Chapman v. City of Grosse Pointe Farms

Citation385 F.2d 962
Decision Date20 November 1967
Docket NumberNo. 17381.,17381.
PartiesCharles A. CHAPMAN, Libelant-Appellant, v. CITY OF GROSSE POINTE FARMS, a Michigan Municipal Corporation, Respondent-Appellee.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)

Charles C. Cheatham, Detroit, Mich. (Markle & Markle, Detroit, Mich., on the brief), for appellant.

Robert E. Fox, Detroit, Mich., for appellee.

Before WEICK, Chief Judge, PECK, Circuit Judge, and CECIL, Senior Circuit Judge.

JOHN W. PECK, Circuit Judge.

Libelant-appellant brought suit in admiralty against the City of Grosse Pointe Farms, a municipal corporation of Michigan, for injuries sustained when appellant dove from the side of a pier on Lake St. Clair into approximately 18 inches of water. The pier from which appellant dove was part of recreational facilities owned and operated by the City, and there were diving boards located near the end of said pier. The negligence alleged was the City's failure to erect barriers along the pier to prevent diving therefrom and the failure to adequately warn of the shallow water along the side of the pier. The District Court sustained respondent's exceptions to the libel and dismissed the action on the ground that it could not be maintained under admiralty jurisdiction as alleged.

Section 1333 of Title 28, U.S.C., provides that district courts shall have original jurisdiction of "any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction." Under this section it is the generally stated rule that admiralty tort jurisdiction depends not upon the nature of the tort, but upon the locality where it occurred; torts occurring upon navigable waters are within admiralty jurisdiction, and those occurring on land are without. The initial question presented here is thus whether the alleged tort occurred on the pier (in legal concept an extension of land), where the breach of duty, if any, occurred, or whether the situs of the tort was upon navigable waters, where the injuries were sustained.

Where the asserted negligence and resulting injuries both occur upon navigable waters, the cause is clearly within admiralty jurisdiction. Kermarec v. Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, 358 U.S. 625, 79 S.Ct. 406, 3 L.Ed.2d 550 (1959). Also, it has been stated that where the injury occurs upon navigable waters, the cause is maritime and thus within admiralty jurisdiction. See The Admiral Peoples, 295 U.S. 649, 651, 55 S.Ct. 885, 79 L.Ed. 1633 (1935); The Plymouth, 70 U.S. (3 Wall.) 20, 18 L.Ed. 125 (1865); Gilmore & Black, Admiralty, 283, 284 (1957). Indeed, this latter principle was the basis for upholding the substantive provisions of the Longshoremen's and Harbor Worker's Act (33 U.S.C.A. §§ 901 et seq.)1 in Crowell v. Benson, 285 U.S. 22, 39, 52 S.Ct. 285, 287, 76 L.Ed. 598 (1932): "As the Longshoremen's act relates solely to injuries occurring upon the navigable waters of the United States, it deals with the maritime law, applicable to matters that fall within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction * * *." See also Interlake Steamship Co. v. Nielsen, 338 F.2d 879, 883 (6th Cir. 1964). Further, as noted in Wilson v. Transocean Airlines, 121 F.Supp. 85, 92 (N.D.Cal.1954), a wrongful death action arising from a plane crash into the ocean:

"In applying the `locality\' test for admiralty jurisdiction, the tort is deemed to occur, not where the wrongful act or omission has its inception, but where the impact of the act or omission produces such injury as to give rise to a cause of action. * * * This case is analogous to those cases in which persons or property are precipitated from the land into the sea as the result of a wrongful act or omission. In such cases if there is no impact upon the person or property before they strike the water, it is recognized that the tort occurs upon the water within the admiralty jurisdiction." (Footnotes omitted.)

