Jurisdiction is the authority of the court to entertain a case before it and it gives the court power to issue a valid and enforceable order. The subject matter of case that an admiralty court has authority to conduct defines the type of jurisdiction. An admiralty court’s jurisdiction over the parties, the subject matter or persons involved, and the remedy sought determines its type of jurisdiction.
Generally, an admiralty court will have jurisdiction of a proceeding in rem, usually against a ship, and also of a proceeding in personam. Proper service of process is an inevitable requirement for a court to enter a judgment against a person or property. However, the court can be liberal in following the due process rule for the necessity of maintaining the litigation itself. Worldwide acceptance is granted for the courts’ power to enter temporary restraining orders to preserve the status quo for the purposes of the litigation.
The issue in Richardson v. Foremost Ins. Co., 470 F. Supp. 699, 700 (M.D. La. 1979) arose when two “pleasure boats” collided. One was an eighteen foot “pleasure boat” powered by a 185 h.p. Johnson outboard motor that was being used for water skiing purposes, and the other was a sixteen foot “bass boat” powered by an outboard motor that was used exclusively for pleasure fishing. The two boats were headed in opposite directions on the Amite River at the time of the accident. The point of impact was in a curve around one-half to three-quarters of a mile downstream from the French Settlement bridge. The sole issue before the court was whether or not it was vested with “admiralty jurisdiction.” The court held that when an accident involving one or more vessels occurs on or in a navigable body of water and involves purely pleasure boats in which there is absolutely no “commercial” or “traditional maritime activity” whatsoever involved, then the admiralty jurisdiction of the federal court should not be invoked.