Litigation and Regulatory Compliance



Interpretation and Enforceability of Indemnity Provisions in Maritime Contracts: We Really Do Have to Ask, Is It Salty Enough?

June 21, 2012 Published Work
U.S.F. Maritime Law Journal, Vol. 24, No. 2

"It would be idle to pretend that the line separating permissible from impermissible state regulation is readily discernible in our admiralty jurisprudence, or is indeed even entirely consistent within our admiralty jurisprudence."[1]

It is well recognized that the whole of admiralty law[2] in the United States is derived from a one-phrase grant of power in Article III of the United States Constitution delegating the entire subject matter to the jurisdiction of the federal judiciary.[3] "The judicial power shall extend . . . to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction."[4] In the First Judiciary Act, Congress supplemented this jurisdictional grant by extending jurisdiction over civil actions in admiralty to the federal district courts.[5] The successor to the First Judiciary Act is 28U.S.C. § 1333(1). In addition to conferring original subject matter jurisdiction on the federal courts for admiralty and maritime claims, § 1333(1) also has a savings clause that "sav[es] to suitors in all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled."[6] The Supreme Court has interpreted this clause to mean that suitors have the right to a common law remedy "in all cases where the common law is competent to give it."[7]

1Am. Dredging Co. v. Miller, 510 U.S. 443, 452, 1994 AMC 913 (1994).

2Many sources of information on admiralty law use the terms "admiralty law," "admiralty jurisdiction," and "maritime law" interchangeably. Admiralty derives from the system administered in a single English court while maritime law makes a broader, more descriptive reference. The United States Supreme Court differentiated the terms by stating that admiralty jurisdiction defines also "the place or territory where the law maritime prevails." New England Mut. Marine Ins. Co. v. Dunham, 78 U.S. (11 Wall.) 1, 25, 1997 AMC 2394 (1870); see also Gibbs ex rel. Gibbs v. Carnival Cruise Lines, 314 F.3d 125, 2003 AMC 179 (3d Cir. 2002). Thus, admiralty law and maritime law are applicable when a claim falls within admiralty jurisdiction. Additionally, substantive federal maritime law, with a few exceptions for areas of maritime law that are underdeveloped, is coextensive with admiralty jurisdiction. 1 THOMAS J. SCHOENBAUM, ADMIRALTY AND MARITIME LAW § 5-1, at 248 (5th ed. 2011).

31 Thomas J. Schoenbaum, Admiralty and Maritime Law § 1-1, at 1 (4th ed. 2004).

4U.S. CONST. art. III, § 2, cl. 1.

5Judiciary Act of 1789, ch. 20, § 9, 1789 Stat. 73, 76–77 (current version at 28 U.S.C. §1331 (2006)). The modern statute, based on the same constitutional grant of admiralty jurisdiction, confers original subject matter jurisdiction on the federal district courts without regard to diversity of citizenship and the amount in controversy. Notably, the Supreme Court has held that admiralty cases are not federal question cases. Romero v. Int'l Terminal Operating Co., 358 U.S. 354, 1959 AMC 832 (1959).

628 U.S.C. § 1333(1) (2006).

7Leon v. Galceran, 78 U.S. (11 Wall.) 185, 191 (1870).