Admiralty and Maritime Cases.

Admiralty and maritime ju- risdiction comprises two types of cases: (1) those involving acts committed on the high seas or other navigable waters, and (2) those involving contracts and transactions connected with shipping employed on the seas or navigable waters. In the first category, which includes prize cases and torts, injuries, and crimes committed on the high seas, jurisdiction is determined by the locality of the act, while in the second category subject matter is the primary determinative factor.914 Specifically, contract cases include suits by seamen for wages,915 cases arising out of marine insurance policies,916 actions for towage917 or pilotage918 charges, actions on bottomry or respondentia bonds,919 actions for repairs on a vessel already used in navigation,920 contracts of affreightment,921 compensation for temporary wharfage,922 agreements of consortship between the masters of two vessels engaged in wrecking,923 and surveys of damaged vessels.924 That is, admiralty jurisdiction “extends to all contracts, claims and services essentially maritime.”925 But the courts have never enunciated an unambiguous test which would enable one to determine in advance whether or not a given case is maritime.926 “The boundaries of admiralty jurisdiction over contracts—as opposed to torts or crimes—being conceptual rather than spatial, have always been difficult to draw. Precedent and usage are helpful insofar as they exclude or include certain common types of contract. . . .”927

Maritime torts include injuries to persons,928 damages to property arising out of collisions or other negligent acts,929 and violent dispossession of property.930 The Court has expressed a willingness to “recogniz[e] products liability, including strict liability, as part of the general maritime law.”931 Unlike contract cases, maritime tort jurisdiction historically depended exclusively upon the commission of the wrongful act upon navigable waters, regardless of any connection or lack of connection with shipping or commerce.932 The Court has now held, however, that in addition to the requisite situs a significant relationship to traditional maritime activity must exist in order for the admiralty jurisdiction of the federal courts to be invoked.933 Both the Court and Congress have created exceptions to the situs test for maritime tort jurisdiction to extend landward the occasions for certain connected persons or events to come within admiralty, not without a little controversy.934

From the earliest days of the Republic, the federal courts sitting in admiralty have been held to have exclusive jurisdiction of prize cases.935 Also, in contrast to other phases of admiralty jurisdiction, prize law as applied by the British courts continued to provide the basis of American law so far as practicable,936 and so far as it was not modified by subsequent legislation, treaties, or executive proclamations. Finally, admiralty and maritime jurisdiction includes the seizure and forfeiture of vessels engaged in activities in violation of the laws of nations or municipal law, such as illicit trade,937 infraction of revenue laws,938 and the like.939


DeLovio v. Boit, 7 Fed. Cas. 418, 444 (No. 3776) (C.C.D. Mass. 1815) (Justice Story); Waring v. Clarke, 46 U.S. (5 How.) 441 (1847). back
Sheppard v. Taylor, 30 U.S. (5 Pet.) 675, 710 (1831). A seaman employed by the government making a claim for wages cannot proceed in admiralty but must bring his action under the Tucker Act in the Court of Claims or in the district court if his claim does not exceed $10,000. Amell v. United States, 384 U.S. 158 (1966). In Kossick v. United Fruit Co., 365 U.S. 731 (1961), an oral agreement between a seaman and a shipowner whereby the latter in consideration of the seaman’s forbearance to press his maritime right to maintenance and cure promised to assume the consequences of improper treatment of the seaman at a Public Health Service Hospital was held to be a maritime contract. See also Archawski v. Hanioti, 350 U.S. 532 (1956). back
