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Admiralty and maritime jurisdiction is part of the judicial power conferred upon the courts of the United States by the Constitution which provides "[t]he judicial power shall extend . . . to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction" (Article III, Section 2). Subject to specific statutes, the authority of a district court is generally limited to the geographical limits of the district, including the territorial waters bordering the district (a distance of approximately 3 miles offshore Band approximately 9 miles on the Gulf coast of Florida and Texas). However, bodies of water that are wholly located within a single state and are not navigable nor used in interstate or foreign commerce would not be included in the admiralty jurisdiction. In short, admiralty in rem jurisdiction of the federal court and the U.S. Marshals Service authority to arrest vessels is limited to vessels and/or cargo physically within the territorial jurisdictional authority of the district.

U.S. Marshal's Authority

The U.S. Marshals Service becomes involved in admiralty matters by carrying out orders of the federal courts (28 USC 566) as well as mandates found in the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims.

Types of Maritime Actions

There are three types of maritime actions: in rem, quasi in rem and in personam.

Proceedings In Rem

In rem actions are brought to enforce any maritime lien, which is a right against a particular vessel, her engines, boilers, appurtenances, furnishings, fittings, etc., her bunkers, or cargo involved directly in the incident. The action could have stemmed from a ship mortgage, repairs, the supplying of necessaries, crew wages, collision liability, loss of or damage to cargo, bodily injury, salvage, wrongful death, or in accordance with authority granted under an applicable statute including some types of forfeiture actions. Execution of a Warrant of Arrest of the vessel or cargo in admiralty cases is necessary to acquire jurisdiction in an in rem action. An in rem suit in an admiralty action must be started in the district where the vessel or cargo or tangible property is located [Supplemental Rule C(2)(c) and E(3)(a)]. However, if the vessel or cargo or tangible property cannot be found or located therein, then the complaint may be filed in any district of the United States and the allegation made that it is expected within the district within the pendency of the action. The court will not acquire admiralty jurisdiction until the vessel or cargo or tangible property is actually arrested within that district or dependent on the facts, the parties otherwise agree to jurisdiction.

Quasi In Rem

The Writ of Maritime Attachment (sometimes referred to as the Writ of Foreign Attachment) and/or Garnishment is used to acquire personal jurisdiction, to the extent of the value of the property seized, over a defendant not found in the district (not being physically present therein for purposes of service as opposed to doing business in the district) and also acts as security for any judgment that might be obtained in the action. This section should be followed for the protection, maintenance, and upkeep of that property. When process in rem or of maritime attachment or garnishment has been issued, the vessel may be seized only in the district issuing the process [Supplemental Rule E(3)(a)]. Unless otherwise authorized by statute, a U.S. Marshal may not arrest, attach, or garnish property outside the territorial jurisdiction of his or her district [Supplemental Rule E(3)(a-Actions in Rem and Quasi in Rem].

In Personam

In personam actions are proceedings against a person or persons (e.g., the owner or owners of a vessel). An action in personam is used to secure a judgment against the person rather than against the vessel or other property involved in the incident. Often an action will be brought both in personam and in rem.

General Procedures

Upon authorization of the court or the clerk, the clerk will issue a warrant for the arrest of the vessel or other property that is the subject of the action or will issue a Writ of Maritime Attachment or Garnishment and deliver it to the U.S. Marshal for service. There are basic procedures that should be reviewed and followed in order to achieve the arrest, attachment, or garnishment.

Although the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims authorize persons or organizations other than the U.S. Marshal to be named by the court to execute the warrant of arrest, or writ of attachment or garnishment, seizure of a vessel and tangible property on a vessel remain exclusively the task of the U.S. Marshals Service.

Seizure of other tangible or intangible property can now properly be undertaken by other persons or organizations if named by the court in the warrant of arrest, writ of attachment, or garnishment. In addition, many districts have local rules pertaining to admiralty procedures and these must be followed where applicable. You are advised to contact the appropriate local U.S. Marshals office for guidance.

Note: The information related to the service of court process that is contained on this web site is general information and not intended to be an exhaustive or definitive explanation or depiction of Federal rules of procedures for the service of process. Readers are directed to the Federal Rules of Criminal and Civil Procedure; personal legal counsel; the United States Code, Titles 18 and 28; their local U.S. Attorney's Office and District Court for specific, authoritative guidance.