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INTERPORT PILOTS AGENCY, INC. v. SAMMIS

September 28, 1991

INTERPORT PILOTS AGENCY, INC., A CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, CAPTAIN CHARLES JONAS, CAPTAIN FRANCIS BURN, JR., AND CAPTAIN PHILIP GAUGHRAN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
S. FRASER SAMMIS, ROBERT POUCH AND BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF PILOTS OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Spatt, District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

Whether the federal "boundary statute" and New York's Navigation Law together permit Connecticut-licensed pilots to navigate their vessels through the Long Island Sound, into or out of ports located in New York on the north shore of Long Island, is the gravamen of the present controversy. Claiming entitlement to do so prompted these Connecticut pilots to commence this declaratory judgment action to finally settle the issue between them and the State of New York.

The plaintiffs move pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) for partial summary judgment on their first cause of action of the complaint seeking a declaratory judgment. Specifically, the plaintiffs seek a declaration as to their rights under 46 U.S.C. § 8501(b) and New York Navigation Law § 89-b.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The material facts underlying this controversy, set forth below, are not in dispute.

The individual plaintiffs are ship pilots licensed by both the United States Coast Guard and the State of Connecticut. The corporate plaintiff, Interport Pilots Agency, Inc. ("Interport"), is the pilot agency of which the individual plaintiffs are members.

The defendant, Commissioners of Pilots of the State of New York ("Board of Commissioners"), is a public entity constituted pursuant to section 87(1) of New York's Navigation Law. The individual defendants, S. Fraser Sammis ("Sammis"), and Robert Pouch ("Pouch"), are the President and Secretary, respectively, of the Board of Commissioners.

Sound Pilots, Inc. ("Sound Pilots"), is an association based in Newport, Rhode Island, which acts as a dispatching agent assigning pilots to ships through a rotation system. Presently there are fifteen pilots licensed by the Board of Commissioners to be "Long Island-Block Island Sound" pilots, each of whom are members of Sound Pilots.

Under the present procedure, once assigned to a vessel, the New York-licensed pilots meet foreign-flagged and American vessels under register, board the vessels from their pilot boat, and advise the master in navigating to or from the New York ports. A "master" is one who has "charge, control or direction of a vessel" for a specified period of time (N Y Navigation Law § 2[9]). A "pilot", is an "individual licensed to take charge of the course of a vessel through or upon specific waters" (N.Y. Navigation Law § 2[10]).

The rationale underlying the system is that these licensed pilots have the expertise and familiarity with local waters and conditions to properly navigate the vessels to one of Long Island's three ports, namely, Port Jefferson, Northville and Northport (Sammis Aff't ¶ 7).

Toward the end of 1990, Sound Pilots informed the defendant Board of Commissioners that the plaintiff Captain Jonas had met the vessel "Hoegh Forum" at the eastern end of the Long Island Sound and piloted this vessel to and from the Northville platform without a New York pilot. Captain Jonas, a Connecticut-licensed pilot, does not deny that he was the pilot on this voyage (see Jonas Aff't ¶ 7).

On November 5, 1990, the Board of Commissioners issued a letter to various state pilot groups, including Sound Pilots, stating that it was a violation of New York pilotage law (i.e., Navigation Law § 89-b[1]) for a foreign flag tank vessel to be piloted into the New York waters of the Long Island Sound via the eastern end, bound for the Northville platform, without a New York-licensed pilot aboard.

Sound Pilots, by Captain Bruce B. Fisher, later advised the Board of Commissioners by letter dated January 17, 1991, of seven other alleged instances of Connecticut-licensed pilots navigating through the Long Island Sound to and from New York ports. Because of the pendency of this lawsuit, the Board of Commissioners refrained from taking any further action on these alleged violations (Sammis Aff't ¶ 10).

The plaintiffs commenced this action contending that the Board of Commissioners' position in the November 5, 1990 letter is contrary to both federal and state law. Specifically, the plaintiffs contend that they have full authority by virtue of federal law to pilot vessels through the New York State waters of the Long Island Sound to and from New York-based ports, such as Port Jefferson, and the Northville and Northport platforms in those waters.

The plaintiffs now move for partial summary judgment on the first cause of action only.

In opposition, the defendant Board of Commissioners contends that pursuant to section 89-b(1) of New York's Navigation Law, only pilots licensed by New York may navigate to and from New York ports through the New York waters of the Long Island Sound.

APPLICABLE LAW

(a) Federal Subject Matter ...


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