Sokolowska v National Airlines Inc.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
Date21 October 1958
United States, District Court, Southern District, New York.
Sokolowska et Al.
and
National Airlines, Inc., et Al.

Territorial Waters Breadth of As affected by claim to offshore islands Territorial sea of state of Alabama, United States of America.

The Facts.This was a wrongful death action by the administrators and executors of certain deceased persons who had been killed in the crash of an aeroplane belonging to National Airlines in the Gulf of Mexico off the shore of Alabama. The main wreckage of the plane was discovered 2,432 ft. outwards from one marine league from the shore of Alabama. The plaintiffs asserted a cause of action under Alabama law, which they contended was open to them by reason of the exceptions to the Federal Death on the High Seas Act, set forth in Section 7 of that Act (41 Stat. 528, 46 U.S.C. 767):

The provisions of any State statute giving or regulating rights of action or remedies for death shall not be affected by this chapter. Nor shall this chapter apply to the Great Lakes or to any waters within the territorial limits of any State, or to any navigable waters in the Panama Canal Zone.

It was the position of the defendants that under the laws of the United States and the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848 (9 Stat. 922, T.S. No. 207), the death of the deceased persons had not taken place within the territorial limits of the state of Alabama and that the case was accordingly governed by the Federal Death on the High Seas Act.

Held: that the Court had no jurisdiction over any of the actions in so far as they were grounded on the law of the state of Alabama, but that the causes of action grounded on the Death on the High Seas Act survived. The territorial limits of the state of Alabama did not extend beyond a marine league from the shore of that state. The act admitting Alabama to the United States, which included within the territory of that state the islands within six leagues of the shore, and the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo tracing the boundary three leagues out to sea, did not extend the seaward boundary of Alabama beyond a league from the shore of that state.

The Court said, in its Conclusions of Law: [18,217] (1) The plaintiffs here, in addition to their assertion of jurisdiction because of the above contentions in the causes of action relating to the Alabama statutes, and as a part thereof, claim that the Alabama territorial limits, in any event, extend to six marine leagues from the Alabama shore...

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