The rules pertaining to admiralty and civil actions are unified into one and the former rules pertaining to the availability of a proceeding in personam in admiralty were rescinded. As such, in personam proceedings are now available whenever available in civil proceedings in federal district court.
A libel in personam will not lie where there is no liability in personam since section 2 of the Suits in Admiralty Act, 46 U.S.C.A. § 742, does not authorize a suit in personam as a substitute for a suit in rem, “if, when the libel is filed, the vessel is not in a port of the United States or one of its possessions.”[i] Also, law stipulate that both representatives of the government, the United States attorney and the attorney general, should be notified when an amendment converts a libel in personam into a libel in rem. [ii]
In certain cases the libelant may proceed either in rem or in personam. Thus, where a vessel is privately owned or operated and employed as a merchant vessel, a libel in personam may be brought against the United States “in the District Court of the United States for the district in which the parties so suing, or any of them, reside or have their principal place of business in the United States, or in which the vessel or cargo charged with liability is found.” [iii] In some cases, a suit may be bought both in rem as well as in personam.[iv]
In an in personam proceeding, the court acquires jurisdiction by service of process within the territorial ambit of the court’s jurisdiction. Jurisdiction may also be acquired by the voluntary appearance of the party on whom process would otherwise have to be served, or by attachment of property by the court within its territorial ambit. Moreover, if two districts have concurrent jurisdiction of a libel in personam, the libellant is free to select one district in which security may be by way of a foreign attachment and it will not amount to an abuse of process.
[i] Schnell v. United States, 166 F.2d 479, 481 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1948) see also Blamberg Bros. v. United States, 260 U.S. 452 (U.S. 1923)
[ii] Id. At 482
[iii] The Isonomia, 285 F. 516, 519-520 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1922)
[iv] Guerrido v. Alcoa S.S. Co., 234 F.2d 349, 351 (1st Cir. P.R. 1956)