District Courts have maritime jurisdiction over a seaman’s wage claim. A suit for a seaman’s wages is properly before a district court under its maritime jurisdiction.[i] However, in order to exercise admiralty jurisdiction, the controversy must be one to which the peculiar principles or remedies given by maritime law have any special application.
When a seaman leaves a ship and does not return, s/he will be declared a deserter. A deserter’s wage is liable to be forfeited. In case of such forfeiture the jurisdiction is with the district court to decide on the disbursement of the forfeited wage. Any question concerning the forfeiture of, or deductions from, the wages of any seaman or apprentice may be determined in any proceeding lawfully instituted with respect to such wages.[ii]
The master or owner of any vessel is required to pay a seaman on vessels making foreign voyages his/her wages within twenty-four hours after the cargo has been discharged or four days after the seaman has been discharged, whichever first happens. Additionally, every master or owner who refuses or neglects to make such payment without sufficient cause should pay the seaman a sum equal to two days pay for each day during which payment is delayed.[iii] Such sum should be recoverable as wages in any claim made before the court.[iv]
The Court of Claims has jurisdiction over contractual claims against the U S.[v] Accordingly, the federal district courts under the Suits in Admiralty Act have no jurisdiction over federal employees wage claims. In admiralty matters, Court of Claims has jurisdiction over federal employees.
[i]The Amalia, 3 F. 652 (D. Me. 1880)
[ii] 46 USCS § 705
[iii] 46 USCS § 596
[iv]Monteiro v. Sociedad Maritima San Nicolas, S. A., 280 F.2d 568 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1960)
[v]28 USCS § 1346, The Tucker Act