On December 22, 1981, a fire aboard the Bay State, a training vessel used by the Massachusetts Maritime Academy (academy), killed Cadet Rodney C. Morris and severely injured Cadet Stephen A. Bianco. Bianco and Morris's estate brought actions in the Superior Court against the Academy, its board of trustees, the Board of Regents of Higher Education, and the Commonwealth.
1. Sovereign immunity. The defendants contend that admiralty claims against the Commonwealth or its agencies are barred by sovereign immunity. The plaintiffs claim that the defendants may not assert sovereign immunity against admiralty claims in State court. They further argue that, even if sovereign immunity may be asserted, the Commonwealth has waived its immunity under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, G.L.c. 258 (1988 ed.). The plaintiffs also contend that the $100,000 cap on recovery imposed by the Act cannot be applied to limit their Federal Jones Act or maritime remedies. Because the questions relating to waiver and the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act depend, in part, on the issue of sovereign immunity, we discuss each issue in turn.
a. State sovereign immunity against admiralty claims. The saving to suitors clause, 28 U.S.C. § 1333, provides State courts with concurrent jurisdiction over certain admiralty claims. (See infra.) In Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire, 477 U.S. 207, 222-223 (1986), the United States Supreme Court ruled that the extent to which State courts may apply State law to remedy maritime injuries is limited by a so-called "reverse-Erie doctrine." Thus, "a state, `having concurrent jurisdiction, is free to adopt such remedies, and to attach to them such incidents, as it sees fit' so long as it does not attempt to ... make changes in the `substantive maritime law.'" Id. at 222, quoting Madruga v. Superior Court, 346 U.S. 556, 560-561 (1954). As the United States Supreme Court explained in Southern Pac. Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, 216 (1917), State law may not be applied in maritime cases if "it contravenes the essential purpose expressed by an act of Congress or works material prejudice to the characteristic features of the general maritime law or interferes with the proper harmony and uniformity of that law in its international and interstate relations."
Workman, however, was directed to a local law conferring immunity on municipalities, not on the State itself. The United States Supreme Court distinguished the New York law from sovereign immunity laws that operate as a jurisdictional bar. See id. at 566. Indeed, later Supreme Court decisions hold that States are entitled to sovereign immunity against admiralty claims, at least in Federal court. See Ex parte State of N.Y., 256 U.S. 490, 499-500 (1921) (Supreme Court rejected the argument that the sovereign immunity claim should be analyzed for its consistency with admiralty law as the municipal immunity law was in Workman). See id. at 499-500. The plaintiffs at bar nevertheless contend that State of N.Y. is inapposite because the holding was based on the Eleventh Amendment
It is true that the language of the Eleventh Amendment is directed only to the "judicial power of the United States" rather than to the judicial power of the States. However, the Supreme Court's interpretation of the constitutional principles underlying the amendment is not limited by the language. For example, although the amendment addresses only suits between States and citizens of another State or foreign
The Supreme Court's interpretation of the amendment is derived from its reading of the history of the amendment's passage. According to the Supreme Court, the Eleventh Amendment was intended to overrule the decision in Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. (2 Dall.) 419 (1793), in which art. III, § 2, of the United States Constitution was interpreted to permit Federal court suits brought against nonconsenting States by citizens of another State. The popular outrage at the Chisholm decision and the quick response in the form of the Eleventh Amendment indicated to the Supreme Court that the Constitution was adopted with the implicit assumption that States were to enjoy sovereign immunity in Federal courts. See Hans, supra at 11.
More recently, the Supreme Court has held that this immunity may be abrogated by an act of Congress. See Pennsylvania v. Union Gas Co., 491 U.S. 1 (1989) (congressional abrogation of State immunity pursuant to commerce clause power); Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445 (1976) (congressional abrogation of State immunity pursuant to enforcement power of § 5 of Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution). However, the Supreme Court has stressed that, "Congress may abrogate the States' constitutionally secured immunity from suit in Federal court only by making its intention unmistakably clear in the language of the statute." Atascadero State Hosp. v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 242 (1985). The Jones Act, according to the Supreme Court, does not contain sufficiently explicit language to constitute
Although the Supreme Court never has addressed the question whether States may claim immunity in their own courts when the Eleventh Amendment bars suit in Federal court,
Although concerns for Federal-State comity — the unseemly notion of one sovereign being hauled into the courts of another — arise in many of the Eleventh Amendment cases, those federalism concerns are no less present in this type of case. Although here it is not a question of a State being hauled into the courts of another sovereign, it is a question of a State being hauled into its own courts by the laws of another sovereign. Moreover, those laws are alleged to require the payment of retrospective damage awards out of a State's coffers. If there is any area of State sovereignty which the Supreme Court is particularly hesitant to invade, it is State citizens' settled decisions about State budgetary allocations. See Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651 (1974) (Eleventh Amendment bars suits against State officers seeking
Although it may be clear that the supremacy clause gives Congress the power to abrogate State court immunity in its own as well as in Federal courts, cf. Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Auth., 469 U.S. 528 (1985), we think that the Supreme Court's understanding of the principles underlying the Eleventh Amendment would require Congress to use equally explicit language in both circumstances. Because the Supreme Court already has determined that the Jones Act does not abrogate State immunity in Federal courts, see Welch, supra, we think it cannot be interpreted as abrogating State court immunity.
