Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Petitory Suit Definition:

An action in maritime law in which a person seeks to obtain a judgment as to title of a vessel independently of possession.

Related Terms: Possessory Action

Often distinguished from the similar action of a possessory action in which an individual asserts his or her title based upon an allegation of prior possession of a vessel.

The distinguishing feature of a petitory suit is that the plaintiff does not claim prior possession but grounds his action on other alleged facts.

In 1855, Justice Story of the Maine court wrote this in The Tilton:

"Suits in the admiralty, touching property in ships, are of two kinds: one called petitory suits, in which the mere title to the property is litigated, and sought to be enforced, independently of any possession, which has previously accompanied or sanctioned that title; the other called possessory suits, which seek to restore to the owner the possession of which he had been unjustly deprived. When that possession has followed a legal title, or as it is sometimes phrased, when there has been a possession under a claim of title with a constat of property."

In Silver v Sloop Silver Cloud,  Justice Tenney of the United States District Court (New York) wrote:

"A petitory suit is defined as one seeking to try title to a vessel independently of possession. It requires plaintiff to assert a legal title to the vessel; mere assertion of an equitable interest is unsufficient (sic)....

"[T]he right to bring a possessory or petitory suit requires the existence of a maritime question and that no maritime question has been found."


  • Northern Insurance Company v. 1996 Searay Model 370DA Yacht, 453 F. Supp. 2d 905 (2006)
  • Silver v. Sloop Silver Cloud, 259 F. Supp. 187 (1966)
  • The Tilton, 5 Mason 465 (1855)

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!