Use of A Stand-Up Paddleboard on Navigable Waters is Not a Traditional Maritime Activity

On December 4, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion affirming the United States District Court for the Central District of California’s dismissal of an action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Petitioners Skip Abed and Blue Water Boating, Inc. (“Petitioners”) are in the business of renting watersport equipment to the public.  On February 18, 2018, Petitioners filed a complaint for exoneration from or limitation of liability and declaratory relief against the survivors of Davies Kabogoza who drowned in the Santa Harbor while using a stand-up paddleboard (“SUP”) rented from the Petitioners.   Petitioners sought to invoke the court’s admiralty tort jurisdiction and argued that the District Court had subject matter jurisdiction over the action because the activity of using a SUP is more similar to a kayak than to a surfboard.  The district court applied the traditional maritime nexus test which requires that a plaintiff invoking admiralty jurisdiction must show: (1) the tort occurs on navigable waters; (2) the tort has the potential to disrupt maritime commerce; and (3) the general character of the activity has a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.  The District Court did not find Petitioners’ argument persuasive and dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Petitioners appealed the judgment to the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit also applied the traditional maritime nexus test and held that the general character of the activity, the rental of a SUP, lacked “maritime flavor” and a close relationship to traditional maritime activity under prong three of the traditional maritime nexus test.  Accordingly, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of the action.

To read the full opinion, please click here.

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