Admiralty and Maritime Claims May Be Filed in State Court

Over the years I have experienced many judges and attorneys who are of the belief that an Admiralty or Maritime claim must be filed in Federal Court due to the Federal Court’s Admiralty Jurisdiction granted under the United States Constitution.

The Savings to Suitors Clause 28 U.S.C. §133 (1), provides that District Courts shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the states, of: (1) any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction, Saving to Suitors in all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled.

It is this provision, referred to as the Savings to Suitors Clause, which permits a Plaintiff to file an Admiralty or Maritime claim in a State Court. In other words, the State and Federal courts have concurrent jurisdiction. The Savings to Suitors Clause is critical to a claimant because it often times is the only way to achieve a jury trial for an Admiralty or Maritime claim. If the Admiralty or Maritime claim is filed within the Admiralty jurisdiction of a Federal District Court, there is no right to a jury trial.

Regardless of whether the claim is filed in a State Court or a Federal Court, Federal Admiralty/Maritime law governs the action.

Often times a Maritime action filed in a State Court under the Savings to Suitors Clause is removed by a Defendant to the Federal District Court. However, the Defendant may not remove the case by simply arguing that Federal Maritime law applies, and saying therefore the action should be brought in the Federal District Court. This would defeat the intent and purpose of the Savings to Suitors Clause. However, an action may be removed to the Federal District Court on an alternative basis for Federal Court jurisdiction, such as diversity jurisdiction.

It varies from state to state as to whether a Plaintiff will be better off filing a Maritime or Admiralty claim in a State Court or a Federal Court. An experienced Maritime attorney with knowledge of his State and Federal District Courts often times must make a judgment call regarding this matter. Of course, the right to a jury trial will most likely be the critical deciding factor.

Our Miami based Maritime law firm continues to handle cases in both the State and Federal courts within the State of Florida, and many times we have been retained to act as counsel or co-counsel on maritime cases outside of the State of Florida.