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REYNOLDS v. BRADLEY

February 15, 1986

MARION REYNOLDS, Plaintiff,
v.
THEODORE C. BRADLEY and JEFFREY W. PAUL, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MUNSON

HOWARD G. MUNSON, C.J.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

 On May 22, 1983, plaintiff Marion Reynolds was seriously injured when the pleasure boat in which she was riding on Skaneateles Lake struck a cement dock owned by third-party defendants Craig and Ann Bradley. At the time of the accident, defendant Theodore C. Bradley, the son of Craig and Ann Bradley, was operating the boat. Defendant Jeffrey W. Paul, the owner of the boat, was a passenger.

 The plaintiff commenced this action on March 29, 1984, alleging, inter alia, that defendant Bradley had negligently operated the boat and that defendant Paul had negligently permitted Bradley to operate the boat despite the fact that Bradley was intoxicated. *fn1" The plaintiff claims that this court has admiralty jurisdiction over this action by virtue of 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1) (1982) *fn2" and 46 U.S.C. § 740 (1982). *fn3" In their answer, the defendants assert that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action. In order to resolve this issue, the plaintiff, pursuant to Rule 12(f) of the Federal. Rules of Civil Procedure, brought the motion presently before the court to strike the defendants' affirmative defenses calling into question this court's power to hear this case. For the reasons set out below, the court holds that it does not have subject matter jurisdiction over this action.

 The district courts shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the states, of

 (1) Any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction . . . .

 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1)(1982).

 The admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States shall extend to and include all cases of damage or injury, to person or property, caused by a vessel on navigable water, notwithstanding that such damage or injury be done or consummated on land . . . .

 46 U.S.C. § 740 (1982).

 In order to establish admiralty jurisdiction, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the alleged injury occurred upon navigable waters and that the acts complained of bear a significant relationship to traditional maritime activity. See Executive Jet Aviation, Inc. v. City of Cleveland, 409 U.S. 249, 34 L. Ed. 2d 454, 93 S. Ct. 493 (1972); Kelly v. United States, 531 F.2d 1144, 1146 (2d Cir. 1976); Sawczyk v. United States Coast Guard, 499 F. Supp. 1034, 1037-38 (W.D.N.Y. 1980). In this case, the basis of the action, i.e., the collision of a pleasure boat with a cement dock, clearly bears a significant relationship to traditional maritime activity. See Foremost Insurance Co. v. Richardson, 457 U.S. 668, 73 L. Ed. 2d 300, 102 S. Ct. 2654 (1981) (collision of two pleasure craft on navigable waters was within federal admiralty jurisdiction); Finneseth v. Carter, 712 F.2d 1041 (6th Cir. 1983) (collision of two pleasure craft on navigable waters was within federal admiralty jurisdiction); Richards v. Blake Builders Supply Inc., 528 F.2d 745 (4th Cir. 1975) (collision of pleasure craft with bank of navigable river was within federal admiralty jurisdiction); St. Hilaire Moye v. Henderson, 496 F.2d 973, 976-79 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 884, 42 L. Ed. 2d 125, 95 S. Ct. 151 (1974) (action alleging negligent operation of pleasure craft on navigable waters was within federal admiralty jurisdiction); Hartman v. United States, 522 F. Supp. 114 (D.S.C. 1981) (collision of pleasure craft with abandoned bridge piling on navigable waters was within federal admiralty jurisdiction). The plaintiff, however, has failed to sustain her burden of establishing that Skaneateles Lake is a navigable water of the United States for purposes of admiralty jurisdiction. See Quick v. Hansen, 1975 Am. Mar. Cases 791 (9th Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 420 U.S. 976, 43 L. Ed. 2d 656, 95 S. Ct. 1400 (1975).

 The plaintiff has submitted an impressive amount of historical information which she contends establishes that Skaneateles Lake was once a part of the Erie Canal system and, as such, was a navigable water of the United States. In this regard, the plaintiff contends that a body of water that was once navigable retains that character ad infinitum. This court declines to adopt such a broad definition of navigability.

 In The Daniel Ball, 77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 557, 563, 19 L. Ed. 999 (1870), the Supreme Court set forth the following definition of "navigability" for purposes of establishing admiralty jurisdiction:

 Those rivers must be regarded as public navigable rivers in law which are navigable in fact. And they are navigable in fact when they are used, or are susceptible of being used, in their ordinary condition, as highways for commerce, over which trade and travel are or may be conducted in the customary modes of trade and travel on water. And they constitute navigable waters of the United States within the meaning of the acts of Congress, in contradistinction from the navigable waters of the States, when they form in their ordinary condition by themselves, or by uniting with other waters, a continued ...


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