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DORAN v. LEE

August 23, 1968

Edward T. DORAN, III, a minor, by his parents and natural guardians, Edward T. Doran, II, and Emagene Doran, and Edward T. Doran, II, and Emagene Doran, in their own right, Plaintiffs,
v.
Ivor LEE, James Lee, Century Boat Company, a corporation, and Reimann's Marine Service, Inc., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEBER

 This case arises out of an action to recover damages for injuries sustained in a motor boat explosion by minor plaintiff who was a guest passenger therein. Defendants are the owners of the boat, the manufacturer of the boat, and the retailer who sold the boat. The manufacturer is the only defendant having citizenship diverse from the plaintiffs.

 The complaint is called a "libel" and plaintiffs and defendants are called "libellants" and "respondents" in accordance with the former admiralty practice before the amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, effective July 1, 1966, consolidating the forms of pleading in law, equity and admiralty.

 The complaint invokes the admiralty jurisdiction of this court. There is no other ground of jurisdiction either alleged or apparent from the pleadings involving all parties. There is possible diversity jurisdiction between plaintiffs and defendant Century Boat Company, a foreign corporation.

 The accident occurred in Conneaut Lake, in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, in this judicial district. Defendants Ivor Lee and James Lee, and Century Boat Company have moved to dismiss for lack of admiralty jurisdiction. In support of the motion they have produced undisputed evidentiary material showing that Conneaut Lake is an entirely landlocked lake, fed from springs and shallow inlets, none of which can support access or exit by water craft. Neither as now situated nor in its natural state is the lake connected with any other waters so as to constitute part of a navigation system over which interstate and foreign commerce could flow. Over a century ago the lake was connected by a channel to supply water to the Erie Extension Canal, which connected Lake Erie and the Ohio River.

 To be resolved is whether Conneaut Lake is navigable in fact so as to confer admiralty jurisdiction upon this Federal court as provided by Article III, Section 2, of the Constitution of the United States and by 46 U.S.C. § 740. Section 740 confers admiralty jurisdiction in all cases of damage or injury caused by a vessel on navigable water. The problem is to define navigable waters for this purpose and to delineate the areas where the definition applies.

 The determination of what constitutes navigable waters is one of varied interpretation, dependent upon the purpose for which the definition is applied. It can be divided into three categories of cases: those dealing with proprietary interests in riparian or littoral lands and the power of the States to control the use of the riparian or littoral land, as in Conneaut Lake Ice Co. v. Quigley, 225 Pa. 605, 74 A. 648 (1909); those cases arising under the broad powers of Congress under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, as in United States v. Appalachian Electric Power Co., 311 U.S. 377, 61 S. Ct. 291, 85 L. Ed. 243 (1940); and those which have defined navigation to determine the admiralty jurisdiction of the Federal courts, as in The Daniel Ball, 10 Wall. 557, 77 U.S. 557, 19 L. Ed. 999 (1870), and Shogry v. Lewis, 225 F. Supp. 741 (W.D.Pa.1964). (See Guinn, "An Analysis of Navigable Waters of the United States", XVIII Baylor Law Review, No. 4, Fall 1966).

 The records of the Constitutional Convention reveal that admiralty law was considered pre-eminently a field of jurisdiction to be exercised by the courts of the United States because of the necessity of applying a uniform body of law in a field involving commercial relations between states and with foreign nations, a field where a substantial body of private international law existed and was applied by the principal commercial nations of the world. (See Dumbauld, "The Constitution of the United States". p. 325 (1964).)

 Such law must be applied in all waters forming part of the stream of interstate or foreign commerce, but the limitations on the exercise of jurisdiction by the United States' courts prohibits its application to what are essentially common law actions of an exclusively local nature.

 Inland lakes having no existing connection to other watercourses by which a stream of commerce is or may be carried have been declared not to be within the admiralty jurisdiction in a number of cases:

 Judge Willson, of this court, held in Shogry v. Lewis, cit. supra, that Chautauqua Lake, in western New York state, near the borders of this district, was not such a body of water. Chautauqua Lake is about 20 miles long and 3 miles wide, and carries a substantial number of water craft including a ferry transporting passengers and automobiles across its width. Its outlet carries waters eventually into Conewango Creek, and thence to the Allegheny River, but no interstate or foreign commerce can pass into or out of the lake by navigable waters. Judge Willson applied the test of The Daniel Ball, cit. supra.

 In Marine Office of America v. Manion, 241 F. Supp. 621 (D.Mass.1965), involving a collision of a motor boat with a yacht club dock on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, the court denied admiralty jurisdiction where it found the lake to be land-locked and not connected with any other navigable water which would carry interstate commerce.

 In re Builders Supply Co., 278 F. Supp. 254 (D.C.Iowa 1968) involved a motor boat explosion in Clear Lake in Iowa. The court found that the lake was inland, completely land-locked and not connected with other waters as a highway of commerce, and denied admiralty jurisdiction.

 We doubt whether plaintiffs, in asserting their claim to admiralty jurisdiction, have considered the admiralty doctrine of limitation of liability which would limit recovery against the owners to the value of the vessel. 46 U.S.C. § 183. This doctrine is as broad as the general admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the Federal courts. Butler v. Boston & Savannah S.S. Co., 130 U.S. 527, 9 S. Ct. 612, 32 L. Ed. 1017 (1889). We are not passing upon the applicability of this doctrine to this case, but it is brought to our attention because several of the cases dealing with admiralty jurisdiction on inland lakes have arisen under the provisions of 46 U.S.C. § 183 et seq. where the defendant invoked the admiralty jurisdiction to limit liability. The limitation was denied in the following cases because the court determined that the matter did not fall within the admiralty jurisdiction: In re Builder's Supply Co., cit. supra; Madsen's Petition, 187 F. Supp. 411 (N.D.N.Y.1960) where the ...


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