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Effect of Federal Statutes in Admiralty Actions

Under U.S. Const. art. III , § 2, the judicial power of the federal government shall extend to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.  In the absence of some controlling statute, the general maritime law as accepted by the federal courts constitutes part of the national law applicable to the matters within admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.  Moreover, Congress has paramount power to fix and determine the maritime law which shall prevail throughout the country.[i]

It is well settled that for a state law to apply as surrogate federal law under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), 43 U.S.C.S. § 1331 et seq., three conditions must be met such as:

  • the controversy must arise on a situs covered by the OCSLA (i.e., the subsoil, seabed, or artificial structures permanently or temporarily attached thereto);
  • federal maritime law must not apply of its own force; and
  • the state law must not be inconsistent with federal law.[ii]

State laws may be applied when the general maritime law is not affected and when the matter is so local as to work no material prejudice to its characteristic features or interfere with its proper harmony and uniformity in relation to trade, commerce and navigation.[iii]

[i] Lynott v. Great Lakes Transit Corp., 202 A.D. 613 (N.Y. App. Div. 1922)

[ii] Grand Isle Shipyard, Inc. v. Seacor Marine, LLC, 543 F.3d 256 (5th Cir. La. 2008)

[iii] Johnson v. G. T. Elliott, Inc., 152 Va. 121 (Va. 1929)

Inside Effect of Federal Statutes in Admiralty Actions