510 U.S. 443 (1994), 91-1950, American Dredging Co. v. Miller

Docket Nº:Case No. 91-1950
Citation:510 U.S. 443, 114 S.Ct. 981, 127 L.Ed.2d 285, 62 U.S.L.W. 4130
Party Name:AMERICAN DREDGING CO. v. MILLER
Case Date:February 23, 1994
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 443

510 U.S. 443 (1994)

114 S.Ct. 981, 127 L.Ed.2d 285, 62 U.S.L.W. 4130

AMERICAN DREDGING CO.

v.

MILLER

Case No. 91-1950

United States Supreme Court

February 23, 1994

Argued November 9, 1993

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF LOUISIANA

Syllabus

After respondent was injured while working as a seaman on a tug operating on the Delaware River and owned by petitioner, a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal place of business in New Jersey, he filed this action in a Louisiana state court pursuant to the "saving to suitors clause," 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1), seeking damages under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. App. § 688, and relief under general maritime law. The trial court granted petitioner's motion to dismiss under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, holding that it was bound to apply that doctrine by federal maritime law. The Court of Appeal affirmed, but the Supreme Court of Louisiana reversed, holding that a state statute rendering the doctrine of forum non conveniens unavailable in Jones Act and maritime law cases brought in state court is not pre-empted by federal maritime law.

Held:

In admiralty cases filed in a state court under the Jones Act and the "saving to suitors clause," federal law does not pre-empt state law regarding the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Pp. 446-457.

(a) In exercising in personam jurisdiction over maritime actions under the "saving to suitors clause," a state court may adopt such remedies, and attach to them such incidents, as it sees fit, so long as those remedies do not "wor[k] material prejudice to the characteristic features of the general maritime law or interfer[e] with the proper harmony and uniformity of that law in its international and interstate relations." Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, 216. Pp. 446-447.

(b) Because forum non conveniens did not originate in admiralty or have exclusive application there, but has long been a doctrine of general application, Louisiana's refusal to apply it does not work "material prejudice to [a] characteristic featur[e] of the general maritime law" within Jensen 's meaning. Pp. 447-450.

(c) Nor is forum non conveniens a doctrine whose uniform application is necessary to maintain "the proper harmony" of maritime law under Jensen, 244 U.S., at 216. The uniformity requirement is not absolute; the general maritime law may be changed to some extent by state legislation. See ibid. Forum non conveniens is in two respects quite dissimilar from any other matter that this Court's opinions have held to be pre-empted by federal admiralty law: First, it is a sort of venue rule—procedural in nature—rather than a substantive rule upon

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which maritime actors rely in making decisions about how to manage their business. Second, it is most unlikely ever to produce uniform results, since the doctrine vests great discretion in the trial court, see, e. g., Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 257, and acknowledges multifarious factors as being relevant to its application, see Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508-509. Pp. 450-455.

(d) The foregoing conclusion is strongly confirmed by examination of federal legislation. The Jones Act permits state courts to apply their local forum non conveniens rules. See 46 U.S.C. App. § 688(a); Missouri ex rel. Southern R. Co. v. Mayfield, 340 U.S. 1, 5. This supports the view that maritime commerce in general does not require a uniform rule on the subject. The implication of the Court's holding in Bain bridge v. Merchants & Miners Transp. Co., 287 U.S. 278, 280-281—that although § 688(a) contains a venue provision, Jones Act venue in state court should be determined in accordance with state law—is that federal venue rules in maritime actions are a matter of judicial housekeeping, prescribed only for the federal courts. Pp. 455-457.

595 So.2d 615, affirmed.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Blackmun, O'Connor, Souter, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined, and in Part II-C of which Stevens, J., joined. Souter, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 457. Stevens, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 458. Kennedy, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Thomas, J., joined, post, p. 462.

Thomas J. Wagner argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Whitney L. Cole.

Timothy J. Falcon argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Stephen M. Wiles, John Hunter, and James A. George.

