Pp. 99-117.

(a) The State has enacted legislation in an area where the federal interest has been manifest since the beginning of the Republic, and is now well established. Congress has, beginning with the Tank Vessel Act of 1936, enacted a series of statutes pertaining to maritime tanker transports. These include the PWSA, Title I of which authorizes, but does not require, the Coast Guard to enact measures for controlling vessel traffic or for protecting navigation and the marine environment, 33 U.S.C. § 1223(a), and Title II of which, as amended, requires the Coast Guard to issue regulations addressing the design, construction, alteration, repair, maintenance, operation, equipping, personnel qualification, and manning of covered vessels, 46 U.S.C. § 3703(a). Congress later enacted OPA, Title I of which, among other things, imposes liability for both removal costs and damages on parties responsible for an oil spill, 33 U.S.C. § 2702 and includes two saving clauses preserving the States’ authority to impose additional liability, requirements, and penalties, §§ 2718(a) and (c). Congress has also ratified international agreements in this area, including the International Convention of Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). Pp. 99-103.

(b) In Ray, the Court held that the PWSA and Coast Guard regulations promulgated under that Act preempted Washington’s pilotage requirement, limitation on tanker size, and tanker design and construction rules. The Ray Court’s interpretation of the PWSA is correct, and controlling here. Its basic analytic structure explains why federal preemption analysis applies to the challenged regulations and allows scope and due recognition for the traditional authority of the States and localities to regulate some matters of local concern. In narrowing the preemptive effect given the PWSA in Ray, the Ninth Circuit placed more weight on OPA’s saving clauses than they can bear. Like Title I of OPA, in which they are found, the saving clauses are limited to regulations governing liability and compensation for oil pollution, and do not extend to rules regulating vessel operation, design, or manning. Thus, the preemptive effect of the PWSA and its regulations is not affected by OPA, and Ray’s holding survives OPA’s enactment undiminished. The Ray Court’s prefatory observation that an "assumption" that the States’ historic police powers were not to be superseded by federal law unless that was the clear and manifest congressional purpose does not mean that a presumption against preemption aids the Court’s analysis here. An assumption of nonpreemption is not triggered when the State regulates in an area where there has been a history of significant federal presence. The Ray Court held, among other things, that Congress, in PWSA Title I, preserved state authority to regulate the peculiarities of local waters, such as depth and narrowness, if there is no conflict with federal regulatory determinations, see 435 U.S. at 171-172, 178, but further held that Congress, in PWSA Title II, mandated uniform federal rules on the subjects or matters there specified, id. at 168. Thus, under Ray’s interpretation of the Title II provision now found at 46 U.S.C. § 3703(a), only the Federal Government may regulate the design, construction, alteration, repair, maintenance, operation, equipping, personnel qualification, and manning of tankers. The Court today reaffirms Ray’s holding on this point. Congress has left no room for state regulation of these matters. See Fidelity Fed. Sav. & Loan Assn. v. De la Cuesta, 458 U.S. 141. Although the Ray Court acknowledged that the existence of some overlapping coverage between the two PWSA titles may make it difficult to determine whether a preemption question is controlled by conflict preemption principles, applicable generally to Title I, or by field preemption rules, applicable generally to Title II, the Court declined to resolve every question by the greater preemptive force of Title II. Thus, conflict preemption will be applicable in some, although not all, cases. Useful inquiries in determining which title governs include whether the regulation in question is justified by conditions unique to a particular port or waterway, see Ray, supra, at 175, or whether it is of limited extraterritorial effect, not requiring the tanker to modify its primary conduct outside the specific body of water purported to justify the local rule, see id. at 159-160, 171. Pp. 103-112.

(c) The field preemption rule surrounding PWSA Title II and 46 U.S.C. § 3703(a) and the superseding effect of additional federal statutes are illustrated by the preemption of four of Washington’s tanker regulations, the attempted reach of which is well demonstrated by the briefs and record. First, the imposition of a series of training requirements on a tanker’s crew does not address matters unique to Washington waters, but imposes requirements that control the staffing, operation, and manning of a tanker outside of those waters. The training and drill requirements pertain to "operation" and "personnel qualifications" and so are preempted by § 3703(a). That training is a field reserved to the Federal Government is further confirmed by the circumstance that the STCW Convention addresses crew "training" and "qualification" requirements, and that the United States has enacted crew training regulations. Second, the imposition of English language proficiency requirements on a tanker’s crew is not limited to governing local traffic or local peculiarities. It is preempted by § 3703(a) as a "personnel qualification" and by 33 U.S.C. § 1228(a)(7), which requires that any vessel operating in United States waters have at least one licensed deck officer on the navigation bridge who is capable of clearly understanding English. Third, Washington’s general requirement that the navigation watch consist of at least two licensed deck officers, a helmsman, and a lookout is preempted as an attempt to regulate a tanker’s "operation" and "manning" under § 3703(a). Fourth, the requirement that vessels in Washington waters report certain marine casualties regardless of where in the world they occurred cannot stand in light of Coast Guard regulations on the same subject that Congress intended be the sole source of a vessel’s reporting obligations, see 46 U.S.C. § 6101, 3717(a)(4). On remand, Washington may argue that certain of its regulations, such as its watch requirement in times of restricted visibility, are of limited extraterritorial effect, are necessary to address the peculiarities of Puget Sound, and therefore are not subject to Title II field preemption, but should instead be evaluated under Title I conflict preemption analysis. Pp. 112-116.

(d) It is preferable that petitioners’ substantial arguments as to preemption of the remaining Washington regulations be considered by the Ninth Circuit or by the District Court within the framework this Court has herein discussed. The United States did not participate in these cases until appeal, and resolution of the litigation would benefit from the development of a full record by all interested parties. If, pending adjudication on remand, Washington threatens to begin enforcing its regulations, the lower courts would weigh any stay application under the appropriate legal standards in light of the principles discussed herein and with recognition of the national interests at stake. Ultimately, it is largely for Congress and the Coast Guard to confront whether their regulatory scheme, which demands a high degree of uniformity, is adequate. States, as well as environmental groups and local port authorities, will participate in the process. See 46 U.S.C. § 3703(a). Pp. 116-117.

148 F.3d 1053 reversed and remanded.

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: United States v. Locke, 529 U.S. 89 (2000)

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: United States v. Locke, 529 U.S. 89 (2000)

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: U.S. Supreme Court, "Syllabus," United States v. Locke, 529 U.S. 89 (2000) in 529 U.S. 89 529 U.S. 90–529 U.S. 94. Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQIKQE6GD1XDLU3.

MLA: U.S. Supreme Court. "Syllabus." United States v. Locke, 529 U.S. 89 (2000), in 529 U.S. 89, pp. 529 U.S. 90–529 U.S. 94. Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQIKQE6GD1XDLU3.

Harvard: U.S. Supreme Court, 'Syllabus' in United States v. Locke, 529 U.S. 89 (2000). cited in 2000, 529 U.S. 89, pp.529 U.S. 90–529 U.S. 94. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KQIKQE6GD1XDLU3.