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Jury Trials under Alternative Jurisdictional Ground

If there is separate and independent basis for federal jurisdiction supporting a claim for damages at law, the court must grant a jury trial.  However, in such case, the plaintiff should not have made an election to identify his or her claim as an admiralty claim.  An alternative jurisdictional ground may be diversity of citizenship.

In Romero v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 515 F.2d 1249 (5th Cir. Tex. 1975), the court held that admiralty claims are to be tried without a jury.   Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(h) provides that a pleading or count setting forth a claim for relief within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction that is also within the jurisdiction of the district court on some other ground may contain a statement identifying the claim as an admiralty or maritime claim.[i]  Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(h) serves as a device by which the pleader may claim the special benefits of admiralty procedures and remedies, including a nonjury trial, when the pleadings show that both admiralty and some other basis of federal jurisdiction exist. An action for personal injury cognizable in admiralty may also be brought, assuming the existence of some independent jurisdictional base like diversity of citizenship, as a civil suit pursuant to the “savings to suitors” clause of 28 U.S.C.S. § 1333.[ii]

When nonadmiralty claims and admiralty claims are interconnected, require trial by a single factfinder, and there exists an independent basis for federal jurisdiction, right to jury trial prevails over the tradition of nonjury trials in admiralty.  When there is a conflict between nonjury admiralty tradition and plaintiff’s right to a jury, the right to a jury must prevail.  Therefore, in an action where both diversity and admiralty jurisdiction exist, there is no right to a nonjury trial of an admiralty claim.

In cases in which there is a right to jury trial, in order to obtain such trial, a party must comply with the requirements generally applicable to civil cases under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

[i] Royal Ins. Co. v. Hansen, 125 F.R.D. 5 (D. Mass. 1988)

[ii] Romero v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 515 F.2d 1249 (5th Cir. Tex. 1975)

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