Insurance Co. v. Dunham, 78 U.S. (11 Wall.) 1, 31 (1871); Wilburn Boat Co. v. Fireman’s Fund Ins. Co., 348 U.S. 310 (1955). Whether admiralty jurisdiction exists if the vessel is not engaged in navigation or commerce when the insurance claim arises is open to question. Jeffcott v. Aetna Ins. Co., 129 F.2d 582 (2d Cir. 1942), cert. denied, 317 U.S. 663 (1942). Contracts and agreements to procure marine insurance are outside the admiralty jurisdiction. Compagnie Francaise De Navigation A Vapeur v. Bonnasse, 19 F.2d 777 (2d Cir. 1927). back
Knapp, Stout & Co. v. McCaffrey, 177 U.S. 638 (1900). For recent Court difficulties with exculpatory features of such contracts, see Bisso v. Inland Waterways Corp., 349 U.S. 85 (1955); Boston Metals Co. v. The Winding Gulf, 349 U.S. 122 (1955); United States v. Nielson, 349 U.S. 129 (1955); Southwestern Sugar & Molasses Co. v. River Terminals Corp., 360 U.S. 411 (1959); Dixilyn Drilling Corp. v. Crescent Towage & Salvage Co., 372 U.S. 697 (1963). back
Atlee v. Packet Co., 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 389 (1875); Ex parte McNiel, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 236 (1872). See also Sun Oil v. Dalzell Towing Co., 287 U.S. 291 (1932). back
The Grapeshot, 76 U.S. (9 Wall.) 129 (1870); O’Brien v. Miller, 168 U.S. 287 (1897); The Aurora, 14 U.S. (1 Wheat.) 94 (1816); Delaware Mut. Safety Ins. Co. v. Gossler, 96 U.S. 645 (1877). But ordinary mortgages even though the securing property is a vessel, its gear, or cargo are not considered maritime contracts. Bogart v. The Steamboat John Jay, 58 U.S. (17 How.) 399 (1854); Detroit Trust Co. v. The Thomas Barlum, 293 U.S. 21, 32 (1934). back
New Bedford Dry Dock Co. v. Purdy, 258 U.S. 96 (1922); The General Smith, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 438 (1819). There is admiralty jurisdiction even though the repairs are not to be made in navigable waters but, perhaps, in dry dock. North Pacific SS. Co. v. Hall Brothers Marine R. & S. Co., 249 U.S. 119 (1919). But contracts and agreements pertaining to the original construction of vessels are not within admiralty jurisdiction. Peoples Ferry Co. v. Joseph Beers, 61 U.S. (20 How.) 393 (1858); North Pacific S.S. Co., 249 U.S. at 127. back
New Jersey Steam Navigation Co. v. Merchants’ Bank of Boston, 47 U.S. (6 How.) 344 (1848). back
Ex parte Easton, 95 U.S. 68 (1877). back
Andrews v. Wall, 44 U.S. (3 How.) 568 (1845). back
Janney v. Columbia Ins. Co., 23 U.S. (10 Wheat.) 411, 412, 415, 418 (1825); The Tilton, 23 Fed. Cas. 1277 (No. 14054) (C.C.D. Mass. 1830) (Justice Story). back
Ex parte Easton, 95 U.S. 68, 72 (1877). See, for a clearing away of some conceptual obstructions to the principle, Exxon Corp. v. Central Gulf Lines, Inc., 500 U.S. 603 (1991). back
E.g., DeLovio v. Boit, 7 Fed. Cas. 418, 444 (No. 3776) (C.C.D. Mass. 1815) (Justice Story); The Steamboat Orleans v. Phoebus, 36 U.S. (11 Pet.) 175, 183 (1837); The People’s Ferry Co. v. Joseph Beers, 61 U.S. (20 How.) 393, 401 (1858); New England Marine Ins. Co. v. Dunham, 78 U.S. (11 Wall.) 1, 26 (1870); Detroit Trust Co. v. The Thomas Barlum, 293 U.S. 21, 48 (1934). back
Kossick v. United Fruit Co., 365 U.S. 731, 735 (1961). back
The City of Panama, 101 U.S. 453 (1880). Reversing a long-standing rule, the Court allowed recovery under general maritime law for the wrongful death of a seaman. Moragne v. States Marine Lines, 398 U.S. 375 (1970); Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U.S. 19 (1991). back
The Raithmoor, 241 U.S. 166 (1916); Erie R.R. v. Erie Transportation Co., 204 U.S. 220 (1907). back
L’Invincible, 14 U.S. (1 Wheat.) 238 (1816); In re Fassett, 142 U.S. 479 (1892). back
East River Steamship Corp. v. Transamerica Delaval, 476 U.S. 858 (1986) (holding, however, that there is no products liability action in admiralty for purely economic injury to the product itself, unaccompanied by personal injury, and that such actions should be based on the contract law of warranty). back
