Select Page

Admiralty
St. Johns University School of Law
Calamari, Joseph A.

Admiralty Outline – Fall 2003

Overview
Admiralty is federal law, originating in Article III, § 2 of Constitution.
First Congress included Cases of Admiralty/Maritime in Judiciary Act.
Supremacy Clause.
b. If say that case is admiralty/maritime case, governed by admiralty law, is to say that substantive admiralty law applies.
Differences: statute of limitations, comparative laws for recovery, etc.
a. Main: trial by judge. From very beginning, admiralty cases are w/o juries. May be why someone brings suit in admiralty – to avoid the jury.
Admiralty cases can’t be removed from state to federal courts.
a. but most admiralty cases can be brought in state courts unless qualify under diversity.
b. But federal admiralty law will be applied.
Jurisdiction arises under:
a. 28 USC 1331: federal question
b. 28 USC 1332: diversity
c. 28 USC 1333: admiralty & maritime.
BUT, Congress didn’t choose to enact substantive law in the statutes – left to courts.
Courts mainly address three issues:
a. what is an admiralty case?
b. if it is, what is the admiralty rule?
c. construing the savings to suitors clause – eg, what types of cases does Congress mean to say that we only want federal courts sitting in admiralty to have jurisdiction over?

Basics of Admiralty
Requires: Locality + maritime nexus
– Executive Jet decision.
– DeLovio v. Boit (1815): Maritime insurance policies are within admiralty & maritime jurisdiction of US b/c maritime contracts include charter parties, affreightments, marine bonds, Ks for repairing, supplying & navigating ships, Ks between part owners – etc – AND insurance.

Historical limitations:
– Could only sue in rem
– Forbade actions in personam vs. shipowner, master.
– Rules precluding admiralty court from hearing matters arising w/in body of the country.
– Forbidding admiralty jurisdiction where no influence of tide.
– Forbidding admiralty jurisdiction involving building or sale of ship.
– The Thomas Jefferson (SCOTUS, 1825): Action arising on Ohio to Missouri river is not in admiralty, because no influence of tide.

Great Lakes Act (1845): extends jurisdiction to G. Lakes.

Becomes almost superfluous after Genesee Chief, but – still allows saving to suitors the right of jury trial if wanted.
Possible to have an equal protection argument – why in GL, but not other inland navigable waters. But no caselaw.

The Genesee Chief v. Fitzhugh (SCOTUS, 1851): overrules the TJ. Holds that GL Act is Constitutional.

Lakes are inland seas
Hostile fleets have been encountered on them, prizes made, reason to have admiralty jurisdiction.
Nothing particular in the tide that makes waters suitable for admiralty.
Limiting admiralty in country with so many inland navigable waters is impracticable. (Policy).

Post Genesee Chief admiralty jurisdiction:

Public navigable water
On which commerce is carried on
Between different states or nations

The Eagle (SCOTUS, 1868): Tug towing brig & barge, tug caused collision.

Issue: since GL Act limited admiralty on GL to contract & tort where vessels are over 20 tons, since Genesee Chief, is there general jurisdiction over all vessels on GL?
Holding: Yes. GL is pretty much obsolete – can use regular admiralty rules.

Admiralty Jurisdiction in Contract Cases:

North Pacific Steamship v. Hall Brothers Marine (SCOTUS, 1919): in personam action for unpaid repair bill.

Repairs at drydock count as admiralty claims. Doesn’t matter if drydocked or afloat.

Contract for building ship isn’t maritime.
Contract for repairing ship is maritime.

Once ship is launched, issues about the ship are maritime.

§ Kossick v. United Fruit (SCOTUS, 1961): Seaman who made oral agreement with master about medical treatment has claim in admiralty – to say not maritime is too narrow.
o Note: in maritime law, oral contract is valid under statute of frauds. The answer of the jurisdiction issue will lead to a different result, depending.
§ Exxon Corp. v. Central Gulf Lines, Inc. (SCOTUS, 1991): Admiralty jurisdiction extends to claims arising from agency contracts – here, a contract for providing fuel.
o Case overturns Minturn on narrow grounds. Lower courts should look at the subject matter of the agency contract to determine if the services were maritime in nature. (Supplying fuel to a ship was.)
§ Preliminary Ks:
o some Ks that lead up to a maritime K aren’t maritime, like a K to procure a maritime insurance policy – though the policy itself is.
o Lease of vessel is maritime, but sale is not.
§ Mixed Ks:
o K will not be within admiralty jurisdiction unless wholly maritime.
§ Exceptions: if maritime & non maritime elements are separable, admiral

Look at:

Purpose for which the craft is constructed
Business in which craft is engaged

Exclusive Jurisdiction of Admiralty Courts & Concurrent Jurisdiction of Common Law Courts
§ The Moses Taylor (SCOTUS, 1866): man sued for breach of K b/c of conditions on the ship. Sought damages in state court; owner of vessel argued he had no jurisdiction b/c cause of action was one in admiralty. SCOTUS: clearly admiralty b/c related exclusively to service to be performed on the high seas and pertained solely to the business of commerce & navigation. Not within saving to suitors clause.

Need to make sure I get more about savings to suitors.

Rounds v. Cloverport Foundry & Machine Co (SCOTUS, 1915): Work for repairing & rebuilding steamboat is fine in common law; suit was in personam & attachment was in the suit; not other effect to proveid security for payment of personal judgment.

§ Admiralty Procedure since 1966
o FRCP 9(h): pleading admiralty & maritime cases and separate claim: diversity or federal question.

Places where it makes a difference if the claim asserted is an admiralty claim:
Special impleader (Rule 14(c))
No jury trial for admiralty (Rule 38(e))
Admiralty claim isn’t subject to venue requirements that govern other actions (Rule 82)
Somewhat broader right to interlocutory appeal (28 USC §1292(a)(3))
Supplemental rules provide for separate procedures to be followed in distinctive types of proceedings – in rem, personal jurisdiction acquired through attachment, partition actions, actions for limited liability.

Jury issue:

Sphere Drake Insurance v. J. Shree Corp (SD of NY, 1999): insurance companies underwrite policies in London; D is merchant who insured gemstones, which were lost. Underwriters want declaratory judgment vs. Shree. Complaint is admiralty; compulsory counterclaims from D & demand of jury trial.