Courtney v. Goltz

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: 12-02-2013
  • Case #: 12-35392
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Nguyen for the Court; Circuit Judges Hawkins and Thomas
  • Full Text Opinion

The Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not extend to the right to operate a public ferry on intrastate navigable waters.

James and Clifford Courtney, appealed the district court’s decision dismissing an action in which they challenged Washington statutes that require a certificate of “public convenience and necessity” to be able to operate a ferry on Lake Chelan. Plaintiffs challenged (1) the state laws reduced their rights to use the navigable waters of the United States under the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and (2) the certificate requirements as applied to the provision of boat transportation services. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal holding that even if the Privileges and Immunities Clause recognizes a right to use navigable waters of the United States, that right does not extend to the right to operate a public ferry on intrastate navigable waterways. Operation of a ferry service is not federal in nature and has traditionally been left to state and local authorities. The panel stated that the “public convenience and necessity” certificate requirement does not constrain the plaintiff’s right to navigate the waters of Lake Chelan in a private boat for private purposes. Rather, it only prohibits them from operating a public ferry for business purposes without first obtaining a “public convenience and necessity” certificate. The district court did not express an opinion regarding Plaintiff’s second claim and found that they lacked standing. The panel held that the district court properly abstained from deciding based on Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Co., which allows federal courts to refrain from adjudicating claims based on state law questions. However, the panel held that the district court should have retained jurisdiction rather than dismissing the second claim and so vacated and remanded the second claim. The dismissal of the first claim is AFFIRMED. The dismissal of the second claim is AFFIRMED in part, VACATED in part, and REMANDED.

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