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Admiralty Practice and Procedure

The U.S. Constitution has granted original jurisdiction to the federal courts in admiralty matters. However, saving to suitor’s clause allows a party to pursue a remedy for a maritime claim in a state court when entitled to such remedy.  Despite the clause, certain actions can only be filed in federal courts. For example, in rem maritime actions must be filed in federal courts.  Additionally, suits seeking forfeiture of ships to enforce maritime mortgages and liens, petitions to limit a shipowner’s liability to the value of a ship after a major accident, and actions seeking to partition ownership of a ship must be filed in federal court. However, the vast majority of maritime actions, such as suits for damage to cargo, injuries to seamen, collisions between vessels, wake damage, and maritime pollution cases may be brought in either state court or federal court by virtue of the savings to suitors clause.  A state court hearing an admiralty or maritime case is required to apply the admiralty and maritime law, even if it conflicts with the law of the state, under “reverse-Erie doctrine.”

The Supplemental Admiralty Rules to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure apply to the procedure in admiralty and maritime claims, such as arrest, attachment, and limitation of liability unique to admiralty law.  The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure also apply to the foregoing proceedings except to the extent that they are inconsistent with these Supplemental Rules.

Inside Admiralty Practice and Procedure