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Acquiring Jurisdiction In Personam

Jurisdiction In Personam refers to a court’s power over a particular defendant.  It is the personal jurisdiction of the court over the property.  If a court does not have personal jurisdiction over a defendant or property, then the court cannot bind the defendant to an obligation or adjudicate any rights over the property.

In an admiralty proceeding in personam, the court’s jurisdiction in the particular case may be acquired by service of process within the territorial ambit of the court’s jurisdiction.

If the basis of jurisdiction is a cause of action otherwise justiciable in admiralty, then, the party claiming to be aggrieved may begin his or her proceeding by libel and seizure of the vessel or other property of the other party according to the usual course of admiralty proceedings.  The court shall then have jurisdiction to direct the parties to proceed with the arbitration and shall retain jurisdiction to enter its decree upon the award.

The admiralty court has no general jurisdiction over the respondent in a libel in personam.  However, it acquires jurisdiction only by service of process on the respondent within the territorial scope of the court’s jurisdiction.  This alone, without new service of process, is not sufficient to subject the respondent to the jurisdiction of the court with regard to new claims of new claimants who become interveners after the original service of process.

Jurisdiction may also be acquired by the voluntary appearance of the party on whom process would otherwise have to be served, or by attachment, within the territorial ambit of the court’s jurisdiction, of property of the party.  A foreign corporation may be sued for an admiralty tort in any district court of the United States where it has property that might be subjected to a writ of foreign attachment. As between districts having concurrent jurisdiction of a libel in personam, it is not an abuse of process for the libelant to select the one in which security may be by way of a foreign attachment, and whether the districts are distant from each other or adjoining is immaterial.

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern the method of service of process in admiralty actions, as well as service of process on the United States in all civil actions to which it is party.

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