Miami-Dade County Canal Does Not Fall Under Federal Court Admiralty Jurisdiction

The waterways of south Florida are vast, creating a veritable nautical highway of rivers, lakes, canals, and wetlands. However, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently decided in Tundidor v. Miami-Dade County, not all waterways are seen equally in the eyes of the law. This distinction mainly comes into play when a Plaintiff in a maritime action seeks to invoke federal admiralty jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1333. The distinction of whether admiralty jurisdiction exists in any given federal maritime action may be dispositive, meaning that the court cannot maintain the litigation if jurisdiction is not found.

In the Tundidor case a passenger on a pleasure boat suffered serious injuries when his head struck a water pipe which ran along the underside of a low-lying bridge on a canal. The accident occurred on Coral Park Canal, which is a drainage system frequented by fisherman, boaters and kayakers. The Coral Park Canal crosses under a series of low-clearance bridges, water pipes, and railway tracks, making it partially obstructed and not navigable to larger vessels. It is part of a system that joins into a larger canal near the Miami International Airport, which then connects with the Miami River, and ultimately leads out to the Atlantic Ocean.

Mr. Tunidor sued Miami-Dade County for negligence as it is the owner and operator of the water line pipe that Mr. Tunidor’s head struck. He filed his negligence lawsuit in federal court in the Southern District of Florida. Miami-Dade County moved to dismiss his case claiming a lack of federal subject-matter jurisdiction by claiming that the Coral Park Canal does not constitute a navigable waterway for the purposes of admiralty jurisdiction. The court, in analyzing whether admiralty jurisdiction existed in Mr. Tunidor’s case, had to decide whether the artificial obstructions on the Coral Park Canal precluded commerce or commercial activity. Mr. Tunidor argued that the Coral Park Canal could potentially be used for fishing or logging businesses to transport goods to places like Georgia or even the Bahamas. However, the panel of judges deciding the case did not agree with this view, and found that the many obstructions on the Canal prevented interstate travel for commercial purposes on the waterway. The Court dismissed Mr. Tunidor’s claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction for failing to satisfy the necessary requirements to support admiralty jurisdiction. As a result, Mr. Tunidor was unable to maintain his negligence action in federal court.

Having a case dismissed can have far reaching implications on things such as the application of the statute of limitations and whether you can ever bring your lawsuit in a different forum or in a different manner. Furthermore, failing to raise the appropriate defense at the right time may result in the waiver of a defense. Read the opinion here.


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