Travels with Neptune and Poseidon
(Revised 11-28-2010)

    One of my elective courses in law school was admiralty, and my professor was Admiral Hughes, an old Navy man with a great sense of humor and many interesting and entertaining tales of life on the seas. When one takes an admiralty course (no doubt typically taught by Navy or JAG men), he quickly learns its jurisdiction, which is basically limited to the high seas and navigable waters of the United States. Posted here is another professor's notes for his course (this is a Word document). As one Net source defines "the admiralty jurisdiction of the United States, [it] extends to all waters, with or without tides, salt or fresh, natural or artificial, which are navigable in interstate or foreign water commerce, without regard as to whether the particular body of water is entirely within a state, and whether or not the transaction in question is confined to a single state. It follows that small bodies of water wholly within a state and not navigable in interstate and foreign commerce do not provide admiralty jurisdiction. The Great Lakes and the Mississippi, on the other hand, are clearly within admiralty jurisdiction as is the Erie Canal, which is wholly within a state but navigable in interstate commerce." But events and things having absolutely no relationship with such waters do not fall within admiralty jurisdiction. See Herman Family Revocable Trust v. The Vessel Teddy Bear, 254 F.3d 802, 804 (9th Cir. 2001).

    Here are some interesting cases related to the jurisdiction of admiralty: 

    In re Smith & Son v. Taylor, 276 U.S. 179 (1928): There is no admiralty jurisdiction when the deceased was struck and killed by a sling on a pier.

   
Executive Jet Aviation, Inc. v. City of Cleveland, 409 U.S. 249 (1972): Neither the fact that an aircraft goes down on navigable waters nor that the negligence "occurs" while the aircraft is flying over such waters is sufficient to confer federal admiralty jurisdiction over aviation tort claims.

   
Askew v. Amercian Waterways Operators, Inc.,411 U.S. 325 (1973): Rejecting claim that Florida pollution statute intruded into admiralty jurisdiction.

    LeBlanc v. Cleveland, 198 F.3d 353 (2d Cir. 1999): Navigability for admiralty jurisdiction purposes requires that the body of water support commercial activity, thus there is no admiralty jurisdiction in a case arising from an injury that occurred on a body of water that was only used for non-commercial purposes.

 
Weaver v. Hollywood Casino-Aurora, 255 F.3d 379 (7th Cir. 2001): Party seeking to invoke federal admiralty jurisdiction over a personal injury claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C.1333(1) and the Jones Act must satisfy conditions of location on navigable waters and connection with maritime activity; since the record indicated that the portion of the river where the casino boat was located may not have been navigable in fact, the case was remanded so that the district court could determine whether subject matter jurisdiction existed.

    There are several good places on the Net that discuss admiralty and its jurisdiction:

Cornell University's admiralty overview

Cornell discussions Part 1 and Part 2

Wikipedia

An admiralty lawyer

American Admiralty Jurisdiction discussion
This site has links to a multitude of cases

Admiralty Law Guide

List of some Supreme Court cases

List of some Circuit Court cases

Explanation of admiralty jurisdiction

Here is a great 252 page PDF explaining admiralty jurisdiction.

    Notwithstanding the clear parameters of admiralty jurisdiction, there are some misinformed souls who have developed weird ideas that “the whole damn country is run on admiralty,” and "everything is admiralty." Even a popular work, Mercier's Invisible Contracts, is dead wrong about this matter. Torts and crimes committed on the high seas are within admiralty jurisdiction; contracts related to maritime commerce, including insurance, are also within admiralty jurisdiction. But, this does not mean that all torts, crimes, contracts and other matters are all admiralty, including matters terrene ("on land"). See United States v. Rizzo, 297 U.S. 530, 56 S.Ct. 580 (1936)(claim for taxes is non-maritime).

    Lots of "admiralty" gurus have convinced well-meaning people to litigate this issue in various settings. For example, Dave Bosset instituted a suit raising a contention that the IRS was using admiralty procedures when it filed liens against him. The judge dismissed his complaint, stating:

Contrary to Plaintiff’s characterization of the case, nothing in the complaint suggests that this case is within the Court’s admiralty jurisdiction. Admiralty jurisdiction exists only if the complained of incident occurred on navigable waters or is substantially related to traditional maritime activity. See Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527, 533 (1995); Sisson v. Ruby, 497 U.S. 358, 364 (1990). It is plain from the face of Plaintiff's original and amended Complaints that neither admiralty nor maritime law is implicated here. There are no allegations in either complaint of any maritime activities, no allegations of any incident having occurred on navigable waters of the United States, and no suggestion that any maritime vessel (i.e., boat, ship, barge, etc.) is implicated. As far as the Court can discern, Plaintiff’s claims relate to the assessment and collection of taxes. This matter is, therefore, governed by the General Provisions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure rather than the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions. Plaintiff’s motion to strike is frivolous and should be denied.

