Poseidon Schiffahrt, GMBH v. M/S NETUNO

Decision Date01 March 1973
Docket NumberNo. 72-1636.,72-1636.
Citation474 F.2d 203
PartiesPOSEIDON SCHIFFAHRT, G.M.B.H., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. The M/S NETUNO, her engines, tackle, apparel, etc., Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

George H. Chamlee, Savannah, Ga., for plaintiff-appellant.

W. Spencer Connerat, Jr., Savannah, Ga., Raymond A. Ballard, Detroit, Mich., for defendant-appellee.

Before MORGAN, CLARK and INGRAHAM, Circuit Judges.

INGRAHAM, Circuit Judge:

On August 27, 1971, the Brazilian owned M/S Netuno collided with the M/V TransMichigan, a German owned vessel, in the waters of Lake Huron.1 The present action began in late September 1971, when Poseidon Schiffahrt, the corporate owner of the TransMichigan, filed an in rem libel action in the federal district court for the Southern District of Georgia. Although it is undisputed that the district court had jurisdiction of the res, the court declined to exercise its jurisdiction because another suit between the same parties, involving the same issues, was pending in the admiralty courts of Canada,2 and also upon principles of forum non conveniens. The court accordingly dismissed the libel. The issue on appeal is whether the district court used the proper legal standard in declining to exercise jurisdiction.3 We hold that it did not, and therefore vacate the district court's order dismissing the libel and remand for further proceedings.

The outcome of this appeal turns on the interpretation of the Supreme Court's decision in The Belgenland, 114 U.S. 355, 5 S.Ct. 860, 29 L.Ed. 152 (1885). The jurisdictional issue there concerned a federal court's exercise of in rem jurisdiction arising from a collision on the high seas between two foreign vessels of different nationalities. The Court stated the controlling principles:

"Although the courts will use a discretion about assuming jurisdiction of controversies between foreigners in cases arising beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the country to which the courts belong, yet where such controversies are communis juris, — that is, where they arise under the common law of nations, — special grounds should appear to induce the court to deny its aid to a foreign suitor when it has jurisdiction of the ship or party charged. The existence of jurisdiction in all such cases is beyond dispute; the only question will be whether it is expedient to exercise it.
* * * * * *
"The subject has frequently been before our own admiralty courts of original jurisdiction, and there has been but one opinion expressed, namely: that they have jurisdiction in such cases, and that they will exercise it unless special circumstances exist to show that justice would be better subserved by declining it."

Id. at 366-367, 5 S.Ct. at 865-866.

In Motor Distributors v. Olaf Pedersen's Rederi A/S, 239 F.2d 463 (5th Cir., 1956), cert. denied, 353 U.S. 938, 77 S.Ct. 816, 1 L.Ed.2d 760, this court was reviewing a district court's decision not to exercise jurisdiction in an in rem libel involving foreign vessels of different nationalities. Applying the general principles articulated in The Belgenland, the court concluded:

"The rule is, . . . that jurisdiction should be taken unless to do so would work an injustice."

239 F.2d at 465. In formulating this rule from the general principles set out in The Belgenland, the Motor Distributors court relied on the Second Circuit's decision in The Western Farmer, 210 F.2d 754, 755-756 (2nd Cir., 1954), which held:

"In the case of a collision on the high seas, an alien plaintiff has the privilege of suing an alien defendant wherever he can serve him, or attach his property; and that, if the defendant would avoid the suit, he must show that he will be unfairly prejudiced, unless it be removed to some other jurisdiction."

The standard for a federal court to use in determining whether to exercise its jurisdiction in an in rem libel involving foreign vessels of different nationalities is, therefore, that the court should exercise its jurisdiction unless the defendant can establish that to do so would work an injustice.

In our case the district court did not apply this standard. Instead, the court appears to have used a balancing test as the following statement illustrates:

"Taken in the round, the considerations favoring nonentertainment of jurisdiction outweigh those in support of retention. . . . No injustice will result from abstention."4

In reaching this conclusion the district court thoroughly analyzed the circumstances in this case and cannot be faulted for the conclusion reached on the basis of its analysis.5 The problem is that the court did not apply the proper standard while making its analysis.6

As the Motor Distributors court held, the question is not whether an injustice will result if the court does not exercise jurisdiction, but whether exercising jurisdiction will result in an injustice. See note 3, supra. The distinction is more than one of semantics. Under the proper standard, the court must begin with the assumption it will exercise jurisdiction unless it is established, by the defendant, that an injustice would follow. The Motor Distributors rule requires an affirmative conclusion that to exercise jurisdiction "would work an injustice." This conclusion was not reached by the district court as a basis for dismissing the libel. The decision must therefore be vacated and the cause remanded for the court to reassess its conclusion not to exercise jurisdiction using the proper legal standard.

Vacated and remanded.

1 It appears that a substantial issue on the merits will be whether the collision occurred in United States or Canadian waters.

2 We agree with the district court that the pending Canadian action, which was also commenced by Poseidon, is not "a true in rem...

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  • Liaw Su Teng v. Skaarup Shipping Corp.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
    • October 15, 1984
    ...L.Ed. at 156. See also Motor Distributors v. Olaf Pedersen's Rederi A/S, 239 F.2d 463, 465 (5th Cir.1956); Poseidon Schiffahrt, G.M.B.H. v. M/S Netuno, 474 F.2d 203 (5th Cir.1973).16 711 F.2d 1231 (5th Cir.1983).17 239 F.2d 463 (5th Cir.1956).18 See Carbon Black Export v. The SS Monrosa, 25......
  • Fisher v. Agios Nicolaos V
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
    • October 10, 1980
    ...exercise jurisdiction unless it is established, by the defendant, that an injustice would follow. Poseidon Schiffahrt, G. M. B. H. v. The M/S Netuno, 474 F.2d 203, 205 (5th Cir. 1973), vacating a forum non conveniens dismissal. See also Motor Distributors, Ltd. v. Olaf Pedersen's Rederi A/S......
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    • United States
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    ...Inc., 1969 A.M.C. 1676 (S.D.N.Y.) (quoted in Poseidon Schiffahrt v. M/S Netuno, 335 F.Supp. 684, 689 (S.D.Ga.1972), vacated, 474 F.2d 203 (5th Cir.1973)). In conclusion, this Court has determined that it must dismiss this action in favor of the pending Canadian case. The reasons for this de......
  • Complaint of Damodar Bulk Carriers, Ltd.
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    ...foreign parties. See, e.g., THE BELGENLAND, 114 U.S. 355, 368-69, 5 S.Ct. 860, 866, 29 L.Ed. 152 (1885); Poseidon Schiffahrt, G.M.B.H. v. M/S NETUNO, 474 F.2d 203, 204 (5th Cir.1973). The tactic employed by the foreign defendants in this suit is somewhat unusual, however, because most such ......
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