Submitted: October 31, 2018
Jeanine, pro se, for Plaintiff.
D. Sweet, Esq., Attorney for Defendant.
DECISION AFTER TRIAL
HONORABLE ROSEMARY BETTS BEAUREGARD JUDGE
Court held a bench trial on October 31, 2018, and at the
close of trial, reserved decision. Based on the testimony of
the parties, review of authority provided by the Defendant,
the Court's independent research and the record as a
whole, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.
Therefore, this matter is DISMISSED WITHOUT
Nava ("Defendant") owns a shipping company called
Alpha & Omega Cargo Shipping & Moving
("Company"). It is undisputed that Jean Jeanine
("Plaintiff) entered into an oral contract with
Defendant to ship several boxes of Plaintiff s merchandise
from her residence in Salisbury, Maryland to Saint Marc,
Haiti. It is also undisputed that this agreement was the
second course of dealing between the parties that involved
Plaintiff contracting with Defendant to deliver merchandise
to Haiti via ship.
June and December of 2015, Defendant made numerous trips to
pick up boxes of merchandise from Plaintiffs residence in
Salisbury, Maryland. Defendant resides in Seaford, Delaware.
During these visits to Plaintiffs residence, Defendant would
load the Plaintiffs merchandise into a tractor trailer
container he had purchased in order to transport the goods by
sea from Brooklyn, New York to Saint Marc, Haiti. When the
tractor trailer was full, Defendant hauled the trailer to
Brooklyn, New York and the cargo would be shipped to Haiti.
testimony at trial stated that he delivered the tractor
trailer container to the port in Brooklyn, New York sometime
in early February 2016. The shipping container was then
loaded onto the Baltimar Zephyr cargo ship and set sail for
Haiti shortly thereafter. The Defendant informed Plaintiff that
the cargo had shipped and in reliance thereon, Plaintiff
traveled to Haiti to organize and sell her merchandise. After
sailing for two days out of Brooklyn, New York, a fire
occurred onboard the Baltimar Zephyr and Defendant's
container (including Plaintiffs merchandise) was jettisoned
overboard during the crewmember's attempts to fight the
fire and save the ship. Plaintiff then filed this breach of
contract action to recover the value of her lost merchandise,
alleging Defendant never transported the goods to Brooklyn
nor shipped them to Haiti.
filed the Complaint with this Court on August 11, 2016.
Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject
Matter Jurisdiction on October 17, 2016. A motion hearing was
held on January 5, 2017 before the Commissioner. It is
important to note that the motion hearing took place without
an interpreter for the Plaintiff and without creating a
sufficient record for the Commissioner to consider because of
the language barrier. As a result, on February 7, 2017 the
Commissioner recommended that the Motion to Dismiss be
denied. On March 3, 2017, after neither party filed an
appropriate appeal to the Commissioner's recommendation,
this Court accepted the Commissioner's motion and denied
the Motion to Dismiss. The Court held a bench trial on
October 31, 2018, and at the close of trial, reserved
to 28 U.S.C. § 1333, "the district court shall have
original jurisdiction, exclusive...of [a]ny civil case of
admiralty or maritime jurisdiction." Whether a contract
lies within admiralty jurisdiction depends on "whether
the principal objective of [the] contract is maritime
commerce." Norfolk S. Ry. Co. v. Kirby, 543
U.S. 14, 25 (2004). A maritime contract is "a contract
relating to...commerce or navigation on navigable waters,
or to transportation by sea..." Baltimore Line
Handling Co. v. Brophy, 771 F.Supp.2d 531, 538 (Md.
2007) (citations omitted; emphasis added). While some lower
federal courts have previously held that admiralty
jurisdiction does not extend to contracts which require both
maritime and nonmaritime transportation (unless the land
travel is merely incidental), the Supreme Court expressly
rejected this spatial approach in Norfolk S. Ry. Co. v.
Kirby (2004). There, the Court held that if a
transaction involves the substantial carriage of goods by
sea, the transaction is wholly maritime in nature and federal
admiralty jurisdiction applies. Id. at 27.
the parties entered into an oral contract to ship merchandise
from the United States to Haiti. Plaintiff admitted that not
only was she aware of the Defendant's intended mode of
transportation to transport her merchandise via cargo ship,
it was the primary objective of the agreement itself.
Furthermore, during their testimony at trial both parties
explicitly and repeatedly stated that the sole puipose of the
agreement was to transport Plaintiffs merchandise by sea to
Haiti for sale in that country. While the agreement did
involve minimal land travel from Maryland to Delaware to New
York, the primary objective of the agreement was to
effectuate maritime commerce by transporting Plaintiffs
merchandise, in ...