Research and prepare a three (3) page paper (double spaced with
Title page, margins and footnotes, as necessary) on the following:
Compagnie Francaise de Navigation a Vapeur v. Louisiana Board of Health, 186 U.S. 380 (1902)
Facts: Compagnie Francaise de Navigation a Vapeur v. Louisiana Board of Health, 186 U.S. 380 (1902), was a landmark US Supreme Court case which held, as constitutional, state laws requiring the involuntary quarantine of individuals to prevent the spread of disease.
The case had arisen in 1898, when the S.S. Britannia sailed from Palermo to Marseille, then across the Atlantic for New Orleans. Before docking there, it had stopped at a state-run quarantine station further down the Mississippi River, where all 408 passengers, most of whom were Italian immigrants, were certified as free from disease. At New Orleans, however, the ship was not allowed to land them there nor in any nearby parish, as it was told that a cordon sanitaire had been declared on land, forbidding the entry of any uninfected persons into the area.
Compagnie Française de Navigation à Vapeur (“French Steam Navigation Company”, in English), the Britannia’s French owner, filed for a restraining order in Orleans Parish District Court enjoining the state Board of Health from enforcing the quarantine, arguing that the real purpose of the quarantine was to prevent the immigrants from landing in New Orleans; after the court declined the Britannia took its passengers to Pensacola, Florida, to be unloaded and then returned to New Orleans to deliver its cargo. The company’s complaint against the state for damages was dismissed, a decision upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court on appeal.
The court had before it the quarantine law of Louisiana which, among other things, provided the State Board of Health might “in its discretion, prohibit the introduction into any infected portions of the State, persons acclimated, or unacclimated or said to be immune, when in its judgment the introduction of such persons would add to or increase the prevalence of the disease.”
The Supreme Court of the State, interpreting the statute, held that it empowered the Board to exclude healthy persons from a locality infested with a contagious or infectious disease, whether they came from without or within the State.
It was objected that this provision was too broad and that the former decisions of the court were based upon the right of the States to exclude diseased persons and things which were not legitimate subjects of
Quarantine laws had never been challenged, but dicta in the Court’s opinions since Gibbons v. Ogden in 1824 had recognized them as a justifiable use of state power. Some earlier cases had challenged aspects
of quarantine laws such as the taxes collected to fund them, but Compagnie Francaise challenged the application of quarantine law itself, under the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment. It has been cited by later courts as holding involuntary quarantines constitutional, as recently as a case arising from the
2014 African Ebola epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Questions Presented: Absent a federal law to the contrary, do states have the power, under the US
Constitution, to quarantine an entire geographical area?
1898 Compagnie Française de Navigation á Vapeur filed suit against the State of Louisiana seeking a
restraining order enjoining the state from enforcing the quarantine against the passengers of the
1898 The State Court dismissed the suit citing failure to show cause;
1898 Compagnie Française de Navigation á Vapeur field its suit as a damage claim;
1899 Again, the State Court dismissed the suit and Compagnie Française de Navigation á Vapeur appealed
to the Supreme Court of Louisiana;
1899 The Supreme Court of Louisiana unanimously affirmed the lower court ruling;
1900 Compagnie Française de Navigation á Vapeur appealed to the US Supreme Court.
1902 US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State of Louisiana affirming the decision by the Louisiana
Outcome The US Supreme Court, by a vote of 7-2, approved the order by the Louisiana Supreme Court. US Supreme Court Justice White represented that the majority vote of the Supreme Court established that the states were “free to enact and enforce quarantine laws unless Congress decided to preempt them”. Even though there was no evidence of symptoms of the fever or other disease on board, the court held that a state was justified to keep people out in order to protect the citizens of the state; that to do so did not violate the U.S. Constitution.
Subsequent Jurisprudence: No courts have revisited, reconsidered or modified Compagnie Francaise since it was handed down. It is cited in later opinions and commentary as holding constitutional the power to quarantine. The Supreme Court referred to it as such, quoting it at length, in 1913’s Minnesota Rate Cases It has also been cited that way in a Minnesota Law Review Article. In 2016, New Jersey Federal district judge Kevin McNulty cited Compagnie Francaise, among other cases, in holding that existing case law on quarantines
was sufficient to sustain state officials’ defense of qualified immunity in a suit against them brought by Kaci Hickox, a nurse quarantined for 80 hours after she showed a fever upon her return to Newark International Airport from Sierra Leone, where she had been treating victims of the 2014 Ebola outbreak. “I do not find that prior quarantine case law establishes any unconstitutionality” in how she was dealt with, McNulty wrote.
Four years later, as the possibility of that year’s coronavirus pandemic coming to the U.S. loomed, The Atlantic cited Compagnie Francaise as establishing the broad nature of the quarantine power, “the most extreme use of government power over people who have committed no crime.” It noted that, as it was at that time, the federal government still largely delegates that power to state and local authorities, which it was concerned could complicate a centralized response to any outbreak. During the pandemic, Michigan Court of Claims Chief Judge Christopher Murray dismissed a challenge to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order. He noted that contrary to the petitioners’ claim that the Supreme Court had never held restrictions on the movements of healthy individuals during a pandemic constitutional, it had done just that in Compagnie Francaise
In 1902, the Supreme Court directly addressed a state’s “police power” to quarantine an entire
geographical area. In Compagnie Francaise de Navigation a Vapeur v. Louisiana State Board of Health, the justices upheld a Louisiana Supreme Court decision that the state could enact and enforce quarantine laws unless Congress had decided to preempt them. Thus Louisiana could exclude healthy persons from
an infested area populated with persons with a contagious or infectious disease (the Port of New Orleans), and that this power applied as well to persons seeking to enter the infected place, whether they came from within the state or not. The decision in Compagnie Francaise remains unchanged, and numerous courts have cited it as authority for state quarantines as recently as the Ebola outbreak.
While he agreed that the power of states to impose quarantines is “so well settled by repeated decisions of this Court as to be no longer open to doubt”, Justice Brown did not think the cordon sanitaire declared by the board was “a necessary or proper exercise of the police power”. Preventing the entry of healthy individuals into quarantined areas did not seem to him to serve to curtail a disease’s spread, but rather to reduce the likelihood that they would become infected in the quarantine area. “This is a danger not to the population, but to the immigrants”, Brown wrote. “It seems to me that this is a possibility too remote to justify the drastic measure of a total exclusion of all classes of immigrants.”
a.) What issues were raised by this lawsuit? Was the lawsuit justified? Why or Why not? Was Compagnie
Française de Navigation á Vapeur’s conduct justified? Why or why not?
b.) List some ways this ruling affected your life. For example, have you or your family been affected by
state quarantine lockdown? If you owned a business, how would you feel about this decision?
c.) Should President Trump institute a national quarantine and/or lockdown? Under what authority could
President Trump rely to accomplish this?
d.) How does the decision in Compagnie Française de Navigation á Vapeur affect congregating for religious
purposes? Should it?
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