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SEA-LAND SERV. v. POWERTEX

November 24, 1996

SEA-LAND SERVICE, INC., Plaintiff, against POWERTEX, INC., Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCAVOY

 I. BACKGROUND

 The present case is an in personam action brought by the plaintiff, SEA-LAND, against the defendant POWERTEX, pursuant to admiralty and maritime law, seeking the payment of a certain sum relating to the transport of goods. In the present motions, the plaintiff seeks an Order of this Court dismissing the action or staying further proceedings to await determination of related claims currently pending in New Jersey state court. The Court notes that although the claims set forth in each case are not identical, they may require the resolution of certain common factual issues.

 The plaintiff argues that this Court and the state court have concurrent jurisdiction over the claims, that this Court cannot obtain personal jurisdiction over all necessary parties, that dismissal is mandated to avoid piecemeal litigation, and that the state case has advanced nearly to the point of completed discovery while the instant action is still at the pleading stage, and that all of the above supports dismissal or a stay of the instant action. The defendant counters that this Court has exclusive jurisdiction over admiralty and maritime cases, that both cases are engaged in the discovery phase, that the federal forum is not inconvenient, that the federal forum was chosen by the plaintiff and prior to filing an action in state court, that the source of law to resolve the issues raised in the federal action is federal, and that dismissal or a stay would promote forum shopping. The defendant has cross-moved for an extension of time for discovery.

 The Court will now turn to the following issues:

 
1. Whether this Court has exclusive jurisdiction over Sea Land's admiralty and maritime claim.
 
2. If jurisdiction is found to be concurrent, whether dismissal of the Complaint or a stay of the instant action is appropriate under the law of this Circuit.
 
3. If not, whether an extension of the discovery period is appropriate.

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. Admiralty And Maritime Law: Subject Matter Jurisdiction

 The parties disagree as to whether the Court has exclusive or concurrent jurisdiction with the New Jersey state court over claims asserted pursuant to admiralty and maritime law. The plaintiff argues that jurisdiction is concurrent, and thus not a bar to the relief requested. The defendant argues that this Court's jurisdiction is exclusive, and thus, the plaintiff's request for relief is merely a delay tactic, as the claims asserted must be determined in federal court.

 "The Constitution provides that the federal judicial power 'shall extend ... to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction.' U.S. Const.Art. III, ยง 2, cl. 1. Federal-court [sic] jurisdiction over such cases, however, has never been entirely exclusive." American Dredging Co. v. Miller, 510 U.S. 443, 114 S. Ct. 981, 983, 127 L. Ed. 2d 285 (1994). The so-called "saving to suitors" clause has been interpreted to grant exclusive jurisdiction to federal courts in in rem actions, but concurrent jurisdiction with the state courts in in personam actions. See generally Id. As has been explained by the Supreme Court

 
"Admiralty's jurisdiction is 'exclusive' only as to those maritime causes of action begun and carried on as proceedings in rem, that is, where a vessel or thing is itself treated as the offender and made the defendant by name or description in order to enforce a lien. (citation omitted). It is this kind of in rem proceeding which state courts cannot entertain. But the jurisdictional act does leave state courts 'competent' to adjudicate maritime causes of action in ...

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