Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Possessory Action Definition:

Where a party entitled to possession of a vessel seeks to recover that vessel.

Related Terms: Petitory Suit

Similar to but distinguished from a petitory suit.

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 possessory action is one where a party entitled to possession of a vessel seeks to recover that vessel. It is brought to reinstate an owner of a vessel who alleges wrongful deprivation of property. This statement indicates that the action is one to recover possession rather than to obtain original possession....

"It has been determined that the 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)

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