Greenville, SC – A lawsuit filed by operators of the gambling boat TROPIC SEA against the State Ports Authority has been dismissed.
Norman D. Kline, administrative law judge for the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), dismissed the suit against the State Ports Authority, citing lack of jurisdiction and a local ordinance that bans gambling boats.
In its motion to dismiss, The Ports Authority argued that the TROPIC SEA is not a cruise ship at all, but is classified as a ferry, cannot provide accommodations for all its passengers and has, as her primary purpose, gambling.
The Ports Authority has policy of not providing docking space to vessels whose primary purpose is gambling. The City of Charleston ordinance features similar language in banning the vessels.
In seeking dismissal, the Ports Authority argued that it is immune from suits by private parties in federal courts or before the FMC. The 11th Amendment to the Constitution provides States immunity from private suits in federal forums. In a previous unrelated case, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Ports Authority was an arm of the State of South Carolina.
The Ports Authority also cited the Johnson Act as evidence that Congress has reserved the matter of regulating gambling ships to the States. “The proper forum for the interpretation of South Carolina law in areas expressly reserved to the states is in a South Carolina state court,” the Ports Authority said in its motion to dismiss.
South Carolina Maritime Services, the reported operator of the gambling boat TROPIC SEA anchored in Charleston Harbor, alleged that the Ports Authority discriminated against its vessel while allowing other cruise ships with gambling devices to dock. The TROPIC SEA’s operators sought a cease and desist order plus money damages.
Judge Kline said in the decision that he could “find no reason to defer ruling on SCSPA’s Motion” to dismiss and that the “complaint is dismissed on the basis of? SCSPA’s entitlement to immunity from private suits under the 11th Amendment to the Constitution and its related doctrine of State sovereign immunity from private suits.”