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Villanova University School of Law
Dellapenna, Joseph W.

Admiralty Outline

I Jurisdiction Generally

A. Constitutional and Statutory Bases of American Maritime Law

-§ 2, Art. III of Const.: The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases . . . of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction

a) Has been interpreted to allow federal sovereign the power to prescribe the substantive law in maritime cases pending in federal court

-Federal law preempts any state law in maritime cases

-First Judiciary Act of 1789 enacted maritime jurisdiction statute:

The district courts shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of:

(1) Any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction, saving to suitors in all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled.

(2) Any prize brought into the United States and all proceedings for the condemnation of property taken as prize.

-§ 1333 generally provides federal and state courts w/ concurrent jurisdiction to adjudicate maritime matters (see “saving to suitors” clause).

-Need for uniformity is key

-In rem proceedings, generally actions brought against a vessel and binding against the world, are subject to exclusive federal jurisdiction b/c in rem actions were unknown at common law

-Federal courts generally have no right jury trial save for when created by statute, in state court, determined by state law

B. Judicial Interpretations

Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen (US 1917), p.4

Facts: Jensen was an employee of the Southern Pacific Company (SP). He was working on a ship when he broke his neck and died. SP objected to the award from the NY Workers’ Comp. Commission that was awarded to his remaining family, arguing the award violated Art. 3, § 2 of the Const., conferring admiralty to federal courts. NY SC upheld the award.

Holding: -P is liable to employees for on the job injuries under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA).

-As applied here, the Workmen’s Compensation Act (of NY) conflicts w/ the general maritime law under the Const.

-Everything about this case is maritime and w/i admiralty jurisdiction

-If NY can subject foreign ships coming into her ports to such obligations as those imposed by her compensation statute, other states may do likewise. The necessary consequence would be the destruction of the very uniformity in respect to maritime matters which the Const. was designed to establish, and freedom of navigation b/w states and w/ foreign countries would be seriously hampered and impeded

-The remedy of the Compensation Statute is unknown to common law, therefore is not allowed to be adjudicated by states under the saving to suitors clause

-Exclusive jurisdiction of all civil cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction is vested w/i the federal district courts

Chelentis v. Luckenbach (US 1918), p.12

Facts: Chelentis was aboard the Luckenbach as a fireman when a wave crashed onto the ship and broke his leg. He sued in NY demanding full indemnity for his injuries.

Holding: The seaman argued that he was not limited to maritime law damages for wages, maintenance, and cure. Claiming that his injuries resulted from the negligence of a superior officer, he filed a common law negligence suit in state court. The seaman argued that Congress changed the law limiting his right to recovery under maritime law by enacting § 20 of the Seamen’s Act, c. 153, 38 Stat. 1164, 1185. He argued that the act made the master a fellow servant of the seaman and therefore that Congress intended to make the relation between the seaman and all the officers throughout the same as at common law. The court disagreed, holding that � 20 was not intended to substitute the rule of common law negligence for the maritime law of maintenance and cure. The seaman was engaged in maritime work, under a maritime contract, and his injuries were maritime in nature. He was only entitled to wages, maintenance, and cure, pursuant to maritime law, but he had not requested such relief. Additionally, Section 9 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 76, 77, the “savings clause,” did not grant seamen the right to elect to have the shipowner’s liability determined by common-law negligence standards.

-Under Jensen and Chelentis, the Const. not only provides federal courts w/ power to hear a case, but also gives the federal sovereign the power to articulate the governing substantive law in the absence of a statute

-Common law remedy defined as in personam, so saving to suitors clause allows state courts to entertain in personam maritime causes of action. A state court hearing a maritime case applies maritime law, unless maritime law would adopt state law as surrogate maritime law

Wilburn Boat Co. v. Fireman’s Fund Ins. Co. (US 1955), p.17

Facts: Ps bought a small houseboat to use for commercial carriage of passengers on Lake Texoma, an artificial inland lake b/w TX and OK. D insured the boat from fire and other perils. While moored, the boat was destroyed by fire. P sued D for the policy coverage in state court; case was removed based on diversity. Liability was denied b/c (1) K said you couldn’t pledge title as happened here and (2) fine print of K said the boat, w/o consent, couldn’t be used for commercial activities.

Holding: -If TX law governs, the P prevails b/c provision against pledging would be invalid and, under TX law, a fire insurance policy isn’t void unless the breach contributes to the loss.

