Jerome B. Grubart, Inc. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527 (1995)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit

No. 93-762. Argued October 12, 1994—Decided February 22, 1995*

After the Chicago River flooded a freight tunnel under the river and the basements of numerous buildings, petitioner corporation and other victims brought tort actions in state court against respondent Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. and petitioner Chicago. They claimed that in the course of driving piles from a barge into the riverbed months earlier, Great Lakes had negligently weakened the tunnel, which had been improperly maintained by the city. Great Lakes then filed this action, invoking federal admiralty jurisdiction and seeking, inter alia, the protection of the Limitation of Vessel Owner's Liability Act. That Act would permit the admiralty court to decide whether Great Lakes had committed a tort and, if so, to limit its liability to the value of the barges and tug involved if the tort was committed without the privity or knowledge of the vessels' owner. The District Court dismissed the suit for lack of admiralty jurisdiction, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: The District Court has federal admiralty jurisdiction over Great

Lakes's Limitation Act suit. Pp. 531-548. (a) A party seeking to invoke such jurisdiction over a tort claim must satisfy conditions of both location and connection with maritime activity. In applying the location test, a court must determine whether the tort occurred on navigable water or whether injury suffered on land was caused by a vessel on navigable water. 46 U. S. C. App. 740. In applying the connection test, a court first must assess the "general features of the type of incident involved" to determine if the incident has "a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce." Sisson v. Ruby, 497 U. S. 358, 363, 364, n. 2. If so, the court must determine whether the character of the activity giving rise to the incident shows a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity. Id., at 365, 364, and n. 2. Pp. 531-534. (b) The location test is readily satisfied here. The alleged tort was committed on a navigable river, and petitioners do not seriously dispute that Great Lakes's barge is a "vessel" for admiralty tort purposes.

*Together with No. 93-1094, City of Chicago v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. et al., also on certiorari to the same court.


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