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Sinclair v. Soniform Inc.

argued: April 11, 1991.

TERRY LEE SINCLAIR
v.
SONIFORM, INC.; HARSCO CORPORATION; SHERWOOD COMPANY DIVISION; HILL-LOMA, INC., D/B/A HILL ACME COMPANY; RAY MURRAY, INC.; WILLIAM G. FRYLING, INDIVIDUALLY AND D/B/A BLUE WATER DIVERS; DAVID S. MADDEN, JR.; GLEN HICKS, SONIFORM, INC., HARSCO CORPORATION, SHERWOOD COMPANY DIVISION, AND RAY MURRAY, INC., APPELLANTS NO. 90-1905. TERRY LEE SINCLAIR V. SONIFORM, INC.; HARSCO CORPORATION; SHERWOOD COMPANY DIVISION; HILL-LOMA, INC., D/B/A HILL ACME COMPANY; RAY MURRAY, INC.; WILLIAM G. FRYLING, INDIVIDUALLY AND D/B/A BLUE WATER DIVERS; DAVID S. MADDEN, JR.; GLEN HICKS, GLEN HICKS, APPELLANT NO. 90-1906



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; D.C. Civil No. 89-05675.

Sloviter, Chief Judge, Cowen and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Cowen

Opinion OF THE COURT

COWEN, Circuit Judge

The issue before us is whether an action arising from injuries sustained during a scuba diving excursion in navigable waters falls within federal admiralty jurisdiction. Plaintiff Terry Lee Sinclair alleges that he contracted and continues to suffer from the effects of decompression sickness due to a defect in the buoyancy compensator vest he wore while diving, as well as the failure by the crew of the vessel that transported him to the dive site to detect his symptoms and administer proper care. Alleging subject matter jurisdiction in admiralty pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1) (1988), Sinclair filed this action in district court against the ship's crew and the manufacturers of the vest. The district court dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

We hold that Sinclair's claims against the crew fall within federal admiralty jurisdiction since the crew was engaged in a quintessential maritime activity affecting commerce -- the transport and care of paying passengers. Because the claims against the manufacturers of the vest arise from the same common nucleus of operative fact as do his claims against the crew, they fall within the district court's supplemental jurisdiction.

I.

On August 16, 1987, Sinclair and three other passengers chartered the Destitute to transport them to a dive site approximately nine miles off the coast of New Jersey. The crew consisted of its owner and captain, David S. Madden, Jr., and a dive master employed by Madden to supervise the dive, Glen Hicks. After being transported to the dive site, Sinclair and a partner dove to a depth of approximately 75 feet, where they remained for about twenty-seven minutes. As he began to ascend, Sinclair initially used the "finger dump valve" on his buoyancy compensator vest to control the rate of his ascent. Noticing that he was rising faster than his partner, Sinclair pulled the "shoulder dump/rapid exhaust valve" to expel the air from his vest to slow his ascent. The rapid exhaust valve failed, and Sinclair continued to rise at an increasing rate.

Upon reaching the water surface, Sinclair needed assistance to reboard the Destitute. Once aboard, he began to exhibit the symptoms of decompression sickness. Commonly referred to as "the bends," decompression sickness is a disorder caused by the release of nitrogen bubbles in the tissues and blood after returning from high pressure to atmospheric pressure too rapidly. His symptoms included nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and shortness of breath. The crew administered no medical care to Sinclair, continued the dive, and did not transport Sinclair back to shore until two and one-half hours after he surfaced.

Sinclair alleges that he developed and continues to suffer from painful, disfiguring, and disabling injuries attributable to decompression sickness as a result of the defect in his buoyancy compensator vest valve and the failure of the crew to detect his symptoms and administer the appropriate care. He filed actions against the crew of the Destitute and the manufacturers/distributors of the vest*fn1 in federal district court and the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas.

The federal action was filed pursuant to the admiralty jurisdiction of the district court under 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1). The district court initially stayed the federal action pending resolution of the state actions, in accordance with a stipulation of the parties. Upon motion by one of the defendants, the district court lifted the stay. Sinclair thereafter moved for dismissal on three grounds: (1) lack of admiralty jurisdiction, (2) voluntary dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a), and (3) his right to pursue a concurrent state remedy under the "saving to suitors" provision of 28 U.S.C. § 1333.*fn2 The district court granted Sinclair's motion to dismiss on the grounds that it lacked admiralty jurisdiction over the action, finding that an isolated recreational scuba diving excursion was unrelated to traditional maritime activity. The district court did not reach Sinclair's two other grounds for dismissal. This appeal followed. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1988). Our review of the district court's determination regarding subject matter jurisdiction is plenary. York Bank and Trust Co. v. Federal Sav. and Loan Ins. Corp., 851 F.2d 637, 638 (3d Cir. 1988).

II.

The statutory basis for federal admiralty jurisdiction is 28 U.S.C. § 1333, which ...


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