Nope, admiralty jurisdiction doesn't extend to a fist-fight on a dock. That's what the Second Circuit just ruled when they affirmed (meaning upheld) the trial court's decision. The facts don't suggest the best in people and involve allegations of one group laughing when someone fell into the water all laced with assertions of a thrown beer bottle. Ultimately, someone filed a lawsuit and someone else filed a limitation of liability action seeking to limit any potential liability to the value of their vessel.
Limitation of Liability actions don't carry their own jurisdictional basis with them and you need to plead and prove a basis for admiralty jurisdiction in order to avail yourself of this defensive maneuver. The trial court ruled that the fistfight even though on a dock and around and near vessels doesn't give rise to admiralty jurisdiction. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed explaining that the circumstances simply don't support the tenets of admiralty jurisdiction being a federal interest in the protection of maritime commerce. In other words, it seems the Second Circuit was saying: "Let's leave this ugliness largely unrelated to maritime commerce to the state courts."
From the Plaintiff's perspective (or from an insurer looking to recoup against the defendant that raised this defense), this is a good outcome because it prevents an extension of the Limitation of Liability defense.
Underway and making way.
By John Fulweiler