Eleventh Circuit Considers Challenge to Admiralty Jurisdiction in Florida Drainage Canal Injury

On August 3, 2016, the United States Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Tundidor v. Miami-Dade County, a case highlighting an interesting limitation on the federal district courts’ original admiralty jurisdiction.  The plaintiff, Tundidor, sued Miami-Dade County after striking his head on a low hanging water line while on a pleasure boat traveling on a drainage canal.  Tundidor brought his claim in admiralty and the County moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.


Noting that federal courts have original jurisdiction over admiralty and maritime tort cases that have a nexus to traditional maritime activity and that occur on navigable waters, the court explained that navigable waters are those capable of use in commerce.  The court further explained that “navigable waters of the United States” as opposed to “navigable waters of the States” is an important distinction to make as the test for navigability for admiralty jurisdiction purposes requires both navigability in fact and an interstate nexus.  See 1 Thomas J. Schoenbaum, Admiralty and Maritime Law § 3-3 (5th ed. 2015).


Agreeing with the other federal appellate courts that have considered the question, the Eleventh Circuit determined that when artificial obstructions block interstate commercial travel, admiralty jurisdiction will not lie.  Here, due to artificial obstructions, the drainage canal could not be navigated outside of the State of Florida.


The Eleventh Circuit concluded that there was no admiralty jurisdiction over the suit and affirmed the decision of the district court.


Tundidor v. Miami-Dade Cty.