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United States Supreme Court

81 U.S. 152

Ex parte Newman

PETITION for writ of mandamus to the United States Circuit judge for the Eastern District of New York; the case being thus:

The Constitution ordains [1] that the judicial power of the United States shall extend 'to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.'

The 10th article of the treaty of the United States with the King of Prussia, made May 1st, 1828, [2] contains this provision:

'The consuls, vice-consuls, and commercial agents shall have the right as such to sit as judges and arbitrators in such differences as may arise between the captains and crews of the vessels belonging to the nation whose interests are committed to their charge, without the interference of the local authorities, unless the conduct of the crews, or of the captain, should disturb the order or tranquillity of the country; or the said consuls, vice-consuls, or commercial agents, should require their assistance to cause their decisions to be carried into effect or supported. It is, however, understood that this species of judgment or arbitration shall not deprive the contending parties of the rights they have to resort on their return to the judicial authority of their country.'

'All treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States,' it is ordained by the Constitution of the United States, [3] 'shall be the supreme law of the land.'

With this treaty thus in force, the mate and several of the crew, all Prussians-who had shipped in Prussia on the Prussian bark Elwine Kreplin, under and with express reference, made in the shipping articles, to the laws of Prussia-got into a difficulty at New York with the master of the bark, who caused several of them to be arrested on charges of mutiny and desertion. They, on the other hand, took the case before the Prussian consul; denying all fault on their part, and claiming wages. The vice-consul heard the case, and decided that on their own showing they had forfeited their wages by the Prussian law applied to their contract of shipment. In addition to this he issued a requisition addressed to any marshal or magistrate of the United States, reciting that the master and crew had been guilty of desertion, and requiring such marshal or magistrate to take notice of their offence.

The mate and men now filed a libel in the District Court at New York against the bark for the recovery of wages (less than $2000), which they alleged were due to them; and the bark was attached to answer. The master of the bark intervening for the interest of the owners answered, and set up various grounds of defence to the claim, some of which arose under the laws of Prussia, and especially he invoked the protection of the clause in the above-quoted treaty between his country and this, and denied the jurisdiction of the District Court, alleging, moreover, that the matter in difference, the claim of the libellants for wages, had already in fact been adjudicated by the Prussian consul at the port of New York.

Before the cause was tried in the District Court, the consulgeneral of the North German Union presented to that court his formal protest against the exercise of jurisdiction by that court in the matter in difference. [4] He invoked therein the same clause in the treaty, and claimed exclusive jurisdiction of such matters in difference; and declared also that, before the filing of the libel the matter had been adjudicated by him, and insisted that his adjudication was binding between the parties, and could only be reviewed by the judicial tribunals of Prussia.

The District Court proceeded notwithstanding to hear and adjudge the case; placing its right to do this, on the ground that the suit before it was a proceeding in rem to enforce a maritime lien upon the vessel itself, and not a 'difference between the captain and crew;' and, also, because the Prussian consul had no power to conduct and carry into effect a proceeding in rem for the enforcement of such a lien, and had not in fact passed at all and could not pass upon any such case. Accordingly after a careful examination of the facts, that court decreed in favor of the libellants $712. The case then came by appeal to the Circuit Court. This latter court considered that the District Court had given to the treaty too narrow and technical a construction. The Circuit Court said:

'The master is the representative in this port of the vessel and of all the interests concerned therein. He is plainly so regarded in the treaty. The matter in difference in this cause is the claim for wages. That arises between the crew and the master, either as master or as the representative here of vessel and owners. The lien and the proceeding in rem against the vessel appertain only to the remedy. The very first step in this cause is to settle the matter in dispute. If the claim be established, then, as incident to the right to the wages, the lien and its enforcements against the vessel follow. The District Court can have no jurisdiction of the lien, nor jurisdiction to enforce it if it has no jurisdiction of the difference or dispute touching the claim for wages. To hold that the jurisdiction of the consul is confined to cases in which there is no maritime lien, and in which no libel of the vessel could, apart from the treaty, be maintained, is to take from the treaty much of its substance.'

The Circuit Court adverted to and relied on the fact, that the Prussian consul had moreover actually heard the mate and sailors, and pronounced against them.

The Circuit Court accordingly, while it expressed on a general view of the merits its sympathy with the sailors, and a strong inclination to condemn the conduct of the master in the matter, yet was 'constrained to the conclusion that the treaty required that the matter in difference should have been left where the treaty with Prussia leaves it, viz., in the hands and subject to the determination of their own public officer.' The result was the dismissal of the libels by the Circuit Court for want of jurisdiction.

