If the proceeding is in personam and no remedy is sought against the vessel herself, the case is not within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal courts, but courts administering common_law remedies have concurrent jurisdiction under the saving clause.[FN5] The saving to suitors clause also extends jurisdiction of the common_law courts to actions in personam which involve an attachment or sequestration of a vessel or other property.[FN6]




Corpus Juris Secundum

Excerpts …..


Admiralty is a separate field of law.[FN1] It is a unique body of law particularly appropriate to the regulation and settlement of the special problems arising out of sea navigation and commerce.[FN2] The maritime law was developed for "men who go down to the sea in ships" and for the merchants who use the waterways of the world as highways.[FN3]


In one sense maritime law is federal law,[FN4] not state law,[FN5] as the entire subject of maritime law, including its substantive as well as its procedural features, is under national control.[FN6] It is within the orbit of federal concern by constitutional directive[FN7] and, in this sense, it is the law which has been developed and declared by the Supreme Court and other federal courts, sitting in admiralty or in the exercise of their maritime jurisdiction, as modified from time to time by congressional enactments.[FN8] The ultimate expositor of general maritime law is the United States Supreme Court.[FN9] However, in a different sense, maritime law or maritime jurisprudence is part of the law of nations[FN10] and, thus, the law of the sea is, in a peculiar sense, a part of international law.[FN11]


The rules of maritime law have been developed by the commercial nations of the world over a period of many centuries,[FN1] and they remain in continuous development.[FN2] Since the necessities of international trade and commerce dictate that this development should be along rather uniform lines in the several maritime nations, in a very real sense a body of general maritime law has developed internationally.[FN3] Thus, maritime law is the general law of nations, rather than the law of any particular country.[FN4]


International maritime law has the force of law, not from the extraterritorial reach of national laws, nor from an abdication of its sovereign power by any nation, but from an acceptance by the common consent of civilized communities of rules designed to foster amicable and workable commercial relations.[FN5] However, international maritime law does not purport to restrict any nation from making and altering its laws to govern its own shipping and territory,[FN6] and, in each nation, maritime law is operative only insofar as it is adopted by the law and usage of that nation, and with such modifications as are deemed proper.[FN7]


The national government, acting under constitutional and statutory authorization, took over the rules of maritime law, but only to the extent that courts invested with admiralty jurisdiction accept and apply them; maritime law is not a complete and all_inclusive body of law, and principles of the common law may, but do not necessarily, have a part in it.


Maritime law is not a complete and perfect system,[FN8] and its development shows that it was never created as a definite all_inclusive body of law.[FN9] It is not codified, existing only as a species of judge_made federal common law.[FN10] It draws on a number of sources,[FN11] including the international law merchant,[FN12] congressional enactments,[FN13] and a considerable body of municipal law,[FN14] as well as both civil law[FN15] and common law.[FN16] In the absence of clear precedents in the law of the sea, judges look to the law prevailing on the land.[FN17] On the other hand, in deciding cases in admiralty, courts are not bound by common_law rules[FN18] or inappropriate common_law concepts.[FN19] It is a federal question as to how far principles developed at common law or in equity find a place in the amalgam of general maritime law.[FN20]


When a case is brought in a state court and the maritime law would be applicable had the admiralty jurisdiction of a federal court been invoked, it is likely that the state court will adopt and apply the rules of the maritime law as the law of the state.


U.S.—Reynolds v. Royal Mail Lines, Limited, 147 F. Supp. 223 (S.D. Cal. 1956), judgment aff'd, 254 F.2d 55 (9th Cir. 1958).


The maritime law of the United States is very closely related to the commerce power vested in Congress by the commerce clause,[FN9] and it is interpreted in the same manner as the commerce clause.[FN10] However, congressional control over maritime matters derives from those provisions of the Constitution conferring general power to legislate and from the provisions dealing specifically with admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, and not from the commerce clause.[FN11] The powers under the admiralty clause and the commerce clause are distinct, with neither limiting the other.[FN12]


The power of Congress to legislate concerning rights and liabilities within federal maritime jurisdiction and as to remedies for their enforcement cannot be delegated to the states.[FN13]


