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Marex Titanic, Inc. v. Wrecked and Abandoned Vessel

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
2 F.3d 544 (1993)


The RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912. Remains of the wreck were found by a French/American expedition in 1985. In 1987, American corporation Titanic Ventures and a French governmental organization, The Institute of France for the Research and Exploration of the Sea, conducted a joint salvage expedition in which they recovered 1,800 artifacts. Others visited the wreck for scientific and photographic purposes. In August 1992, Marex Titanic, Inc. (Marex) (plaintiff) filed an action in a federal district court to be given exclusive salvage rights to, or ownership of salvaged property from, the Titanic. To establish jurisdiction, Ralph White of Marex provided the court with two objects from the wreck. White was later alleged to have pilfered the objects while working on a filming expedition of the site. The court issued a warrant of arrest, which it required Marex to publish within 10 days. Marex did not publish notice of the arrest until over a month later, at which point its ship had begun sailing for the wreck site. That day, Titanic Ventures entered a special appearance to request that the warrant of arrest be vacated on account of Marex’s false representations and in deference to France’s prior exercise of jurisdiction. Days later, Titanic Ventures moved for a preliminary injunction against Marex’s salvaging operations. The court began hearings and issued a temporary restraining order against Marex that same day. After three days of hearings, Marex filed a notice of voluntary dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (FRCP) 41(a)(1)(i) [now 41(a)(1)(A)(i), which will be referred to hereinafter]. The court vacated the notice of dismissal, relying on the Second Circuit decision Harvey Aluminum, Inc. v. American Cyanamid Co., 203 F.2d 105 (1953), which provided that a plaintiff’s voluntary dismissal could be denied if it was sought after the court had considered substantial argument and evidence by the parties on the merits. Titanic Ventures moved to intervene and requested that it be deemed the exclusive salvor of the Titanic. The court granted intervention, vacated Marex’s warrant, and permanently enjoined Marex from conducting any salvage of the Titanic. Marex appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Hall, J.)

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