Thereupon Newman and the others, by their counsel, Messrs. P. Phillips and D. McMahon, filed a petition in this court for a writ of mandamus to the Circuit judge, commanding him 'to entertain jurisdiction of the said cause on appeal, and to hear and decide the same on the merits thereof.' The judge returned that the Circuit Court had entertained the appeal, and had heard counsel on all the questions raised in the case, and had decided it; and that the said court had decided that the matter in controversy was within the jurisdiction of the consul under the treaty, and that in the exercise of the jurisdiction so given him, he had decided the matter, and that therefore the court had dismissed the libel.

The question now was whether the mandamus should issue.

The reader will of course remember the provision in the 13th section of the Judiciary Act, by which it is enacted:

'That the Supreme Court shall have power to issue writs of mandamus, in cases warranted by the principles and usages of law, to any courts appointed or persons holding office under the authority of the United States.'

And also the provision of the 22d section, extended by an act of 1803 to appeals in admiralty, by which it is enacted:

'That final judgments and decrees in civil actions . . . in a Circuit Court . . . removed there by appeal from a District Court, where the matter in dispute exceeds the sum or value of $2000, exclusive of costs, may be re-examined and reversed or affirmed in the Supreme Court.'

Messrs. D. McMahon and P. Phillips, in support of the motion:

The mandamus should issue:

1st. Because the treaty stipulation is unconstitutional. It strips the courts of the United States of the admiralty jurisdiction conferred on them by the Constitution of the United States. It is well settled that admiralty courts have jurisdiction, at their discretion, over foreign vessels within their jurisdiction, and actions in rem against them brought by foreign seamen. If then the treaties attempt to confer on a foreign officer exclusive jurisdiction of cases already within the control of admiralty, they violate the Constitution, and are so far null.

2d. The treaty with Prussia has no reference to suits or proceedings in rem, and in that respect differs from the case mentioned in the treaty, of a difference between the master and seamen. The proceeding is against the vessel to foreclose a lien, and the owners are brought in incidentally. The master, as such, has no interest, nominal or otherwise, in the suit in question, and it is a misnomer to call the present case a controversy between a master and his crew.

3d. The Prussian consul made no adjudication in the matter now in difference, between the libellants and the master.

4th. The treaty is with the kingdom of Prussia, and the tribunals referred to in it are the consuls, vice-consuls, and commercial agents of that government. Now, at the time of the occurrence of the facts here in controversy, there were no consuls, or vice-consuls, or commercial agents of the kingdom of Prussia in the city of New York, or in the United States, though there are such officers of the North German Union. A treaty stipulation to maintain tribunals independent of our own, in this country, is contrary to the spirit of our institutions, as its effect may be to create in our midst many tribunals independent of our national courts. It should, therefore, be construed strictly.

5th. The consul is estopped from asserting his exclusive jurisdiction, because that he appealed in his 'requisition' to our marshals and other magistrates, and prayed them to take cognizance of the case. He cannot be permitted, after doing so, to avail himself of the benefit of the treaty stipulations.

Messrs. Salomon and Burke, contra:

This is an attempt to cause this court to review the decision already rendered in the Circuit Court and to direct the Circuit judge to change his decision, and to render a different judgment in a case which cannot be brought before this court by appeal, because the amount in controversy is less than $2000. This cannot be done.

Mandamus cannot perform the functions of a writ of error or of an appeal. This court will never direct in what manner the discretion of an inferior tribunal shall be exercised; but will only, in a proper case, require the inferior court to decide. If the Circuit judge had refused to decide the case, or to enter a decree therein, this court might compel him by mandamus to decide or to enter a decree; but even then it could not by such process have commanded him how to decide it, or what decree to enter. A revision of his judicial decision can only take place by appeal. But here the applicants do not complain that the judge has refused to decide the case, or that he has refused to enter judgment, but they complain that his decision upon some of the questions involved therein, and which were fully argued before, and have been carefully considered and adjudged by him, is erroneous, and that consequently this court should overrule his judgment in this case.

Now, strictly speaking, this court cannot look into the opinion of the Circuit judge for the purpose of ascertaining on what ground his decision is based with a view of revising it.

It can look only to the record, which shows only that the Circuit Court has entertained the appeal, heard and tried it, and upon such hearing and trial, after due consideration, has ordered that the decree of the District Court be reversed and the libel dismissed. How can this court, then, upon an application for a mandamus, compel him to decide differently?

