Jurisdiction Over the United States Government

Jurisdiciton under admiralty law is different from jurisdiction under common law.  Admiralty law governs maritime questions and offenses.  It has a strong international aspect, but may undergo independent changes in several countries.  Certain universal features exist in all countries that have admiralty law and such international features are given serious consideration by admiralty courts.

Article 3, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution says, “The judicial Power shall extend … to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction.”  Admiralty or maritime law pertains to ships on the sea, including civil and criminal actions.  In 1815 Justice Joseph Story, defined the scope of the Court’s admiralty jurisdiction by stating that it extended to all transactions “which relate to the navigation, business, or commerce of the sea.”

There are five types of cases which can only be brought in federal court: Limitation of Shipowner’s Liability, Vessel Arrests in Rem, Property arrests Quasi in Rem, Salvage cases, and Petitory and Possession Actions.  Besides these five types of cases, all other maritime cases, such as claims for personal injuries, cargo damage, collisions, maritime products liability, and recreational boating accidents may be brought in either federal or state court The common element of those cases are that they require the court to exercise jurisdiction over maritime property.

In federal courts in the United States, there is generally no right to trial by jury in admiralty cases, although the Jones Act grants a jury trial to seamen suing their employers.

Maritime law is governed by a uniform three year statute of limitations for personal injury and wrongful death cases. Cargo cases must be brought within one year. Most major cruise ship passenger tickets have a one year statute of limitations.


Inside Jurisdiction Over the United States Government