-TC said that TX law wouldn’t apply b/c this is an admiralty case, therefore federal law applies and policy breached, so D wins

-While a lot of maritime law is governed by Congress, it has left certain regulations to the state, like maritime insurance

-Traditionally, insurance has been left to the states, and everyone has assumed that maritime insurance was part of that state regulation

-Federal court regulation here would be piecemeal and a disaster

-Therefore, TX law should apply and Ps prevail

-Admiralty law displaces state law as to the implied warranty of seaworthiness in maritime insurance Ks (Thanh Long Partnership v. Highlands Ins. 5th Cir. 1995).

-Courts applying maritime law may adopt state law by express or implied reference where state law doesn’t conflict w/ federal law, or by virtue of the interstitial nature of federal law

-No preemption of state environmental statutes permitting recovery for economic loss caused by damage to natural resources

-Article III impliedly contained three grants: (1) It empowered Congress to confer admiralty and maritime jurisdiction on the “Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court” which were authorized by Art. I, § 8, cl. 9. (2) It empowered the federal courts in their exercise of the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction which had been conferred on them, to draw on the substantive law “inherent in the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction,” and to continue the development of this law within constitutional limits. (3) It empowered Congress to revise and supplement the maritime law within the limits of the Constitution.

Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co., Inc. (US 1942), p.25

Facts: P injured while working as a seaman for D. Sued in PA state court pursuant to the Jones Act.

Holding: Petitioner employee was injured while working as a seaman on a vessel for respondent employer. The intermediate court affirmed a judgment in respondent’s favor in the suit that petitioner filed under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C.S. § 688. The Court reversed that judgment on appeal, finding that petitioner was entitled to the benefit of the full scope of his federally created rights. The Court found that the intermediate court wrongfully held petitioner to the state, rather than the applicable federal, standard of sustaining his challenge to the validity of a release that he signed. The Court reasoned that allowing the intermediate court to substantially alter petitioner’s federally established rights was directly contrary to the congressional intent behind allowing it to hear cases under the Jones Act.

-P entitled to benefit of his federal rights even though this case was tried in PA court

-PA court says that under PA law Garrett had to meet burden of proof to show that release wasn’t binding and that he failed to do that

-Court finds that have to apply federal/admiralty burden of proof b/c it affected substantive rights and not just procedure

-Art. II. § 2- judicial power shall extend to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction

a. Fed can establish cts and has sovereign power to prescribe substantive law- can preempt state law

-28 USC § 1333- DC have original jurisdiction, excusive of state ct, of:

a. any civil admiralty case, saving to suitors in all cases all other remedies to which otherwise entitled

1. Saving to suitors- state cts can hear some cases, fed exclusive over in rem, Limitation of Liability, Public Vessels Act, Suits in Admiralty, actions to foreclose ship mortgages, salvage, bankruptcy

2. State cts can hear in personam cases- remedies based on state law must conform to fed cl or at least not contradict it

a. seaman injuries, collisions, allisions, wake damage

b. Any prize brought into US

-Yamaha Motor Corp. (1995)- Where non-seaman involved in recreational activity is killed in territorial waters, survivors can use state law to recover non-pecuniary damages for loss of society

-Thanh Long (5th Cir. 1994)- Admiralty law displaces state law as to implied warranty of seaworthiness in maritime ins. contracts

Caribbean Cruise Lines, Ltd. (3d Cir. 1996)- Can waive admiralty law if do not invoke admiralty jurisdiction

-Juries- § 1333 does not grant one, § 1331 (fed question) and § 1332 (diversity) do

a. can always have a jury in state proceedings

-Robbins Drydock- cannot get purely economic damages in admiralty

-Unique aspects of admiralty- comparative neg does not bar recovery, better chance to get indemnity, seaman’s comp better, only need to show slightest neg by ship owner, even absent proximate cause

II. Navigable Waters

-The scope of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction generally is determined by the relationship of an event to navigable waters

-High seas and contiguous inlets obviously constitute navigable waters

Hassinger v. Tideland Electric Membership Corp. (4th Cir. 1986), p.31

Facts: Hassinger et al sailed 2 catamarans across a Sound to a lake in North Carolina. In trying to beach the boats, they struck a power line, 3 men killed. Question is if there is admiralty jurisdiction here.

