Court Applies Admiralty Jurisdiction to Grant Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

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The plaintiff brought a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) alleging asbestos exposure while a crew member on two tugboats the Navy leased to his employer, General Dynamics Corporation. The plaintiff also brought a products liability claim under Connecticut law, and his wife brought a loss of consortium claim. The defendant moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction under the FTCA, because the lawsuit sounds in admiralty, for which a suit under the Suits in Admiralty Act (SIAA) or the Public Vessels Act is the exclusive civil remedy. The defendant also moved to dismiss under the two year statute of limitations. The court granted the motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The case satisfied both tests for application of admiralty jurisdiction over a tort claim. First, under the location test, the court “must determine whether the tort occurred on navigable water or whether injury suffered on land was caused by a vessel on navigable water… Second, under the connection test, the court must ‘assess the general features of the type of incident involved to determine whether the incident has a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce’ and ‘must determine whether the general character of the activity giving rise to the incident shows a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.’” Since some of the asbestos exposure occurred on a vessel in navigable waters, the location test is satisfied. Regarding the connection test, asbestos exposure has the potential to disrupt maritime commerce and bears a substantial relationship to maritime activity because it can, among other things, affect productivity.

Although the plaintiff argued that admiralty jurisdiction did not apply because significant asbestos exposure occurred while one tugboat was not capable of navigation, it is indisputable that at all other times both tugboats were in navigable waters. The plaintiff had also filed suit asserting admiralty jurisdiction over claims against his employer. Further, amendment of the complaint to assert admiralty jurisdiction was futile because the suit was not filed within two years from the date of injury as required by the applicable statutes of limitation. Equitable tolling is not warranted because filing administrative claims under the FTCA does not toll the limitations period for SIAA claims.

Read the full decision here.