Thomas S. Rue

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Survey Article


The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decided fourteen admiralty cases with written opinions in 1996. Four of the decided cases involved issues of first impression. Of the cases involving issues of first impression, one considered the tension between a shipowner's right to a nonjury trial in admiralty of its right to limitation of liability and the damage claimants' right to a jury trial in a forum of their choice. In that case, the Eleventh Circuit allowed a multiple-claims-inadequatefund case to be transformed into the functional equivalent of a single claim case, thereby creating another exception to the shipowner's right to a concursus. In another case, a subcontractor who asserted a maritime lien against a public vessel persuaded the Eleventh Circuit that the lien claim fell outside the scope of the Public Vessels Act and was therefore subject to the Suits in Admiralty Act, allowing the recovery of interest. In yet another case, the Eleventh Circuit became the first court of appeals to approve the use of self-help remedies in preferred mortgage foreclosures. In the last case of first impression, the Eleventh Circuit held that the Suits in Admiralty Act bars a seaman's suit for willful denial of maintenance and cure against an agent of the United States.

Although the remaining cases were not cases of first impression, some of them amplified existing law. For instance, in its first application of Grubart v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., the Eleventh Circuit took occasion to define admiralty jurisdiction as encompassing the repair, conversion, and maintenance aboard a vessel in navigable waters.' In the lone cargo case decided by the Eleventh Circuit, it elaborated on when the terms of the bill of lading establish prima facie proof that the carrier received the goods as described in the bill of lading. In a limitation of liability case, the Eleventh Circuit reaffirmed precedent from the old Fifth Circuit constituting a fourth exception to a shipowner's right to a concursus in admiralty. The one case involving marine insurance dealt with a "held covered" clause. The remaining decisions were of a garden variety and did not change existing law in this circuit.

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