See also United States v. Flaherty, D. Hawaii 2010 ("Flaherty's arguments are without merit. Flaherty argues that this case sounds in admiralty. However, no incidents occurred on navigable waters, and the case does not involve admiralty or maritime law. * * * Accordingly, the court rules federal tax law, not admiralty law, controls. "); and Russell v. Caruso.

     The latest "admiralty" guru conducting seminars around the country is Tim Turner.  A maritime liens can arise when a company provides food, fuel, supplies, repairs, etc, to some ship. If payment for these services is not made, a maritime lien can arise. Such a lien cannot arise under any other circumstances. However, Turner runs around telling people that he filed "maritime liens" in a bankruptcy case in Alabama and prevailed. He certainly did this, but he did not "win" but was sanctioned heavily instead.  Some have followed his advice, to their detriment. For example, Ed Parenteau and Jeffrey Burfeindt in New York filed baseless maritime liens advocated by Turner and got indicted. Richard Ulloa did the same and he also got indicted. Turner is promoting a "jump into jail" scheme.

    If somebody starts hollering at you about "admiralty", walk away. It is nuts and unfounded.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Are Citizens "Vessels of the United States"?

    The general federal definition of a "vessel" appears in 1 U.S.C. §3:

Section 3. "Vessel" as including all means of water transportation.
 The word "vessel" includes every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.

    I have heard bits and pieces of the argument that “citizens are vessels of the United States”, but only recently was provided something explaining its parameters. Now that I understand it, I wish to explain why it is wrong.  (Note: The below links go to FindLaw and access is free, although if you have not signed up, you will have to do so; there is no cost).
 
    The argument is based on 18 U.S.C. § 9, which provides:

The term “vessel of the United States”, as used in this title, means a vessel belonging in whole or in part to the United States, or any citizen thereof, or any corporation created by or under the laws of the United States, or of any State, Territory, District, or possession thereof.

To learn the meaning of this sentence, it must be diagrammed. The preposition, “to", and adjective "the”, are two words in a complex prepositional phrase. There are 4 objects of this prepositional phrase, which are:

1. The first object is “ the United States”;
2. The second is “any citizen thereof”;
3. The third is “any corporation created by or under the laws of the United States”; and
4. The fourth is “any corporation created by or under the laws of * * * any State, Territory, District, or possession thereof.”

These 4 objects modify “vessel”. Thus properly diagrammed, a vessel of the United States is defined as:

1. A vessel “belonging in whole or in part to the United States”;
2. A vessel “belonging in whole or in part to * * * any citizen thereof”;
3. A vessel “belonging in whole or in part to * * * any corporation created by or under the laws of the United States”; and
4. A vessel “belonging in whole or in part to * * * any corporation created by or under the laws of * * * any State, Territory, District, or possession thereof.”

    A citizen is not a vessel of the United States. A vessel of the United States is defined as one “belonging in whole or in part to * * * any citizen thereof”.

    Another law that is drafted almost similarly and has almost the same meaning is 16 U.S.C. § 2432:

(10) Vessel of the United States
The term "vessel of the United States" means —
(A) a vessel documented under chapter 121 of title 46 or a  vessel numbered as provided in chapter 123 of that title;
(B) a vessel owned in whole or in part by —
(i) the United States or a territory, commonwealth, or  possession of the United States;
(ii) a State or political subdivision thereof;
(iii) a citizen or national of the United States; or
(iv) a corporation created under the laws of the United States or any State, the District of Columbia, or any territory, commonwealth, or possession of the United States;

     Please also notice that the "term 'vessel of the United States'", applies as it is "used in this title", and thus this definition applies when this phrase appears in that title (and only that title), unless otherwise indicated.  How is this phrase used in 18 U.S.C.? This phrase appears in at least 10 other sections of 18 U.S.C., which are:    
(some are quoted below for your convenience)

    18 U.S.C. § 7. Special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States defined.

    18 U.S.C. § 229F. Definitions.

    18 U.S.C. § 546. Smuggling goods into foreign countries.

Any person owning in whole or in part any vessel of the United States who employs, or participates in, or allows the employment of, such vessel for the purpose of smuggling, or attempting to smuggle, or assisting in smuggling, any merchandise into the territory of any foreign government in violation of the laws there in force, if under the laws of such foreign government any penalty or forfeiture is provided for violation of the laws of the United States respecting the customs revenue, and any citizen of, or person domiciled in, or any corporation incorporated in, the United States, controlling or substantially participating in the control of any such vessel, directly or indirectly, whether through ownership of corporate shares or otherwise, and allowing the employment of said vessel for any such purpose, and any person found, or discovered to have been, on board of any such vessel so employed and participating or assisting in any such purpose, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

