Substantive Law in State Court

In admiralty jurisdiction, an action in rem is exclusively brought before federal courts.[i] However, the saving to suitors clause allows a claimant to seek common law remedies against a ship owner in state court.[ii] State courts have concurrent jurisdiction as to admiralty matters in personam.

Federal and state courts should apply the same law to resolve an admiralty case. The law is usually general admiralty law.[iii]

The saving to suitors clause provides common law remedy to claimants with a right to jury trial in maritime issues.  Therefore, the saving to suitors clause extends only to remedy provided by common law.  The clause does not extend to substantive law.  Laws and rules made by state legislatures do not apply in admiralty cases if they are in conflict with general admiralty law.  No substantive changes can be made in the general admiralty law by applying state rules.  State laws that hinder proper harmony and uniformity of admiralty law in its international and interstate relations are invalid.[iv]

State laws can be applied in maritime cases where general admiralty law is silent on the issue in dispute.  However, the applied state law should be consistent with the general admiralty law.[v]

State laws can apply in maritime cases only in actions in personam.[vi] Other than in actions in rem, state courts have concurrent jurisdiction in maritime cases.  The saving to suitors clause authorizes state courts to apply state laws in maritime cases as it seems appropriate.  However, state laws should not create substantial changes in general admiralty law. State courts can exercise in personam jurisdiction over parties to provide remedies in admiralty disputes that are cognizable under both admiralty and state law.[vii]

State courts can apply state procedural rules in maritime cases.  If a party files a suit in a state court in an action in personam in a maritime dispute, the party is bound by the procedural rules of the state.  Limitation Acts of states also apply in maritime cases.  States can also permit jury trial as per law of the state in maritime cases.  Providing jury trial in admiralty actions in personam does not modify or displace essential features of federal admiralty law.[viii]

[i] Canino v. Londres, 862 F. Supp. 685 (D.N.H. 1994)

[ii] Stainless Steel & Metal Mfg. Corp. v. Sacal V. I., Inc., 452 F. Supp. 1073 (D.P.R. 1978)

[iii] Neal v. McGinnis, Inc., 716 F. Supp. 996 (E.D. Ky. 1989)

[iv] Continental Cas. Co. v. Anderson Excavating & Wrecking Co., 189 F.3d 512 (7th Cir. Ill. 1999)

[v] Kalmbach, Inc. v. Insurance Co. of Pennsylvania, Inc., 422 F. Supp. 44 (D. Alaska 1976)

[vi] Pasternack v. Lubetich, 11 Wn. App. 265 (Wash. Ct. App. 1974)

[vii] Universal Oil Ltd. v. Allfirst Bank (In re Millenium Seacarriers, Inc.), 419 F.3d 83 (2d Cir. N.Y. 2005)

[viii] Parker v. Rowan Cos., 599 So. 2d 296 (La. 1992)


Inside Substantive Law in State Court