DeLovio v. Boit, 7 Fed. Cas. 418, 444 (No. 3776) (C.C.D. Mass. 1815) (Justice Story); Philadelphia, W. & B. R.R. v. Philadelphia & Havre De Grace Steam Towboat Co., 64 U.S. (23 How.) 209, 215 (1859); The Plymouth, 70 U.S. (3 Wall.) 20, 33–34 (1865); Grant-Smith-Porter Ship Co. v. Rohde, 257 U.S. 469, 476 (1922). back
Executive Jet Aviation v. City of Cleveland, 409 U.S. 249 (1972) (plane crash in which plane landed wholly fortuitously in navigable waters off the airport runway not in admiralty jurisdiction). However, so long as there is maritime activity and a general maritime commercial nexus, admiralty jurisdiction exists. Foremost Ins. Co. v. Richardson, 457 U.S. 668 (1982) (collision of two pleasure boats on navigable waters is within admiralty jurisdiction); Sisson v. Ruby, 497 U.S. 358 (1990) (fire on pleasure boat docked at marina on navigable water). See also Grubart v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527 (1995), a tort claim arising out of damages allegedly caused by negligently driving piles from a barge into the riverbed, which weakened a freight tunnel that allowed flooding of the tunnel and the basements of numerous buildings along the Chicago River. The Court found that admiralty jurisdiction could be invoked. The location test was satisfied, because the barge, even though fastened to the river bottom, was a “vessel” for admiralty tort purposes; the two-part connection test was also satisfied, inasmuch as the incident had a potential to disrupt maritime commerce and the conduct giving rise to the incident had a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity. back
Thus, the courts have enforced seamen’s claims for maintenance and cure for injuries incurred on land. O’Donnell v. Great Lakes Co., 318 U.S. 36, 41–42 (1943). The Court has applied the doctrine of seaworthiness to permit claims by longshoremen injured on land because of some condition of the vessel or its cargo. Gutierrez v. Waterman S.S. Corp., 373 U.S. 206 (1963); Seas Shipping Co. v. Sieracki, 328 U.S. 85 (1946); Mahnich v. Southern S.S. Co., 321 U.S. 96 (1944). But see Victory Carriers v. Law, 404 U.S. 202 (1971). In the Jones Act, 41 Stat. 1007, 46 U.S.C. § 688, Congress gave seamen, or their personal representatives, the right to seek compensation from their employers for personal injuries arising out of their maritime employment. Respecting who is a seaman for Jones Act purposes, see Southwest Marine, Inc. v. Gizoni, 502 U.S. 81 (1991); McDermott International, Inc. v. Wilander, 498 U.S. 337 (1991). The rights exist even if the injury occurred on land. O’Donnell v. Great Lakes Co., 318 U.S. at 43; Swanson v. Mara Brothers, 328 U.S. 1, 4 (1946). In the Extension of Admiralty Jurisdiction Act, 62 Stat. 496, 46 U.S.C. § 740, Congress provided an avenue of relief for persons injured in themselves or their property by action of a vessel on navigable water which is consummated on land, as by the collision of a ship with a bridge. By the 1972 amendments to the Longshoremen’s and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, 86 Stat. 1251, amending 33 U.S.C. §§ 901950, Congress broadened the definition of “navigable waters” to include in certain cases adjoining piers, wharfs, etc., and modified the definition of “employee” to mean any worker “engaged in maritime employment” within the prescribed meanings, thus extending the Act shoreward and changing the test of eligibility from “situs” alone to the “situs” of the injury and the “status” of the injured. back
Jennings v. Carson, 8 U.S. (4 Cr.) 2 (1807); Taylor v. Carryl, 61 U.S. (20 How.) 583 (1858). back
Thirty Hogsheads of Sugar v. Boyle, 13 U.S. (9 Cr.) 191 (1815); The Siren, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 389, 393 (1871). back
Hudson v. Guestier, 8 U.S. (4 Cr.) 293 (1808). back
The Vengeance, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 297 (1796); Church v. Hubbard, 6 U.S. (2 Cr.) 187 (1804); The Schooner Sally, 6 U.S. (2 Cr.) 406 (1805). back
The Brig Ann, 13 U.S. (9 Cr.) 289 (1815); The Sarah, 21 U.S. (8 Wheat.) 391 (1823); Maul v. United States, 274 U.S. 501 (1927). back