John F. Manning argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Days, Assistant Attorney General Hunger, and Acting Deputy Solicitor General Kneedler. [*]

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Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether, in admiralty cases filed in a state court under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. App. § 688, and the "saving to suitors clause," 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1), federal law pre-empts state law regarding the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

I

Respondent William Robert Miller, a resident of Mississippi, moved to Pennsylvania to seek employment in 1987. He was hired by petitioner American Dredging Company, a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal place of business in New Jersey, to work as a seaman aboard the MV John R., a tug operating on the Delaware River. In the course of that employment respondent was injured. After receiving medical treatment in Pennsylvania and New York, he returned to Mississippi where he continued to be treated by local physicians.

On December 1, 1989, respondent filed this action in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans, Louisiana. He sought relief under the Jones Act, which authorizes a seaman who suffers personal injury "in the course of his employment" to bring "an action for damages at law," 46 U.S.C. App. § 688(a), and over which state and federal courts have concurrent jurisdiction. See Engel v. Davenport, 271 U.S. 33, 37 (1926). Respondent also requested relief under general maritime law for unseaworthiness, for wages, and for maintenance and cure. See McAllister v. Magnolia Petroleum Co., 357 U.S. 221, 224 (1958) (setting forth means of recovery available to injured seaman).

The trial court granted petitioner's motion to dismiss the action under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, holding that it was bound to apply that doctrine by federal maritime law. The Louisiana Court of Appeal for the Fourth District affirmed. 580 So.2d 1091 (1991). The Supreme Court of Louisiana reversed, holding that Article 123(C) of the Louisiana

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Code of Civil Procedure, which renders the doctrine of forum non conveniens unavailable in Jones Act and maritime law cases brought in Louisiana state courts, is not preempted by federal maritime law. 595 So.2d 615 (1992). American Dredging Company filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, which we granted. 507 U.S. 1028 (1993).

II

The Constitution provides that the federal judicial power "shall extend . . . to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction." U.S. Const., Art. III, § 2, cl. 1. Federalcourt jurisdiction over such cases, however, has never been entirely exclusive. The Judiciary Act of 1789 provided:

"That the district courts shall have, exclusively of the courts of the several States . . . exclusive original cognizance of all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction . . . within their respective districts as well as upon the high seas; saving to suitors, in all cases, the right of a common law remedy, where the common law is competent to give it. " § 9, 1 Stat. 76-77 (emphasis added).

The emphasized language is known as the "saving to suitors clause." This provision has its modern expression at 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1), which reads (with emphasis added):

"The district courts shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts 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. "

We have held it to be the consequence of exclusive federal jurisdiction that state courts "may not provide a remedy in rem for any cause of action within the admiralty jurisdiction." Red Cross Line v. Atlantic Fruit Co., 264 U.S. 109, 124 (1924). An in rem suit against a vessel is, we have said,

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distinctively an admiralty proceeding, and is hence within the exclusive province of the federal courts. The Moses Taylor, 4 Wall. 411, 431 (1867). In exercising in personam jurisdiction, however, a state court may " 'adopt such remedies, and . . . attach to them such incidents, as it sees fit' so long as it does not attempt to make changes in the 'substantive maritime law.' " Madruga v. Superior Court of Cal., County of San Diego, 346 U.S. 556, 561 (1954) (quoting Red Cross Line, supra, at 124). That proviso is violated when the state remedy "works material prejudice to the characteristic features of the general maritime law or interferes with the proper harmony and uniformity of that law in its international and interstate relations." Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, 216 (1917). The issue before us here is whether the doctrine of forum non conveniens is either a "characteristic feature" of admiralty or a doctrine whose uniform application is necessary to maintain the "proper harmony" of maritime law. We think it is neither.[1]

A

Under the federal doctrine of forum non conveniens, "when an alternative forum has jurisdiction to hear [a] case, and when trial in the chosen forum would 'establish . . . oppressiveness

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