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MARTIN v. UNITED STATES

December 28, 1970

Terrence J. MARTIN, Administrator, Estate William Willett, dec'd.
v.
UNITED STATES of America


Troutman, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: TROUTMAN

 On February 7, 1968, William Willett, a seaman in the United States Merchant Marine and a member of the crew of the S.S. ELKO VICTORY, drowned while going ashore at Pier No. 7, South Harbor, Manila, Republic of the Philippines. He was, at the time, domiciled in and a resident of San Francisco, California. His surviving widow, Margaret Willett, who was his sole heir-at-law, was and is likewise domiciled in and a resident of San Francisco, California. Her deposition establishes that following the decedent's death she promptly obtained counsel in San Francisco, signed and submitted "some papers" to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California and thus received earnings that had accrued to the decedent at the time of his death. She also received certain insurance benefits and retained the household goods and furnishings which were owned jointly with the decedent. There were no other assets in the estate.

 When efforts made by her California counsel to recover damages for the decedent's death met with no success and the necessity for litigation became evident her counsel wrote her "concerning the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" and suggested the necessity for a "representative" in Pennsylvania to represent her in connection with "the money I'm supposed to receive from my husband's death". She signed certain papers and thereafter one Terrence J. Martin, a citizen and resident of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was appointed administrator of the estate of William Willett, deceased. On April 11, 1969, he instituted this suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

 The deposition of Mrs. Willett further establishes that she has never been in Pennsylvania, that the decedent was never in Pennsylvania, that neither she nor the decedent have had any contact with the Eastern District of Pennsylvania prior to the institution of this suit. She has never met, has never known and has never had any conversations with Terrence Martin, the administrator in this case.

 Prior to the appointment of Mr. Martin as administrator and prior to the institution of suit she had no contact with counsel who now represent her in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Contact was made through her California counsel. Through her "husband's friends" who, like her husband, were members of the National Maritime Union, and through her California counsel she has learned of the "type of work" done by counsel who here represent the estate in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and that they are "specialists in this kind of action".

 The deposition of Terrence Martin establishes that he was appointed administrator at the request of counsel who here represent the estate and by whom he was at that time employed. He confirms that there has never been any contact between him and either the decedent or the widow and sole heir. He pretends no particular expertise in the administration of estates.

 It is admitted, for the purposes of this case, that the S.S. ELKO VICTORY upon which the decedent was employed at the time of his death has never been within the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. It is admitted that the only asset owned by the estate and to which Margaret Willett is the sole heir and beneficiary is the "personal injury action" here pending.

 Suit has been filed under the Admiralty law as modified by the Suits in Admiralty Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 741-752 and the Public Vessels Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 781-790. Jurisdiction is conceded and, except for some confusion existing in certain decisions, poses no problem and creates no issue. However, venue creates an issue by reason of the statutory provisions under which suit has been instituted and the filing, by the defendant, of a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, to transfer this action to the Northern District of California because of improper venue.

 Both the Suits in Admiralty Act and the Public Vessels Act contain specific provisions relating to venue. Both provide that suit shall be brought in the district in which the vessel or cargo charged with liability is "found". 46 U.S.C. § 742; 46 U.S.C. § 782. This provision is inapplicable in this case because of the absence of the vessel from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Additionally, both acts provide as follows:

 
" Public Vessels Act, 46 U.S.C. § 782.
 
Venue of suit: * * * such suit shall be brought * * * in the District Court for the district in which the parties so suing, or any of them reside or have an office for the transaction of business in the United States; or in case none of such parties reside or have an office for the transaction of business in the United States * * * then in any district court of the United States * * *.
 
" Suits in Admiralty Act, 46 ...

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