Friday, September 10, 2010

Northern California Court extends 11th Amendment Immunity to Port Agents

The Cosco Busan crashed into the San Francisco Bay
Bridge dumping oil into the water and giving rise to
this case.  Photo Courtesy of wikimedia.
Federal Judge Samuel Conti has ruled that the Port Agents who allowed John J. Cota, the pilot who crashed the ship into the San Francisco Bay Bridge, to keep his pilot's license notwithstanding evidence that it should have been revoked.

Peter McIsaac and Russell Nyborg had argued that they were immune from suit under the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The 11th Amendment provides that states and state employees are immune from suits by private entities for money damages in federal courts.

According to court documents, in California the San Fransisco Bay and two other bays require navigation of ships by specialized drivers called pilots.  The pilots are licensed by the Board of Pilot Commissioners.  The board consists of seven individuals appointed by the governor.  All of the registered pilots vote for the Port Agent who is subject to confirmation by the commission.  The Port Agent is responsible for scheduling pilots and upholding relevant laws and regulations.  Mr. McIsaac is the current Port Agent, Mr. Nyborg is his predecessor. Coincidentally, both have been past presidents of the San Francisco Bar Pilot's Association.

The plaintiffs allege that McIsaac and Nyborg knew that Cota had received a DUI and was ineligible to be a pilot,nonetheless, in their capacities as president of the SFBPA, they declined to remove his license.  Further, the presidents could not have been acting as the Port Agent when they gave Cota work because it would be in violation of their statutory duties.

Judge Conti disagreed ruling that the legislature created the office of Port Agent, and even assuming McIsaac and Nyberg were negligent in failing to remove Cota's license, it was still within their discretion as the Port Agent.  Therefore they are protected by the 11th Amendment and immune from suit.

The case is Regal Stone v. Cota, No. C 08-5098 and the opinion is below the jump.

Here is the opinion:

Regal Stone v. Cota

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