Procedure in admiralty jurisdiction differs in few respects from procedure in actions at law, but the differences that do exist are significant.940 Suits in admiralty traditionally took the form of a proceeding in rem against the vessel, and, with exceptions to be noted, such proceedings in rem are confined exclusively to federal admiralty courts, because the grant of exclusive jurisdiction to the federal courts by the Judiciary Act of 1789 has been interpreted as referring to the traditional admiralty action, the in rem action, which was unknown to the common law.941 The savings clause in that Act under which a state court may entertain actions by suitors seeking a common-law remedy preserves to the state tribunals the right to hear actions at law where a common-law remedy or a new remedy analogous to a common-law remedy exists.942 Concurrent jurisdiction thus exists for the adjudication of in personam maritime causes of action against the owner of the vessel, and a plaintiff may ordinarily choose whether to bring his action in a state court or a federal court.
Forfeiture to the crown for violation of the laws of the sovereign was in English law an exception to the rule that admiralty has exclusive jurisdiction over in rem maritime actions and was thus considered a common-law remedy. Although the Supreme Court sometimes has used language that would confine all proceedings in rem to admiralty courts,943 such actions in state courts have been sustained in cases of forfeiture arising out of violations of state law.944
Perhaps the most significant admiralty court difference in procedure from civil courts is the absence of a jury trial in admiralty actions, with the admiralty judge trying issues of fact as well as of law.
945 Indeed, the absence of a jury in admiralty proceedings appears to have been one of the principal reasons why the English government vested a broad admiralty jurisdiction in the colonial vice-admiralty courts, since they provided a forum where the English authorities could enforce the Navigation Laws without “the obstinate resistance of American juries.”946
- Gilmore & Black, supra at 30–33. There are no longer separate rules of procedure governing admiralty, unification of civil admiralty procedures being achieved in 1966. 7 A J. Moore’s Federal Practice §§ .01 et seq (New York: 1971).
- The Moses Taylor, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 411 (1866); The Hine v. Trevor, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 555 (1867). But see Taylor v. Carryl, 61 U.S. (20 How.) 583 (1858). In Madruga v. Superior Court, 346 U.S. 556 (1954), the jurisdiction of a state court over a partition suit at the instance of the majority shipowners was upheld on the ground that the cause of action affected only the interest of the defendant minority shipowners and therefore was in personam. Justice Frankfurter’s dissent argued: “If this is not an action against the thing, in the sense which that has meaning in the law, then the concepts of a res and an in rem proceeding have an esoteric meaning that I do not understand.” Id. at 564.
- After conferring “exclusive” jurisdiction in admiralty and maritime cases on the federal courts, § 9 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 77, added “saving to suitors, in all cases the right of a common law remedy, where the common law is competent to give it. . . .” Fixing the concurrent federal-state line has frequently been a source of conflict within the Court. Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205 (1917).
- The Moses Taylor, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 411, 431 (1867).
- C. J. Henry Co. v. Moore, 318 U.S. 133 (1943).
- The Vengeance, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 297 (1796); The Schooner Sally, 6 U.S. (2 Cr.) 406 (1805); The Schooner Betsy, 8 U.S. (4 Cr.) 443 (1808); The Whelan, 11 U.S. (7 Cr.) 112 (1812); The Samuel, 14 U.S. (1 Wheat.) 9 (1816). If diversity of citizenship and the requisite jurisdictional amounts are present, a suitor may sue on the “law side” of the federal court and obtain a jury. Romero v. International Terminal Operating Co., 358 U.S. 354, 362–363 (1959). Jones Act claims, 41 Stat. 1007 (1920), 46 U.S.C. § 688, may be brought on the “law side” with a jury, Panama R.R. Co. v. Johnson, 264 U.S. 375 (1924), and other admiralty claims joined with a Jones Act claim may be submitted to a jury. Romero, supra; Fitzgerald v. United States Lines Co., 374 U.S. 16 (1963). There is no constitutional barrier to congressional provision of jury trials in admiralty. Genessee Chief v. Fitzhugh, 53 U.S. (12 How.) 443 (1851); Fitzgerald v. United States Lines Co., 374 U.S. 16, 20 (1963).
- C. J. Henry Co. v. Moore, 318 U.S. 133, 141 (1943).