United States District Court, S.D. Georgia
LISA GODBEY WOOD, JUDGE.
filed a complaint seeking an in rem action, Count I
of the Complaint, for the arrest of a certain vehicle
pursuant to Rule D of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset
Forfeiture Actions, and seeking damages and other remedies,
Counts II and III, for a state law breach of contract claim.
No. Defendant has answered the Complaint nor appeared in this
action. After Plaintiff moved for a default judgment, the
Court held a hearing in which it explained the necessity of
following the proper procedure and notice requirements for
obtaining a default judgment. At that hearing, the Court also
made clear that Plaintiff has the burden of establishing that
the Court has jurisdiction over this action. Since that
hearing, Plaintiff has complied with part of the Court's
guidance by moving for a Clerk's Entry of Default, which
has been entered by the Clerk of Court. The Court understands
that Plaintiff wants his remedy, but the Court has a duty
"to inquire into subject-matter jurisdiction sua sponte
whenever it may be lacking." Cadet v. Bulger,
377 F.3d 1173, 1179 (11th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted).
Court awaits verification that notice has been given and
clarification of the Court's jurisdiction.
Complaint states that the Court has subject matter
jurisdiction over its claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1331 and pendent jurisdiction over the state law claims. Dkt.
No. 1 ¶ 5. Count I of the Complaint is a claim brought
"pursuant to this Court's admiralty jurisdiction
pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule
9(h)." Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 31. Counts II and III of the
Complaint are state law claims. Thus, it appears from the
Complaint that Plaintiff's contends that the court has
admiralty jurisdiction, thus vesting subject matter
jurisdiction in the Court under Section 1331.
1331 provides that "district courts shall have original
jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the
Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."
However, "admiralty claims do not arise under the laws
of the United States within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. §
1331(a) and thus are not federal question cases."
Marine Coatings of Alabama, Inc. v. United States,
792 F.2d 1565, 1567 (11th Cir. 1986) (citing Romero v.
International Terminal Operating Co., 358 U.S. 354, 367
(1959)). Therefore, Plaintiff has not established that its
claims arise under § 1331, and thus that section does
not vest this Court with subject matter jurisdiction.
However, § 1331 is the only basis for subject
matter jurisdiction that Plaintiff invokes.
Plaintiff wishes to proceed in this Court under admiralty
jurisdiction, then the more appropriate statute that
can vest the Court with subject matter jurisdiction
is 28 U.S.C. § 1333: "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."
in rem claim and its in personam breach of
contract claim are intertwined such that it seeks possession
of a certain vehicle as a remedy for Defendants' alleged
breach of contract to sell Plaintiff said vehicle.
Nevertheless, whether Plaintiff's basis for invoking the
Court's admiralty jurisdiction is couched in its in
rem claim or breach of contract claim, Plaintiff has not
yet established that the Court has admiralty jurisdiction.
the breach of contract claim, w[t]o support
admiralty jurisdiction in a breach of contract action, the
underlying contract must ordinarily be a maritime
contract." Kuehne & Nagel (AG & Co) v.
Geosource, Inc., 874 F.2d 283, 290 (5th Cir. 1989) .
Similarly, with regard to the in rem claim,
"[a]dmiralty jurisdiction over a possessory suit under
Supplemental Rule D seeking recovery of cargo or other
maritime property does not automatically vest in the federal
courts simply because such items may be found aboard a ship.
Rather, a possessory action to regain cargo or other maritime
property can be maintained only if the allegedly wrongful
possession resulted from a maritime tort or breach
of a maritime contract." Hup Aik Huat Trading Pte Ltd.
v. 900 Bags of Malabar Garbled Black Pepper in Ocean Shipping
Containers Nos. TRIU3419945, MSCU2624506, &
TPHU6233345, 115 F.Supp.2d 529, 533 (D. Md. 2000)
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (emphases
added). Thus, regarding the in personam
breach of contract claim and the in rem claim
sprouting from the alleged breach of contract, a maritime
contract is necessary in these circumstances for the Court to
have admiralty jurisdiction. "A maritime contract in
general is one whose subject matter is necessary to the
operation, navigation, or management of a ship, and precedent
has defined categories that provide useful boundary posts for
the line between maritime and state-law-governed
contracts." Wilkins v. Commercial Inv. Tr.
Corp., 153 F.3d 1273, 1276 (11th Cir. 1998) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted).
contract that was allegedly breached is not alleged to be a
maritime contract, which would establish admiralty
jurisdiction. Indeed, the factual allegations in the
Complaint point to the conclusion that the contract was not a
maritime contract as defined by the Eleventh Circuit in
Wilkins. Rather, Plaintiff's contract seems to
fall into the category discussed in Hup Aik Huat,
where the purported jurisdictional hook is that the item was
travelling aboard a ship, but the fact that an item is cargo
on a ship is not, by itself, sufficient to establish
the in personam actions, Counts II and III, are
brought pursuant to state law. Thus, the Court does not have
original jurisdiction, unless it has diversity jurisdiction,
and it is neither alleged nor established at this point that
Notably, the Complaint does not allege