Holding: -SC has held that for admiralty jurisdiction to exist in federal courts the alleged wrong: (1) must occur on or over navigable waters and (2) bear a significant relationship to a traditional maritime activity.

-Situs requirements is satisfied if the boat or ship is partly in or over the water.

-Here question is whether the boat was in the water or not when it hit the power line

-Admiralty jurisdiction in America extends to all areas w/i the ebb and flow of the tide, regardless of whether those areas are actually covered by water at the time of the alleged event, and the best determination of the land which is actually covered by the tides most of the time is the mean high water mark

-So, boundary of admiralty jurisdiction extends to the mea high water mark at all times


; and (3) although capable of movement and sometimes moved across navigable waters, transportation function was incidental to serving as a platform (test from Bernard v. Binnings, where a work punt that paddled around to guide in pilings not a vessel)

-If owner constructs or assembles a craft for the purpose of transporting passengers, cargo, or equipment across navigable waters and the craft is engaged in that service, that structure is a vessel. Other factors may include intention of the owner to move the structure on a regular basis, the length of time that the structure has remained stationary, and equipment like lifeboats bilge pumps, etc. The second big consideration is the business the craft is engaged in (transport vs. work platform).

-Find that rig here is a vessel because it was assembled to transport workover rig and its equipment from place to place across navigable waters to service wells located in navigable waters. Transportation function was not merely incidental.

-Some courts say vessel is determined by the purpose for which the structure is presently being used (Tonnesen v. Yonkers Contracting Co. 2d Cir. 1996)

-Floating movable jack-up drilling rigs have been classified as vessels for the purposes of admiralty law

Pavone v. Mississippi Riverboat Amusement (5th Cir. 1995), p.48

Facts: Two cases: (1) Pavone was a bartender on D’s floating dockside casino that was moored when he injured his foot; (2) Ketzel was a cocktail waitress at the same casino and tripped and fell. Both sue under the Jones Act.

Holding: -Casino was moored by lines/cables and connected by a ramp to a dock, plus had permanent land connections like sewer, cable, electric, etc.

-The barge upon which the casino sits is registered for transport w/ Coast Guard

-But it has no engine, no captain, no navigational aids, no crew, or lifesaving equipment. Has never been used as a seagoing vessel, can be towed in bad weather, though.

-Two approaches for vessel determination: (1) Was the vessel either withdrawn from navigation at the time in question or never placed in navigation and (2) what was the purpose for which the craft is constructed/business it is engaged

-Under both analyses, clear that this casino is not a vessel

-Some of these casinos would be deemed vessel, but they aren’t firmly attached to shore and sail frequently

Stewart v. Dutra (US 2004), handout

The dredge was a floating platform used to remove silt from the ocean floor and dump the silt onto scows floating alongside, and the dredge navigated short distances by manipulating its anchors and cables. The dredge used its bucket to move the scow on which the engineer was working, which caused the scow to collide with the dredge causing the engineer’s severe injuries. The lower court found that the dredge was not a vessel, and thus the owner was not the owner of a vessel for purposes of the LHWCA, since the dredge did not have the primary purpose of navigation and was not in transit when the collision occurred. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held, however, that the definition of a vessel set out in 1 U.S.C.S. § 3 applied under the LHWCA, and thus the dredge was a vessel since it was a watercraft practically capable of maritime transportation. The definition did not require that the dredge be used primarily for navigation nor was the dredge required to be in motion at the time of the collision to qualify as a vessel, and the dredge was in fact used to transport equipment and workers over water.

-Court has broad interpretation of what a vessel is, noting that § 3 requires only that a watercraft be used or capable of being used as means of transportation on water to qualify as a vessel.

-Airplane dropping bomb from aircraft carrier is under admiralty law b/c it’s an appurtenance to a vessel (unsure about thise)

– In Holmes, had a floating dormitory, no self propulsion but was afloat, and deemed to be a vessel b/c of new Dutra rule even though it seemingly cut against more traditional definition of vessel

-In Jordan, key point was whether craft could move in the future

-Wouldn’t be moved for 25 yrs and was moved there but fact that it could be moved was enough to make it a vessel under Dutra

-In Bunch, boat ferried P to and from cleaning barge, injured jumping from that boat to a barge

-Spent less than 10% of his time on that tug, so not considered, so focus on the cleaning barge

-Based on Dutra, barge considered a vessel–>limit case of what they would consider a vessel (8th Cir)