In an in rem admiralty suit, res is the party to the proceeding and not its owner. However, the proceedings in rem against the res affect the persons interested in the res and therefore they have the right to defend against the claim and can be considered as a party to the proceeding. In some situations, the defendants or the vessel or cargo or other property subject to proceeding can be joined together.
According to Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a), the vessel, cargo or property in issue of the admiralty proceeding can be joined together with other defendants if:
- “any right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and
- any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.”[i]
Generally in admiralty suits, there is no constitutional right to jury trial. But there is no law or rule which forbids jury trial in such cases. However, in Johnson v. Venezuelan Line S.S. Co., 314 F. Supp. 1403, 1406 (E.D. La. 1970), it was held that, if a plaintiff wishes to join in rem and personam defendants in an admiralty suit, then s/he has to waive his/her right to jury trial. Therefore, joinder of in rem and in personam defendants on same claim is not possible if plaintiff opts for a jury trial. And if the plaintiff asserts same rights both in personam and in rem then s/he has to choose against which defendant s/he has to proceed and will have the right to jury trial only if plaintiff chooses to proceed in personam.
Further, a third party is also not entitled to make joinder of in rem and in personam defendants. This is because a third party is not allowed to intervene in personam against the owner of a vessel, but permitted only to make in rem claims against the attached vessel.
[i] USCS Fed Rules Civ Proc R 20