United States, the United States shares jurisdiction | work boat

May 25, 2022

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you.S. Admiralty law is unique in that it gives federal courts exclusive jurisdiction over many maritime matters.

This begs the question: why are so many maritime claims litigated in state court if federal courts are supposed to have exclusive jurisdiction?

The answer stems from another important provision of statutory law: the “suitor savings” clause. This preserves a litigant’s right to have their maritime suit adjudicated beyond the limits of admiralty jurisdiction of the federal court system and brought before many state courts of “inferior jurisdiction.” The plaintiffs’ escape clause is also important in that it may preserve the right to a jury trial, which is not otherwise available in claims that fall strictly within federal admiralty jurisdiction. But the exclusive reach of the Federal Court on admiralty claims cannot be avoided in all cases. For example, costumes in rem, or against a ship directly, can only be filed and adjudicated in federal court before a judge. No right to a jury trial exists in this and other distinctly maritime causes of action.

Recognizing the importance of reserving admiralty jurisdiction to federal courts, while balancing the interests of litigants and their state law remedies, Congress has enacted certain safeguards so that a party can bring its action. in state or federal court. Usually, a “9(h)” designation is invoked when a party wishes their case to be tried only in federal court. Such a designation is generally reserved for claims that relate only to maritime law matters, or when a party wants to ensure that their lawsuit is decided by a federal judge, even though there may be a basis for the case continues in front of a jury in state or federal court.

Other statutes, such as the Jones Act, coupled with the plaintiffs’ escape clause, allow personal injury plaintiffs to pursue their claims in state or federal court. Sailors have the right to a jury trial on a claim under the Jones Act, but they can also limit their cases to a trial in federal court by arguing outright that the claim is brought. “in Admiralty” in accordance with Rule 9(h).

Some states have unsuccessfully attempted to legislate a basis for admiralty jurisdiction within the state court system, but such efforts have generally been dismissed as inconsistent with the requirements of constitutional and federal law that any claim truly in Admiralty must be brought in federal court.

The bottom line is that almost any maritime legal dispute can be brought in federal court, but the strategy may justify seeking a specifically reserved remedy in state court.

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