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Jurisdiction Under “Saving to Suitors” Clause

The Judiciary Act of 1789 declared that the federal District Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over causes of admiralty and maritime matters.  However, the Act also includes the saving to suitor’s clause of 28 U.S.C.S. § 1333.  The clause allows a party to pursue a remedy for a maritime claim in a state court when entitled to such remedy.  Hence, a party may pursue an in personam maritime claim in an ordinary civil action seeking a common-law remedy with the right to a jury trial.  Maritime tort claims may accordingly be brought in state court pursuant to the clause.

The jurisdiction of the state court does not exclude the admiralty jurisdiction of the federal courts.   Admiralty jurisdiction is exclusive only as to those maritime causes of action that are begun and carried on as proceedings in rem — that is, where a vessel or thing is itself treated as the offender and made the defendant by name or description in order to enforce a right.  Therefore, if a suit is in personam, a claimant may bring the action either in admiralty or, because of the savings clause, in a state court by ordinary civil action.  Where the suit is in rem, however, only the admiralty court has jurisdiction.  Therefore, in maritime causes of action, the District Courts and state courts have concurrent jurisdiction.

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