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Ray v. Atlantic Richfield Co.

ELR Citation: 8 ELR 20255
Nos. No. 76-930, 435 U.S. 151/11 ERC 1273/(U.S., 03/06/1978) Aff'd in part

In a split decision, the Supreme Court affirms, for the most part, the ruling of a three-judge district court, 7 ELR 20071, that the state of Washington's Tanker Law is unconstitutional because of being preempted by federal law. The Tanker Law regulates oil tanker navigation in Puget Sound through provisions governing pilotage, alternative design standards or tug escorts, and an outright ban on supertankers. The lower court held that the Tanker Law was entirely preempted by the Ports and Waterways Safety Act (PWSA), which establishes a comprehensive federal scheme for regulating the operations and design of tankers. The Supreme Court declines to find the entire Tanker Law invalid but rules that the PWSA does preempt certain provisions. State-licensed pilots may not be required for vessels engaged in domestic trade, but the state may require them for vessels engaged in foreign trade. The state's construction and design standards for 40,000 to 125,000 DWT tankers are invalid under the Supremacy Clause because the PWSA was intended to establish uniform national standards on these points. On the other hand, the alternative tug escort requirement for tankers that do not meet design standards is not prrempted because the Secretary of Transportation has not yet decided to impose federal tug requirements. Furthermore, the tug escort requirement neither violates the Commerce Clause nor interferes with the federal government's authority to conduct foreign affairs. Finally, the exclusion from Puget Sound of tankers exceeding 125,000 DWT is held invalid under the PWSA and its legislative history which imply that the Secretary of Transportation shall be the sole decision maker on tanker size. To date, he has exercised his authority sufficiently in this respect to preempt the size restriction provision of the Washington Tanker Law.

Justices Marshall, Brennan, and Rehnquist, in partial dissent, argue that the design standards are not preempted because at present no tanker meets nor in the foreseeable future will meet them. Furthermore, the Justices argue, the tanker size restriction is not preempted because there is not a conflict between federal and state law. Justices Stevens and Powell, in partial dissent, argue that the tug escort requirement should also be ruled invalid because it is merely a special penalty for failure to comply with the design requirements.

The attorneys listed above argued the case before the Supreme Court. Other attorneys involved in this case are listed at 7 ELR 20071 and ELR PEND. LIT. 65501-02.

Counsel for Appellants
Slade Gorton, Attorney General
Temple of Justice, Olympia WA 98504
(206) 753-2354

Counsel for Appellees
Richard E. Sherwood
O'Melveny & Myers
611 W. 6th St., Los Angeles CA 90017
(213) 620-1120