XIII. SUPPLEMENTAL RULES FOR ADMIRALTY OR MARITIME CLAIMS AND ASSET FORFEITURE ACTIONS

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Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules

The amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to unify the civil and admiralty procedure, together with the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims, completely superseded the Admiralty Rules, effective July 1, 1966. Accordingly, the latter were rescinded.

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1985 Amendment

Since their promulgation in 1966, the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims have preserved the special procedures of arrest and attachment unique to admiralty law. In recent years, however, these Rules have been challenged as violating the principles of procedural due process enunciated in the United States Supreme Court's decision in Sniadach v. Family Finance Corp., 395 U.S. 337 (1969), and later developed in Fuentes v. Shevin, 407 U.S. 67 (1972); Mitchell v. W. T. Grant Co., 416 U.S. 600 (1974); and North Georgia Finishing, Inc. v. Di-Chem, Inc., 419 U.S. 601 (1975). These Supreme Court decisions provide five basic criteria for a constitutional seizure of property: (1) effective notice to persons having interests in the property seized, (2) judicial review prior to attachment, (3) avoidance of conclusory allegations in the complaint, (4) security posted by the plaintiff to protect the owner of the property under attachment, and (5) a meaningful and timely hearing after attachment.

Several commentators have found the Supplemental Rules lacking on some or all five grounds. E.g., Batiza & Partridge, The Constitutional Challenge to Maritime Seizures, 26 Loy. L. Rev. 203 (1980); Morse, The Conflict Between the Supreme Court Admiralty Rules and Sniadach-Fuentes: A Collision Course?, 3 Fla. St. U.L. Rev. 1 (1975). The federal courts have varied in their disposition of challenges to the Supplemental Rules. The Fourth and Fifth Circuits have affirmed the constitutionality of Rule C. Amstar Corp. v. S/S Alexandros T., 664 F.2d 904 (4th Cir. 1981); Merchants National Bank of Mobile v. The Dredge General G. L. Gillespie, 663 F.2d 1338 (5th Cir. 1981), cert. dismissed, 456 U.S. 966 (1982). However, a district court in the Ninth Circuit found Rule C unconstitutional. Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. v. The Vessel Bay Ridge, 509 F. Supp. 1115 (D. Alaska 1981), appeal dismissed, 703 F.2d 381 (9th Cir. 1983). Rule B(1) has received similar inconsistent treatment. The Ninth and Eleventh Circuits have upheld its constitutionality. Polar Shipping, Ltd. v. Oriental Shipping Corp., 680 F.2d 627 (9th Cir. 1982); Schiffahartsgesellschaft Leonhardt & Co. v. A. Bottacchi S. A. de Navegacion, 732 F.2d 1543 (11th Cir. 1984). On the other hand, a Washington district court has found it to be constitutionally deficient. Grand Bahama Petroleum Co. v. Canadian Transportation Agencies, Ltd., 450 F. Supp. 447 (W.D. Wash. 1978). The constitutionality of both rules was questioned in Techem Chem Co. v. M/T Choyo Maru, 416 F. Supp. 960 (D. Md. 1976). Thus, there is uncertainty as to whether the current rules prescribe constitutionally sound procedures for guidance of courts and counsel. See generally Note, Due Process in Admiralty Arrest and Attachment, 56 Tex. L. Rev. 1091 (1978).

Due to the controversy and uncertainty that have surrounded the Supplemental Rules, local admiralty bars and the Maritime Law Association of the United States have sought to strengthen the constitutionality of maritime arrest and attachment by encouraging promulgation of local admiralty rules providing for prompt post-seizure hearings. Some districts also adopted rules calling for judicial scrutiny of applications for arrest or attachment. Nonetheless, the result has been a lack of uniformity and continued concern over the constitutionality of the existing practice. The amendments that follow are intended to provide rules that meet the requirements prescribed by the Supreme Court and to develop uniformity in the admiralty practice.

1 Title amended April 12, 2006, effective December 1, 2006.

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