Government Consent to be Sued and Exemption from Seizure

Waiver of exemption of the Federal government from admiralty jurisdiction is granted by the Suits in Admiralty Act (SIAA) under certain conditions.  According to SIAA, the exemption applies to actions in personam against the US.  However, it does not extend to actions in rem against the vessels of the US or its agencies.  SIAA has granted courts the authority to pronounce judgments on principles of proceedings in rem, but the vessel shall be exempted from arrest or seizure.  The Suits in Admiralty Act and the Public Vessels Act are strictly construed in favor of the US, and the US can be sued for admiralty causes only by strictly satisfying the conditions prescribed by SIAA.

In deciding Brady v. Roosevelt S.S. Co., 317 U.S. 575 (U.S. 1943), the court held that “while the Federal Suits in Admiralty Act abolishes the right to arrest or seize a vessel owned by the US or a governmental corporation or operated by or for the US or such corporation, the Suits in Admiralty Act provides that a libel in personam may be brought against the US or against such corporations in cases where if such vessel were privately owned or operated a proceeding in admiralty could be maintained.”

Similarly, in Johnson v. U. S. Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corp., 280 U.S. 320 (U.S. 1930), where the victims allegedly suffered personal injuries or property damage as the result of the negligent operation of vessels owned by the government, the court contended that section 1 of the SIAA prevented the arrest or seizure by judicial process of any vessel owned by, in the possession of or operated by or for the U.S. or any corporation in which the U.S. or its representatives own the entire outstanding capital stock.  Section 2 declares that, if such vessel were privately owned or operated a proceeding in admiralty at the time of the commencement of the action, a libel in personam may be brought against the U.S. or against such corporation, provided that such vessel is employed as a merchant vessel.


Inside Government Consent to be Sued and Exemption from Seizure