    18 U.S.C. § 2191. Cruelty to seamen.

Whoever, being the master or officer of a vessel of the United States, on the high seas, or on any other waters within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States, flogs, beats, wounds, or without justifiable cause, imprisons any of the crew of such vessel, or withholds from them suitable food and nourishment, or inflicts upon them any corporal or other cruel and unusual punishment, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

    18 U.S.C. § 2192. Incitation of seamen to revolt or mutiny.

Whoever, being of the crew of a vessel of the United States, on the high seas, or on any other waters within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States, endeavors to make a revolt or mutiny on board such vessel, or combines, conspires, or confederates with any other person on board to make such revolt or mutiny, or solicits, incites, or stirs up any other of the crew to disobey or resist the lawful orders of the master or other officer of such vessel, or to refuse or neglect his proper duty on board thereof, or to betray his proper trust, or assembles with others in a tumultuous and mutinous manner, or makes a riot on board thereof, or unlawfully confines the master or other commanding officer thereof, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

    18 U.S.C. § 2193. Revolt or mutiny of seamen.

Whoever, being of the crew of a vessel of the United States, on the high seas, or on any other waters within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States, unlawfully and with force, or by fraud, or intimidation, usurps the command of such vessel from the master or other lawful officer in command thereof, or deprives him of authority and command on board, or resists or prevents him in the free and lawful exercise thereof, or transfers such authority and command to another not lawfully entitled thereto, is guilty of a revolt and mutiny, and shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

    18 U.S.C. § 2194. Shanghaiing sailors.

Whoever, with intent that any person shall perform service or labor of any kind on board of any vessel engaged in trade and commerce among the several States or with foreign nations, or on board of any vessel of the United States engaged in navigating the high seas or any navigable water of the United States, procures or induces, or attempts to procure or induce, another, by force or threats or by representations which he knows or believes to be untrue, or while the person so procured or induced is intoxicated or under the influence of any drug, to go on board of any such vessel, or to sign or in anywise enter into any agreement to go on board of any such vessel to perform service or labor thereon; or
Whoever knowingly detains on board of any such vessel any person so procured or induced to go on board, or to enter into any agreement to go on board, by any means herein defined —
Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

    18 U.S.C. § 2195. Abandonment of sailors.

Whoever, being master or commander of a vessel of the United States, while abroad, maliciously and without justifiable cause forces any officer or mariner of such vessel on shore, in order to leave him behind in any foreign port or place, or refuses to bring home again all such officers and mariners of such vessel whom he carried out with him, as are in a condition to return and willing to return, when he is ready to proceed on his homeward voyage, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

    18 U.S.C. § 2273. Destruction of vessel by nonowner.

Whoever, not being an owner, upon the high seas or on any other waters within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States, willfully and corruptly casts away or otherwise destroys any vessel of the United States to which he belongs, or willfully attempts the destruction thereof, shall be imprisoned not more than ten years.

    18 U.S.C. § 2275. Firing or tampering with vessels.

Whoever sets fire to any vessel of foreign registry, or any vessel of American registry entitled to engage in commerce with foreign nations, or to any vessel of the United States, or to the cargo of the same, or tampers with the motive power of instrumentalities of navigation of such vessel, or places bombs or explosives in or upon such vessel, or does any other act to or upon such vessel while within the jurisdiction of the United States, or, if such vessel is of American registry, while she is on the high sea, with intent to injure or endanger the safety of the vessel or of her cargo, or of persons on board, whether the injury or danger is so intended to take place within the jurisdiction of the United States, or after the vessel shall have departed therefrom and whoever attempts to do so shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.

       Legislative origins of 18 U.S.C. § 9:

    Prior to 1873, Congress adopted a number of acts regarding piracies and other crimes on the high seas, and these various federal laws were codified in the Revised Statutes of 1873, § § 5339 through 5391; a definition of "vessel of the United States" did not then appear in that set of laws.  Some 36 years later, Congress enacted a long act that codified all the federal crimes in one act; see 35 Stat. 1088, ch. 321. Here, Congress, in the chapter dealing with piracy and other offenses on the seas, adopted a definition section that became, in 1948, 18 U.S.C. § 9. 


END.