NORTH BERGEN, NJ (June 5, 2020) – The International Longshoremen’s Association, AFL-CIO, are pleased to report that the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued a very well-reasoned, precedential decision today, in Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor v. Governor of New Jersey, ruling that the State of New Jersey is allowed to exercise its sovereignty as a state in order to withdraw from the Waterfront Compact.
This lawsuit was filed by the Waterfront Commission against New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on his very first day in office. The purpose of the lawsuit was to block the law passed by the New Jersey legislature which would have abolished the Waterfront Commission in New Jersey, and would have transferred most its tasks and powers to the New Jersey State Police.
New Jersey State Senator Stephen M. Sweeney, President of the State Senate, and Assemblyman Craig J. Coughlin, Speaker of the General Assembly, together with the State Senate and the General Assembly, all intervened in the litigation in support of New Jersey’s right to withdraw from the Waterfront Compact. The New York Shipping Association, Inc., filed an amicus curiae brief on New Jersey’s behalf.
The lower court had prohibited New Jersey from exercising its right as a sovereign state. Judge Wigenton had issued an injunction preventing Governor Murphy from implementing the new law. Then Judge Wigenton granted the Waterfront Commission a judgment stating that law was invalid—effectively preventing New Jersey from getting rid of the Waterfront Commission unless New Jersey could get New York to agree.
The Third Circuit Court held that the district court was wrong, and vacated the lower court’s order. The reason that the Waterfront Commission lost is that the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits federal courts from hearing lawsuits against a state. This is known as sovereign immunity. The Third Circuit held that this was a lawsuit against the entire State of New Jersey, and not just the governor, because the lawsuit required an adverse impact on the State of New Jersey’s treasury, and it would also compel New Jersey to perform specific acts that the New Jersey legislature had already rejected. The Third Circuit remanded the case with instructions that it should be dismissed. The injunction against New Jersey has also been vacated so the state can now exercise control over its own affairs and begin to implement the law that will pull the state of New Jersey out of the Waterfront Commission Compact.