Under the constitutional provision conferring on United States courts all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction,[FN1] exclusive admiralty jurisdiction is vested in the federal courts,[FN2] and it may not be exercised by legislative courts or tribunals or by any executive official.[FN3] The admiralty clause does not permit either the Congress or the states to deprive the federal courts of admiralty jurisdiction,[FN4] but Congress has implied power to confer admiralty and maritime jurisdiction on tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court[FN5] and, in the exercise of this power, Congress has given federal district courts original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the states, in all civil cases in admiralty or maritime jurisdiction,[FN6] as a separate and distinct category of federal jurisdiction.[FN7] Federal court jurisdiction over cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction has never been entirely exclusive,[FN8] but congressional action is required to overturn it.[FN9]


A court which takes jurisdiction of an action which is of a maritime nature may dispose of it completely without the necessity of any other suit in the same or any other court.[FN10] Furthermore, when the nature and subject matter of two transactions are the same as they relate to maritime commerce, if admiralty jurisdiction extends to one, it must extend to the other.[FN11] On the other hand, where admiralty enforces a right given by statute, it must take the right subject to statutory limitations.[FN12]


Since admiralty is a limited jurisdiction, one who seeks to invoke this jurisdiction has the burden of affirmatively establishing a right to it.[FN13] Admiralty jurisdiction cannot be acquired by conceding for a time the facts which establish that it does not exist.[FN14] Where the face of a complaint shows admiralty jurisdiction, but the evidence at trial shows that the complaint conceded jurisdictional facts and that there is no admiralty jurisdiction, a prior ruling made on the strength of the complaint does not confer jurisdiction where none in fact existed.[FN15] Where a complaint makes a case which is prima facie one of admiralty jurisdiction, however, this jurisdiction is not lost until the established relation or status is clearly changed.[FN16]


Primary purpose to protect maritime commerce


Jurisdiction of maritime causes of action against the United States is vested exclusively in the district courts and may not be exercised by the Court of Claims.


A two_part test is used to determine maritime jurisdiction, based on the event's potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce and its substantial relation to traditional maritime activity.


The test of admiralty jurisdiction lies in the subject matter of the contract or controversy involved.[FN1] In determining the existence of a district court's admiralty jurisdiction, inquiry does not turn on the actual effects on maritime commerce of the incident giving rise to the suit, but rather on the general character of the incident involved.[FN2] The court must assess the general features and the type of incident involved to determine whether such an incident is likely to disrupt commercial activity and whether it is substantially related to traditional maritime activity.[FN3] Thus, a two_part test is used to determine maritime jurisdiction: first, the event's potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce, and second, the general conduct surrounding the incident must be substantially related to traditional maritime activity.[FN4]


Application of admiralty jurisdiction is appropriate if the event giving rise to the suit occurs on navigable water and a potential hazard to maritime commerce arises from an activity that bears substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.[FN5] Activities significantly related to traditional maritime activity are not limited to navigation, but extend at least to any other activity traditionally undertaken by vessels, commercial or noncommercial.[FN6] Focusing on the status of the claimant to determine whether admiralty jurisdiction exists is inappropriate.[FN7]


The court should determine the potential impact of a given type of incident by examining its general character and assess the general features of the type of incident involved to determine whether it is likely to disrupt commercial activity.[FN8] The court must consider a description of the incident at an intermediate level of possible generality,[FN9] not by subjecting the minutia of a case to the "potential hazard to maritime commerce" and "substantial relation to traditional maritime activity" tests but relating the "general" aspects of the case to those two prongs.[FN10]


A "potential hazard" to maritime commerce need not include an actual hazard in the case at hand, but can be hypothetical, though not fantastical, and a "traditional maritime activity" may include any maritime_related activity, not just marine navigation.


The maritime law of the United States is to be uniform throughout the entire country, although absolute uniformity is not essential.


The requirement of uniformity in federal maritime law is not absolute.[FN4] Absolute or perfect uniformity is not necessary in all cases,[FN5] the facts determining whether uniformity is required.[FN6] Uniformity is required only when the essential features of exclusive federal jurisdiction are involved.[FN7]


A court which is properly exercising admiralty jurisdiction may proceed on or apply equitable principles and grant equitable relief.

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