Salvaging Federal Admiralty Jurisdiction: The Eleventh Circuit Advances a Modern Test for Waterway Navigability in Aqua Log, Inc. v. Lost & Abandoned Pre-Cut Logs & Rafts of Logs

Bryan J. Kitz | Note

A market for submerged logs has surfaced as a result of sunken timber’s suitability for specialized purposes. Aqua Log, Inc., a company that finds and sells such timber, discovered sunken logs in two Georgia waterways: the Flint River and its tributary Spring Creek. Aqua Log used the waterways to transport three logs that it initially retrieved, but many more remained. Portions of the Flint River on the Georgia-Florida border were used in interstate commerce, but the segments of both waterways where the logs lay submerged did not support any commercial activity at the time. Nevertheless, the relevant sections of the Flint River and Spring Creek were capable of supporting commercial vessel traffic.

In August 2007, invoking federal admiralty jurisdiction, Aqua Log brought three in rem actions in federal district court seeking a salvage award for the remaining submerged logs or, in the alternative, an award of title. The State of Georgia intervened and moved for summary judgment for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Georgia claimed that the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because the log-bearing portions of the Flint River and Spring Creek were not navigable as required for federal admiralty jurisdiction to lie. The district court granted Georgia’s motion, finding that the waterways were not navigable because there was no evidence of present or planned commercial activity. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and held that the Flint River and Spring Creek were navigable for admiralty jurisdiction purposes because they were capable of supporting commercial activity.