But, waiving this, no doubt the question arising under the treaty with Prussia has from the beginning been the material question in the controversy. That under the treaty the Prussian consul had exclusive jurisdiction, and had exercised that jurisdiction and decided between the parties, was set up by the claimant in his answer; it was brought before the District Court by the consul's protest; upon that, mainly, the appeal was taken to the Circuit Court. The question involved not only the proper construction of the treaty, but also the examination and adjudication of important facts and circumstances relating to the consul's action in the case. All the points were argued before the Circuit Court, and that court, after consideration, has decided upon the facts and the law. This is in no proper sense a case in which the Circuit Court has refused to entertain or to exercise jurisdiction. It has, in fact, entertained the appeal from the decree of the District Court, and upon consideration has decided that the decree appealed from should be reversed, on three grounds:

First. That under the treaty with Prussia, the Prussian consul had jurisdiction of the matter in difference involved in the litigation.

Second. That that jurisdiction of the Prussian consul was exclusive.

Third. Upon the proofs the court found and decided, that the Prussian consul had adjudicated the matter in difference involved in the litigation, and that the libellants were bound by that adjudication.

If this court can by mandamus review this decision of the Circuit Court, then it can in this manner review every case in which a suit is dismissed on the ground of a former adjudication of the subject-matter between the same parties.

Admiralty courts generally decline to interfere between foreigners concerning seamen's wages, except where it is manifestly necessary to do so to prevent a failure of justice, and then only where the voyage has been broken up, or the seamen have been discharged. [5] Now, if for this reason, in the proper exercise of his judicial discretion, the Circuit judge, on appeal, had ordered a dismissal of the libel, can it be maintained that by mandamus this court could compel him to reverse his own decision? Non constat that, if the Circuit judge had not ordered the dismissal of the libel on account of the treaty and the exercise of the consular jurisdiction, he would not have so ordered on this ground of comity between nations.

The application is for a mandamus directing the Circuit judge to hear the appeal and to decide the same on the merits thereof. What are the merits of the controversy? Is not this question of the jurisdiction of the Prussian consul and his decision a part of them? Will this court, by mandamus, determine what is and what is not of 'the merits of a controversy?'

Reply: The law will leave no one remediless, and the amount in controversy not being $2000, and no appeal existing, and there being no other remedy, the remedy in the premises must be by mandamus. The writ is issued to inferior courts to enforce the due exercise of these judicial powers; 'and this not only by restraining their excesses, but also by quickening their negligence and obviating their denial of justice.' [6] While this court will not restrain nor direct by mandamus in what manner the discretion of the inferior tribunal should be exercised, it will, in proper cases, require the court to hear and decide. The 'principles and usages of law,' give the right to a mandamus where a party has a legal right, and no other remedy to enforce it. [7]

In the case at bar the proposed mandamus does not usurp the functions of a writ of error or appeal, for no appeal lies, the amount being less than $2000.

The case is this. The Circuit judge refuses to consider and determine, on the merits, a cause over which he has ample jurisdiction, he entertaining the opinion that he has no jurisdiction, because of the terms of treaty with Prussia. In this court it is submitted that his conclusion is erroneous. No appeal, however, lies. A Circuit judge entertaining very strict notions of the extent of admiralty jurisdiction, might, in a contest between State and National courts, paralyze the commerce of a great commercial port like New York. Can there be no correction for this? Is a party to be dismissed in a case like this, with the allegation that the writ of mandamus cannot usurp the function of a writ of error, therefore there is no correction?

While it is conceded that the writ of mandamus cannot be used to correct an erroneous judgment of a court of acknowledged jurisdiction, yet it can be invoked to compel a court to exercise its jurisdiction, even though such court be of the opinion it had not jurisdiction. The distinction between the two classes of cases is obvious. The distinction lies between a direction to an inferior tribunal to act, and direction to it how to act. We do not seek to control the Circuit Court's judgment by the mandamus, but only to compel it to entertain jurisdiction of the cause, and then to hear and decide according to the law and the allegations and proofs.

Authorities are clear on the right of a superior tribunal to compel an inferior tribunal to hear a cause and decide it even after the latter has declined to entertain the cause because of an alleged want of jurisdiction. [8]

Mr. Justice CLIFFORD delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  Article 3, § 2.

^2  8 Stat. at Large, 378.

^3  Article 6.

^4  The consul-general of the North German Union was commissioned by the King of Prussia, Prussia being one of the States composing the North German Union; and by certificate of the Secretary of State of the United States, under the seal of that department, it appeared that the Executive Department of the United States recognizes the consuls of the North German Union as consuls of each one of the sovereign States composing that Union, 'the same as if they had been commissioned by each one of such States.'

^5  Gonzales v. Minor, 2 Wallace, Jr., 348.

^6  Ex parte Bradley, 7 Wallace, 375.

^7  Phillips's Practice, p. 230.

^8  Rex v. Justices of Kent, 14 East, 395; Hull v. Supervisors of Oneida, 19 Johnson, 260; Judges of Oneida County v. The People, 18 Wendell, 92 and 95.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).