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A petitioner who asserts a substantial claim that the Jones Act (Act), 46 U.S.C.S. § 688 affords him a right of recovery for the negligence of his employer. Such assertion alone is sufficient to empower a district court to assume jurisdiction over a case and determine whether, in fact, the Act does provide the claimed rights.
Petitioner, a Spanish seaman injured while serving on a Spanish vessel temporarily in New York, sought recovery, under the Jones Act and the general maritime law, against the Spanish shipowner and the New York corporation which acted as husbanding agent for the vessel in New York; petitioner also alleged liability for a maritime tort against a New York company engaged in carpentry work on the vessel at the time of the injury, and against a Delaware corporation engaged in stevedoring at that time. The jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York was invoked under the Jones Act, and under 28 USC 1331 and 1332 which, respectively, accord district courts the jurisdiction of actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States, and actions between persons of diverse citizenship. The District Court dismissed the complaint. As to the shipowner, it was held that the Jones Act provided no right of action for an alien seaman against a foreign shipowner under the circumstances involved in the instant case, and the claims under the general maritime law against the shipowner were dismissed because of lack of diverse citizenship and because a claim rooted in federal maritime law was held not to arise under the Constitution or laws of the United States. The District Court dismissed the Jones Act claim against the New York husbanding agent pursuant to its finding that that corporation was not the employer of petitioner, nor did it have operation and control of the vessel, and dismissed all the remaining claims because of lack of requisite complete diversity. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal. Petitioner foreign seaman sought certiorari.
Was it proper to dismiss petitioner’s Jones Act claims for lack of jurisdiction?
On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court vacated the judgment below. The Court held that the District Court erred in dismissing petitioner's Jones Act claims for lack of jurisdiction, since the mere assertion of such a claim was sufficient to empower the District Court to assume jurisdiction over the case and determine whether petitioner's complaint stated a cause of action. The Court further held that the District Court had not erred in holding that the federal statute according it jurisdiction of suits arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States did not comprehend claims under the general maritime law. Moreover, the Court held that the District Court had jurisdiction to determine whether petitioner's claims under the general maritime law stated a cause of action, such jurisdiction existing as pendent to the court's Jones Act jurisdiction.