Contracts for the construction of vessels and for the furnishing of materials are non-maritime and liens and proceedings to enforce such liens come under state control and may be enforced in state courts[i]. With respect to the application of these principles, no distinction is made between large and small vessels.
A contract for building a vessel, being a contract made on land and to be performed on land is not a maritime contract and that a lien to secure it given by local statute is not a maritime lien and cannot therefore be enforced in admiralty[ii].
If the supply of machinery is deemed a part of the building of a vessel, the contract is not a maritime contract and cannot be enforced in an admiralty court. If the state law gives a lien for building a vessel, the lien can be enforced in the state courts alone[iii].
For incidental repairs made on land to articles of a ship’s furniture or machinery, a court of admiralty does not have jurisdiction. Articles removed from a vessel and repaired or renovated upon land at the shop of the artisan are different from repairs made upon the vessel herself and are the subject of a possessory lien at common law[iv].
However, in Steamer Petrel v. Dumont, 28 Ohio St. 602 (Ohio 1876), the court held that a contract for repairs of a boat at her home port on which a suit is brought is a maritime contract, on which a suit in personam might be brought in an admiralty court. The court further held that there can be no maritime lien without a maritime contract and no process in rem without a maritime lien. Also, a state law does not give a lien and process in rem against a boat different from all debts contracted on account thereof.
Thus, the process and lien depends upon the contract and without the contract, there would be neither process, lien, nor cause of action[v]. It is therefore the contract upon which the action is founded that determines the question of jurisdiction and if it is maritime, it falls within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction conferred on the U.S. district courts.
[i] Globe Iron-Works Co. v. The John B. Ketcham, 2nd, 100 Mich. 583 (Mich. 1894)
[iii] The Owyhee, 60 F.2d 641 (D.N.Y. 1932)
[iv] The Robert W. Parsons, 191 U.S. 17 (U.S. 1903)
[v] Steamer Petrel v. Dumont, 28 Ohio St. 602 (Ohio 1876)