Decisions from other State courts, albeit before Congress's power to overcome a State's sovereign immunity was clear, support our view. See Weppler v. School Bd. of Dade County, 311 So.2d 409 (Fla. App. 1975); Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans v. Splendour Shipping & Enters. Co., 255 So.2d 869 (La. Ct. App. 1971), rev'd on other grounds, 273 So.2d 19 (La. 1973); Maloney v. State of N.Y., 3 N.Y.2d 356 (1957); Mossman v. Donahey, 46 Ohio St.2d 1 (1976); Lyons v. Texas A & M Univ., 545 S.W.2d 56 (Tex. Ct. Civ. App. 1976); Gross v. Washington State Ferries, 59 Wn.2d 241 (1961). But see Clover Bottom Hosp. & School v. Townsend, 513 S.W.2d 505 (Tenn. 1974) (State may not claim sovereign immunity in State court
b. Waiver of immunity under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act. Having decided that the Commonwealth is entitled to claim immunity in State court from admiralty claims, we must now decide whether the Commonwealth has waived that immunity. The Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, G.L.c. 258, § 2 (1988 ed.), provides in part:
Although this language does not specifically mention maritime claims, in all other respects it seems to cover these plaintiffs' complaints. They allege personal injury and death caused by the defendants' negligent, or wrongful act or omission. The Legislature has explicitly commanded that the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act is to be liberally construed. See St. 1978, c. 512, § 18. The only exceptions to the waiver of immunity contained within the act are set forth in § 10 of c. 258. Section 10 does not mention admiralty claims as an exception. Because § 2 on its face covers this claim, we cannot, consistent with our obligation to construe the act liberally, accept the defendants' argument that the Legislature was required to make specific mention of admiralty claims in order to bring them within the statute's ambit.
Nor do we agree that application of the act to these claims impermissibly "enlarge[s] governmental liability beyond the remedies already established under the common and statutory
We hold that the Commonwealth has waived its immunity to admiralty claims under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, G.L.c. 258, § 2.
c. The limitation of liability. The plaintiffs argue that their admiralty recovery cannot be limited by the $100,000 liability cap contained in G.L.c. 258, § 2, because neither the Jones Act nor general admiralty law imposes any limitation on damages. They contend that the $100,000 limitation is a State substantive law that conflicts with admiralty law, which a State court is forbidden by the "reverse-Erie doctrine" to apply to maritime claims. See discussion, supra; Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire, 477 U.S. 207, 221 (1986).
The plaintiffs' argument, however, divorces the liability limitation from the jurisdictional context in which it arises. The limitation is contained in the same sentence in which sovereign immunity is waived. See G.L.c. 258, § 2. It is clear, therefore, that the Legislature intended to waive immunity only up to the $100,000 limit. The cap is one term of
This interpretation is supported by precedent. The Supreme Court has remarked that "[t]he history of sovereign immunity and the practical necessity of unfettered freedom for government from crippling interferences require a restriction of suability to the terms of the consent, as to persons, courts and procedures." Great N. Life Ins. Co. v. Read, 322 U.S. 47, 53-54 (1944). See United States v. Sherwood, 312 U.S. 584, 587 (1941). Other courts have held that any limitations on a State's waiver of immunity in admiralty cases are effective. See, e.g., Kamani v. Port of Houston Auth., 702 F.2d 612 (5th Cir.1983) (notice requirement contained in the Texas Tort Claims Act is a limitation on the State's waiver of immunity and applies to maritime claims); Trinity River Auth. v. Williams, 689 S.W.2d 883 (Tex. 1985) ($100,000 limitation on liability in Texas Tort Claims Act limits claimant's maritime recovery); Gross v. Washington State Ferries, 59 Wn.2d 241 (1961) (notice provision, as well as all other limits contained in State law waiving immunity, applies to general admiralty and Jones Act claims). The
2. The saving to suitors clause. The Commonwealth contends that the Superior Court does not have jurisdiction over the general admiralty law claims under the saving to suitors clause, 28 U.S.C. § 1333. That statute provides: "The district courts shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of: (1) Any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction, saving to suitors in all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled." It has become clear that this provision provides concurrent jurisdiction to State courts over all in personam admiralty claims. See Madruga v. Superior Court, 346 U.S. 556 (1954); Keough v. Cefalo, 330 Mass. 57, 60 (1953).
