Sabine Pilots Ass’n v. Lykes Bros. Steamship, Inc.

Full title: SABINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION et al., Appellants, v. LYKES BROTHERS STEAMSHIP…

Court: Court of Civil Appeals of Texas, Austin

Date published: May 17, 1961

Facts

This is a suit for declaratory judgment. It was brought by twenty-three named persons individually and as Sabine Pilots Association against four steamship companies operating vessels under registry and which vessels customarily dock at one or more, or all, of the ports along the Sabine-Neches Waterway. The purpose of the suit is to construe art. 8267, 8268, and 8224, Vernon’s Ann.Civ.St., to determine the legality of the schedule of rates fixed by the Board of Commissioners of Pilots for the Sabine District, and to determine the rights of the parties hereto in connection with pilotage fees heretofore charged by said schedule. The prayer is that the court finds and determines that the schedule of rates and fees fixed by the Board are legal under art. 8274, and that the court makes a complete declaration of the rights, liabilities, duties, and legal relations of the parties about such rates, fees, and statutes, and for general relief.

The steamship companies answered, and interposed a defense of res judicata, that the schedule of rates fixed by the Board are unlawful because contrary to the express provisions of the statute, and that the statutes are unambiguous and are not susceptible to any construction permitting a charge over the rates set out in the statute. They prayed that art. 8274 be declared unambiguous and that pilotage rates and fees exceeding the rates fixed by that article be declared unlawful.

A nonjury trial was had and a judgment was rendered to the effect that the decision in Bloomfield Steamship Co. et al. v. Sabine Pilots Ass’n, 5 Cir., 262 F.2d 345, is not res judicata of this suit and that this suit is not a collateral attack on that judgment; that art. 8274 is unambiguous and fixes the maximum rates and fees and that the same applies to the Sabine District; that the Board derives its authority from the statutes of Texas; that the schedule of rates and fees published by the Board violates art. 8274 as applied to nonstop vessels passing through Port Arthur to ports along the Sabine-Neches Waterway above that port; that art. 8267 and 8268 authorize the Board to hear and determine disputes as to pilotage rates and fees; that an aggrieved party has the right to appeal from a decision of the Board to a court having cognizance of the case, which is a district court of Texas; that a suit to recover pilotage fees is premature until the jurisdiction of the Board is invoked and the administrative remedy is exhausted; that the Sabine Pilots had the right to rely on the rates fixed by the Board until such rates were attacked and the administrative remedies exhausted; that the charge of the rates fixed by the Board does not constitute illegal exaction and that the charges of such rates are not void but voidable and are not recoverable by the steamship companies.

All parties have appealed from the above judgment and will be here referred to as they were in the trial court: the pilots as plaintiffs and the steamship companies as defendants.

Issue

Decision

The judgment of the trial court is reversed insofar as it requires defendants to first exhaust their administrative remedy before filing suit to recover overcharges of pilotage fees; that such overcharges do not constitute illegal exaction, and that such overcharges are voidable only and not recoverable by defendants. Judgment is here rendered that such overcharges were and are void and that in a proper proceeding, the same may be recovered by the defendants. In all other respects, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Reversed and rendered in part and in part affirmed.

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