American Dredging Co. v. Miller, 510 U.S. 443 (1994)

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certiorari to the supreme court of louisiana

No. 91-1950. Argued November 9, 1993—Decided February 23, 1994

After respondent was injured while working as a seaman on a tug operating on the Delaware River and owned by petitioner, a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal place of business in New Jersey, he filed this action in a Louisiana state court pursuant to the "saving to suitors clause," 28 U. S. C. 1333(1), seeking damages under the Jones Act, 46 U. S. C. App. 688, and relief under general maritime law. The trial court granted petitioner's motion to dismiss under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, holding that it was bound to apply that doctrine by federal maritime law. The Court of Appeal affirmed, but the Supreme Court of Louisiana reversed, holding that a state statute rendering the doctrine of forum non conveniens unavailable in Jones Act and maritime law cases brought in state court is not pre-empted by federal maritime law.

Held: In admiralty cases filed in a state court under the Jones Act and the "saving to suitors clause," federal law does not pre-empt state law regarding the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Pp. 446-457. (a) In exercising in personam jurisdiction over maritime actions under the "saving to suitors clause," a state court may adopt such remedies, and attach to them such incidents, as it sees fit, so long as those remedies do not "wor[k] material prejudice to the characteristic features of the general maritime law or interfer[e] with the proper harmony and uniformity of that law in its international and interstate relations." Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U. S. 205, 216. Pp. 446-447. (b) Because forum non conveniens did not originate in admiralty or have exclusive application there, but has long been a doctrine of general application, Louisiana's refusal to apply it does not work "material prejudice to [a] characteristic featur[e] of the general maritime law" within Jensen's meaning. Pp. 447-450. (c) Nor is forum non conveniens a doctrine whose uniform application is necessary to maintain "the proper harmony" of maritime law under Jensen, 244 U. S., at 216. The uniformity requirement is not absolute; the general maritime law may be changed to some extent by state legislation. See ibid. Forum non conveniens is in two respects quite dissimilar from any other matter that this Court's opinions have held to be pre-empted by federal admiralty law: First, it is a sort of venue rule—procedural in nature—rather than a substantive rule upon


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