In the Matter of the Complaint of Abraham Peute for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability, 18-73, United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, July 23, 2018

Maritime subject matter jurisdiction is found in a case arising out of an incident that occurred on a vessel moored at a marina.

This action involved two deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning occurring on a pleasure craft moored at a marina at the time of the incident. The issue before the court was whether subject matter jurisdiction existed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1333, which gives district courts jurisdiction over any civil admiralty or maritime case. The court reiterated the test for maritime jurisdiction—whether the incident occurred on a navigable waterway and, if so, whether the incident created a potential hazard to maritime commerce arising out of activity that bears a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity. See, Sisson v. Ruby, 497 U.S. 358, 362 (1990). Here, the incident indisputably occurred on a vessel in navigable waters, even though the vessel was moored at the time. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has already expressly held that the storage and maintenance of a vessel at a marina on navigable waters is substantially related to traditional maritime activity. Id. at 367. As to the issue of a potential hazard to maritime commerce, this court explained that “[t]he existence of maritime jurisdiction does not turn on the actual effects of the particular incident on maritime commerce,” but, rather, on the potential to disrupt commercial activity (Id. at 362-364). This court determined that the subject incident posed a potential hazard to maritime commerce as it “could have required the response of emergency personnel whose activities could have hindered the passage of other vessels and the access of vessels and passengers to the dock.” Accordingly, the action was found to fall within maritime jurisdiction. 



Case Law Alerts, 4th Quarter, October 2018

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