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US Maritime Law

Lloyd's Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly

US Maritime Law

Robert Force* and Martin Davies

CASES

254. Aqua Log Inc v. Georgia 1

Salvage—claim of ownership by state of Georgia—whether state entitled to Eleventh Amendment state sovereign immunity

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, commercially harvested logs were rafted down Georgia’s rivers and streams to coastal markets. Some of the logs sank while in transit and remain submerged in Georgia’s waterways. These logs, known as deadhead logs, were cut from old growth forests and have valuable characteristics not found in modern timber. The plaintiff filed two in rem actions, one in the US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia and one in the US District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, against logs lying on the bottom of the Altamaha and Flint Rivers, respectively, seeking salvage reward for the recovery of the logs or, if their owners could not be determined, title to the logs under the law of finds.2 The logs were arrested by being raised in the presence of US Marshals. The state of Georgia intervened in the in rem proceedings, claiming ownership of the logs. Georgia moved to dismiss, arguing that the Eleventh Amendment to the US Constitution prohibited a federal court from adjudicating its interest in the logs. Both district courts denied Georgia’s motions to dismiss. Georgia appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Decision: District court decisions affirmed. Georgia was not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity.
Held: (1) The Eleventh Amendment provides that the judicial power of the United States does not extend to any action commenced against one of the states by citizens of another state or by foreign citizens. Although some cases had cast doubt on whether the Eleventh Amendment applies to in rem actions in the admiralty jurisdiction, the US Supreme Court held in California v. Deep Sea Research Inc 3 that it does. However, in Deep Sea Research, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the vitality of a series of cases dating
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