In the United States, state and federal courts operate on a dual track, with the difference that state courts are courts of “general jurisdiction” (hearing all cases not specifically reserved to federal courts), while federal courts are courts of “limited subject matter jurisdiction” (hearing cases involving “diversity of citizenship,” raising a “federal question,” or “sounding in admiralty”).
Admiralty and Maritime Subject Matter Jurisdiction
As it relates to admiralty and maritime subject matter jurisdiction, the U.S. Constitution states in Article III, Section 2 that “[t]he judicial Power shall extend. . . to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction…” The first statute defining the boundaries of admiralty jurisdiction was enacted in 1789 (known as the First Judiciary Act. (Chapter 20, section 9, 1 Stat. 73)). The current statutory grant of admiralty jurisdiction, however, can be found at 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1), which gives federal district courts original jurisdiction over “any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction, saving to suitors in all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled.” Some kinds of maritime cases—typically those involving in rem remedies against a vessel or cargo—are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal courts. Under the “savings to suitors” clause, on the other hand, state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over admiralty claims when a state court is competent to grant relief, which is in most instances where in personam jurisdiction may be had in a state court.Continue reading “The Gateway to Federal Court: Admiralty Jurisdiction and Limitation of Liability”