470 U.S. 1031 (1985)

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U.S. Supreme Court


470 U.S. 1031

No. 84-559

Supreme Court of the United States

March 4, 1985

Rehearing Denied May 13, 1985.

See 471 U.S. 1112.

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice BLACKMUN, with whom Justice MARSHALL joins, dissenting.

The admiralty jurisdiction of the federal courts extends generally to a transaction that " 'relates to ships and vessels, masters and mariners, as the agents of commerce.' " Kossick v. United Fruit Co., 365 U.S. 731, 736, 890 (1961), quoting 1 E. Benedict, Admiralty 131 (6th ed.1940). Notwithstanding the broad sweep of the admiralty jurisdiction, this Court, since the time of its single-page opinion in Minturn v. Maynard, 17 How. 477 (1855), has refused to extend admiralty jurisdiction to disputes involving general agency contracts that call for "husbanding" a vessel, that is, arranging for the performance of the various services that are preliminary to maritime movement. This case presents an opportunity to address the continued vitality of this much-criticized exception to admiralty jurisdiction, an exception that has been

Page 470 U.S. 1031 , 1032

applied inconsistently and that has created unnecessary confusion in the federal courts.

Justice BRENNAN would grant certiorari.

Petitioner Peralta is the general agent in the United States for an operator of several oceangoing cargo vessels. In 1979, it executed a sub- agency agreement with respondent Smith & Johnson whereby it appointed respondent as "Gulf agents" responsible for arranging services for the principal's vessels calling on ports between Brownsville, Tex., and Tampa, Fla. Under the agreement, respondent promised to act as the "husbanding agen[t]" by providing for services such as

    "arranging for entrance and clearance of vessels at the Custom House, execution of all Custom House documents incidental thereto, arranging for fuel, water, provisions, emergency repairs, port charges and other similar matters, and for stevedoring, storage and other cargo handling; arranging for tugs,"

and a number of other services directly involved with the operation of vessels while at port preparing for departure. See 739 F.2d 798, 799 ( CA2 1984).

Two years after the agreement was signed, petitioner commenced this action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Relying on the court's admiralty jurisdiction, petitioner alleged that respondent had breached the agency agreement. It sought an accounting and recovery of money said to have been wrongfully retained by respondent. In particular, Peralta sought to recover freight collected on vessels and not turned over to it, and money advanced by petitioner to pay suppliers but diverted by respondent. Addressing cross-motions for summary judgment, the District Court on its own questioned its subject- matter jurisdiction. It concluded that the sub-agency "husbanding" contract under which respondent acted as local port agent for the principal was not a maritime contract within the court's admiralty jurisdiction. It therefore dismissed the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3).

The Court of Appeals affirmed, 739 F.2d 798 (CA2 1984), holding that it was constrained by Minturn, supra, and those Second Circuit cases that had faithfully adhered to the rule established in Minturn that admiralty jurisdiction does not extend to general agency or sub-agency "husbanding" contracts. 739 F.2d, at [470 U.S. 1031 , 1033]

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