The defendants rely on a Nineteenth Century Supreme Court case which states that the clause "only saves to suitors `the right of a common-law remedy, where the common-law is competent to give it.' It is not a remedy in the common-law courts which is saved, but a common-law remedy." The Moses Taylor, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 411, 431 (1866). From this language, the defendants draw the conclusion that because "[a]t common-law, the sovereign Commonwealth of Massachusetts could not be sued in its own state courts," the clause does not grant jurisdiction to hear these claims today.
However, it is now clear that a wide range of remedies may be pursued under the concurrent jurisdiction. See Red Cross Line v. Atlantic Fruit Co., 264 U.S. 109 (1924); Steamboat Co. v. Chase, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 522, 533-534 (1872) (rejecting the contention that the clause encompasses only causes of action known to the common law at the time of the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1789). Moreover, even if the defendants were correct in contending that only those remedies available at the common law may be heard pursuant to the saving to suitors clause, the Superior Court would
3. Jones Act claims. The defendant contends that the plaintiffs' claims under the Jones Act should be dismissed because the cadets were neither "seamen" nor "employees" of the Academy.
On a motion to dismiss, see Mass. R. Civ. P. 12 (b) (6), 365 Mass. 754 (1974), "the plaintiffs need only surmount a minimal hurdle to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim." See Bell v. Mazza, 394 Mass. 176, 184 (1985). "Thus we review the complaint to determine if, viewing its allegations and inferences broadly and in the plaintiff[s'] favor, `it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff[s] can prove no set of facts in support of [their] claim' entitling [them] to relief." Hobson v. McLean Hosp. Corp., 402 Mass. 413, 415 (1988), quoting Nader v. Citron, 372 Mass. 96, 98 (1977). Reviewing the complaints on that standard, we conclude that the judge correctly determined that the plaintiffs pleaded sufficient facts to withstand motions to dismiss.
The Jones Act
In their brief, the defendants concede that generally the question of "seaman" status is one of fact to be decided by the jury. "Attempts to fix unvarying meanings [having] a firm legal significance to terms such as `seaman' ... must come to grief on the facts. These terms have such a wide range of meaning, under the Jones Act as interpreted by the courts, that, except in rare cases, only a jury or trier of facts can determine their application in the circumstances of a particular case. Even when the facts are largely undisputed, the question at issue is not solely a question of law when, because of conflicting inferences that may lead to different conclusions among reasonable [people], a trial judge cannot state an unvarying rule of law that fits the facts." (Footnotes omitted.) Offshore Co. v. Robison, 266 F.2d 769, 779-780 (5th Cir.1959). See Senko v. LaCrosse Dredging Corp., 352 U.S. 370 (1957). Other courts have found it appropriate on occasion to decide this issue on summary judgment, but only where there is no reasonable evidentiary basis to support a jury finding that the plaintiff is a seaman. See Barrett v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 781 F.2d 1067, 1074 (5th Cir.1986).
Employment status, like "seaman" status, is a question of fact for the jury. Wheatley v. Gladden, supra at 1026. 2 M. Norris, Law of Seamen § 30:14 (4th ed. 1985). The plaintiffs have alleged that the cadets were performing duties on board ship pursuant to their position at the Academy. The parties agree that, at the time of the accident, the ship was under the control of the Academy. As the defendants themselves have conceded at an earlier point in the proceedings, additional facts are necessary to determine with certainty the status of these cadets on board the ship. See note 14, supra. The plaintiffs have alleged enough facts to survive a motion to dismiss. Unless it becomes apparent after discovery that there is no evidentiary basis for a finding that the plaintiffs are "seamen" and "employees," these questions should be submitted to the jury.
4. Conclusion. For the foregoing reasons, we hold that: (1) the defendants are immune from suit under the Jones Act and under general admiralty law unless they consent to be sued; (2) the defendants have consented to be sued for liability up to $100,000, pursuant to the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act; (3) the Superior Court has jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' general admiralty claims pursuant to the saving to suitors clause; and (4) the plaintiffs' status as seamen and employees under the Jones Act are factual questions for the jury. The Superior Court judge's denial of the motions to dismiss
"These varying formulations reflect the principle that the permanent-attachment aspect of the crew member status determination as a whole, is an inherently factual question, and, as our cases since Robison made clear, it is generally a question for the fact-finder." (Footnotes omitted.) Barrett v. Chevron, supra at 1074.