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MCDEVITT v. GUNN

April 1, 1960

Charles McDEVITT
v.
Donald C. GUNN, Howard T. Long and William A. Mayberry



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LORD

Plaintiff commenced this action to enjoin defendants from conducting a hearing to determine whether the master's license issued to plaintiff by the United States Coast Guard should be revoked or suspended. Plaintiff has filed a motion for preliminary injunction and defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment supported by the affidavit of Howard T. Long, one of the defendants.

The defendants are respectively an Officer in Charge of Marine Inspection, a Coast Guard Hearing Examiner, and a Coast Guard Investigating Officer.

 Plaintiff holds a license, issued by the Commandant of the Coast Guard, certifying that plaintiff is qualified to act as master on steam towing vessels of 300 gross tons or less navigating on rivers and as first-class pilot on all vessels navigating on the Schuylkill River and certain portions of the Delaware River.

 On January 23, 1959, defendant Mayberry, an Investigating Officer of the Coast Guard, served on the plaintiff a notice charging that plaintiff, 'while acting as Master on board a merchant vessel of the United States, the M.V. Atlantic No. 5, under authority of your duly issued License, did on or about 3 December, 1958, wrongfully navigate your vessel into collision with the properly anchored Jet Probing Barge No. 1 outside the main ship channel off Delanco, New Jersey'.

 A hearing was held on March 19, 1959 before the hearing examiner. At the commencement of the hearing, plaintiff's attorney objected to the proceedings on the ground that there was no jurisdiction for the hearing panel to proceed. His contention is that at the time of the collision, plaintiff was not required to have a license and, consequently, was not acting under the authority of the license issued to him by the Commandant of the Coast Guard. The only evidence presented at the hearing was evidence relating to the jurisdictional issue raised by plaintiff's attorney. Neither the Coast Guard nor the plaintiff introduced any evidence relating to the collision, or to plaintiff's alleged negligence, or to any matter other than the issue whether plaintiff was acting under the authority of his license. No decision on the jurisdictional question raised by plaintiff has been made. No further hearings have been had pending decision on the present motions.

 Plaintiff's action is premature. It is clear that plaintiff has not availed himself of the opportunity to defend against the Coast Guard hearing, to call, examine and cross-examine witnesses, to present oral and written argument, to present proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, and, in the event of an adverse decision, to appeal the decision to the Commandant of the Coast Guard.

 It is a long established rule that no one is entitled to judicial relief from a supposed or threatened injury of an administrative body before he has exhausted the available administrative remedies. Aircraft & Diesel Equipment Corp. v. Hirsch, 1946, 331 U.S. 752, 767, 67 S. Ct. 1493, 91 L. Ed. 1796; Macauley v. Waterman S.S. Corp., 1945, 327 U.S. 540, 543, 66 S. Ct. 712, 90 L. Ed. 839; Myers v. Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., 1937, 303 U.S. 41, 51, 58 S. Ct. 459, 82 L. Ed. 638; Red ' C' Oil Mfg. Co. v. Board of Agriculture of North Carolina, 1911, 222 U.S. 380, 394, 32 S. Ct. 152, 56 L. Ed. 240; Pittsburgh, C., C. & St. L.R. Co. v. Board of Public Works, 1898, 172 U.S. 32, 44-45, 19 S. Ct. 90, 43 L. Ed. 354.

 The reason for such a rule in cases in which the court is asked to restrain acts of government officers, undertaken in the course of official duty, is self-evident. It avoids needless litigation of speculative or imagined injury. For, until the administrative body has taken final action and issued its final order, the courts cannot predict whether the final order will result in injury to the complaining party.

 The plaintiff's main position is that the defendants have no jurisdiction to proceed since the misconduct here alleged is not misconduct 'committed by the officer while acting under the authority of his license.' He claims that at the time he was piloting the tug it was not required that he have a license.

 The Act provides (46 U.S.C.A. § 239) in part:

 '(b) The Commandant of the Coast Guard shall establish rules and regulations for the investigation of marine casualties and accidents not involving loss of life, any act in violation of any of the provisions of title 52 of the Revised Statutes or of any of the regulations issued thereunder, and all cases of acts of incompetency or misconduct committed by any licensed officer or holder of a certificate of service while acting under the authority of his license or certificate of service, whether or not any of such acts are committed in connection with any marine casualty or accident. * * *'

 It is well established that an administrative body has the power and the duty to determine its own jurisdiction, and that the person attacking the jurisdiction cannot obtain a judicial determination of the question before he has exhausted the available administrative procedures. Myers v. Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., 1938, 303 U.S. 41, 51, 58 S. Ct. 459, 82 L. Ed. 638; Macauley v. Waterman S.S. Corp., 1945, 327 U.S. 540, 543, 66 S. Ct. 712, 90 L. Ed. 839; Pittsburgh, C., C. & St. L.R. Co. v. Board of Public Works, 1898, 172 U.S. 32, 44-45, 19 S. Ct. 90, 43 L. Ed. 354; White v. Johnson, 1930, 282 U.S. 367, 374, 51 S. Ct. 115, 75 L. Ed. 388; Camp v. Herzog, 1951, 88 U.S.App.D.C. 373, 190 F.2d 605, 606.

 In the Myers case, an employer sought to enjoin the National Labor Relations Board from holding a hearing upon a complaint of unfair labor practices. The employer charged that the Board was without jurisdiction to hold the hearings. In ordering dismissal of the employer's complaint, the Supreme Court held that the Board had the right to determine its own jurisdiction and that the suit was barred because of the failure to exhaust the prescribed administrative remedy. The Court said (303 U.S. at pages 50-51, 58 S. Ct. at page 463):

 'The corporation contends that, since it denies that interstate or foreign commerce is involved and claims that a hearing would subject it to irreparable damage, rights guaranteed by the Federal Constitution will be denied unless it be held that the District Court has jurisdiction to enjoin the holding of a hearing by the Board. So to hold would, as the Government insists, in effect substitute the District Court for the Board as a tribunal to hear and determine what Congress declared the Board exclusively should hear and determine in the first instance. The contention is at war with the long-settled rule of judicial administration that no one is entitled to judicial relief for a supposed or threatened injury until the prescribed ...


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