See Fireman's Fund Ins. Co. v. City of Monterey, 6 F.2d 893 (N.D.Cal.1925); Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd. v. International Longshoremen's Ass'n., 33 F.R.D. 348 (S.D.N.Y.1963); Hess v. United States, 259 F.2d 285 (9th Cir. 1958), rev'd on other grounds, 361 U.S. 314, 80 S.Ct. 341, 4 L.Ed.2d 305 (1960); Weinstein v. Eastern Airlines, Inc., 316 F.2d 758, 765 (3rd Cir. 1963). And, as stated by this court in Smith v. Lampe, 64 F.2d 201, 202 (6th Cir. 1933), "where the negligent act originates on land and the damage occurs on water, the cause of action is within the admiralty jurisdiction."

However, a number of troublesome borderline cases have arisen: where claimant sustained injuries on the dock after falling from a defective gangway of a ship2; where claimant was on a vessel, when struck by a swinging hoist and precipitated upon the wharf3; where claimant was standing on a stage resting upon the wharf when struck by a sling and knocked into the water where he was later found dead4; where claimant was allegedly caused to fall from a negligently maintained dock into a slip where he was subsequently found drowned5; and where claimant fell through a hole in an extension of a pier, sustaining injuries only after striking the water6. Without attemping to distinguish and reconcile each of the above cases, it appears that the governing principle common to all is that reference should properly be made to the locality where "the substance and consummation of the occurrence which gave rise to the cause of action took place * * *." Minnie v. Port Huron Terminal Co., supra, note 3, 295 U.S. at 649, 55 S.Ct. at 885, or, as suggested in Thomson v. Chesapeake Yacht Club, Inc., supra, note 5 at 558, "to the place where the negligent act or omission becomes operative or effective upon the plaintiff * * *." In these cases, it is apparent that application of the mechanical place of the injury or impact test is impossible, for a claimant has usually suffered some injurious impact upon both land and water. Moreover, the jurisdictional standard suggested in these borderline cases is consistent with the result reached in most other cases, since the "substance and consummation" of a tort will generally take place where the injury is sustained.

In cases such as The Admiral Peoples and Wiper, cited above (footnotes 2 and 4), the negligent act or force responsible for the injury resulted in a direct impact upon plaintiff, while the alleged negligence in the instant case was the failure to restrain appellant by means of warning signs or physical barriers from performing a voluntary act. This distinction might as first seem inconsequential, but it must be noted that where a negligent act or force knocks a person down or causes him to fall, whether he comes down on land or water is largely fortuitous. That, however is not the case here. Appellant alleges in the libel that during the period of time immediately preceding the ill-fated dive, he was engaged in recreational activities in the water; the focal point of these activities was the water and not the dock. And, appellant suffered no damage or injury of any kind prior to striking the water, at which moment the tort was completed. In short, the "substance and consummation" of the alleged tort here did not occur upon the dock, and this case is therefore governed by the authorities which hold that a tort is deemed to occur at the place where injury is sustained, regardless of the place of origin of the negligent act.

The second question presented on appeal is whether locality of the tort alone is sufficient to confer admiralty jurisdiction upon the district court. In light of the fact that the purpose of the constitutional provision (U.S.Const. art. III, § 2) underlying section 1333 was to achieve uniformity in the area of maritime commerce (See Romero v. International Terminal Operating Co., 358 U.S. 354, 373, 79 S.Ct. 468, 3 L.Ed.2d 368 (1959); Chelentis v. Luckenbach S.S. Co., 247 U.S. 372, 381-382, 38 S.Ct. 501, 62 L.Ed. 1171 (1918); Southern Pac. Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, 215, 37 S.Ct. 524, 61 L.Ed. 1086 (1917); The Lottawanna, 88 U.S. 558, 575, 22 L.Ed. 654 (1874)), doubt might well exist as to whether locality alone should be the sole controlling factor in determining the existence of federal admiralty jurisdiction. See 1 Benedict, American Admiralty...

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    ...the case at bar. For example, in Onley v. South Carolina Electric & Gas Co., 488 F.2d 758 (4th Cir.1973) and Chapman v. City of Grosse Pointe Farms, 385 F.2d 962 (6th Cir.1967), among other cases, it was suggested that diving bears no significant relationship to maritime activity. Similarly......
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