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United States Supreme Court

75 U.S. 15

The Eagle

ERROR to the Circuit Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The case being thus:

1. The Constitution declares that the power of the Federal courts shall extend to 'all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.' And the Judiciary Act of 1789 gives to all the District Courts 'exclusive original cognizance of all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, including all seizures under laws of impost, navigation, or trade of the United States, where the seizures are made on waters which are navigable from the sea by vessles of ten or more tons burden, within their respective districts, as well as upon the high seas.'

At the time when this act of 1789 was passed, admiralty jurisdiction, according to the ideas then generally entertained by both courts and bar, could be exercised only upon waters within the ebb and flow of the tide. [1] Accordingly in 1845, Congress, by a statute, [2] entitled 'An act extending the jurisdiction of the District Courts to certain cases upon the lakes and navigable waters connecting the same,' enacted thus:

The District Courts of the United States shall have, possess, and exercise the same jurisdiction in 'matters of contract and tort, arising in, upon, or concerning steamboats and other vessels of twenty tons burden and upwards, enrolled and licensed for the coasting trade, and employed in the business of commerce and navigation between ports and places in divers States and Territories, upon the lakes and the navigable waters connecting the same, as is now possessed and exercised by the said courts in cases of the like steamboats and other vessels employed in navigation and commerce on the high seas.'

About six years after this statute was passed, the case of The Genesee Chief [3] came before this court. And in that case it was decided that the impression that admiralty jurisdiction in this country was limited to tide waters was a mistake, and that the lakes and waters connecting them were within it.

After this decision, the language of certain cases [4] seemed to indicate that the act of 1845 was to be regarded as limiting the exercise of this jurisdiction to those cases in which the act had meant, by way of extending the jurisdiction, to grant it.

In this state of statutory law and of judicial remark upon it, the tug Eagle, in September, 1864, was towing a brig and a barge from the head of the St. Clair River through the Detroit River; the brig being on her way from Saginaw, in Michigan, to Buffalo, in New York. The tug, getting a mile or so over the line which separates the British side of the river from ours, and out of the usual course of navigation, was sailing in shoal water, when the brig grounded and the barge, which was attached to her, ran into her stern and seriously damaged her. Thereupon the owners of the brig filed a libel in the District Court for Eastern Michigan, 'in a cause of collision' against both tug and barge. It set forth that the brig was 'a vessel of twenty tons and upwards, duly enrolled and licensed at the port of Buffalo, State of New York, and used in navigating the waters of the Northwestern lakes and the rivers connecting said lakes, and engaged in the business of commerce and navigation thereupon.' And also that the tug and barge were also both 'vessels of more than twenty tons burden, enrolled and licensed for the coasting trade, and used in navigating the waters of this State and the adjoining States, and now lying, or soon will be, at the port of Detroit, and within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of this court.'

The answers denied knowledge of these facts stated about the brig, and called for proof, but admitted the tug and barge to be enrolled and licensed.

The answer for the barge further laid the whole blame on the tug, asserting that the sole cause of the disaster was her going out of the proper course of navigation; while the answer for the tug stated there was no fault with her, and denied that the libellants had any claim 'enforceable in this court sitting in admiralty for said alleged damage.'

Two questions were thus raised: the first, of merits; the second, of jurisdiction. The District Court dismissed the libel as to the barge and condemned the tug. This decree being confirmed by the Circuit Court, the case came here on appeal, where the question of merits was briefly urged, the point of jurisdiction being really the only question. It was admitted, that by the law of Canada, where this damage was done, no lien or any action exists against a wrongdoing vessel, or any right or lien in rem.

Mr. Newberry, for the tug, appellant:

1. This is an action for a tort, not one on contract; and the tort was committed in Canada. Confessedly the Canadian law gives no lien. It can exist only under our laws. But the laws of the United States can have no extra-territorial operation. Neither, if the vessel was out of our jurisdiction when the tort was committed, can a lien arise by her coming into our lines. An admiralty lien subsists from the moment the claim arises, or subsists not at all. It is a right in the thing, jus in re, and not jus ad rem; and attaches by operation of then existing law. If there is no such law in force at the time and place of the damage done, no lien can attach. Indeed, the rights of the parties must, in all cases, especially in actions of tort, depend upon the law of the place where the alleged rights accrued. In Smith v. Condry, [5] two American vessels collided in the port of Liverpool. The defence set up certain rights of parties under the law of the place of collision. This defence was sustained, and the court held, 'that when a collision occurs in an English port, the rights of the parties depend on the law in force at that place.'

2. In addition to these points of general law, it should be noted that neither the tug, brig, or barge had the proper characteristics to bring them within the act of 1845. In The Genesee Chief, Taney, C. J., speaking for the court, states that the general jurisdiction of admiralty was limited by the act of 1845. In Allen v. Newberry, [6] Nelson, J., speaking also for the court, says, that 'the act confines the jurisdiction to cases mentioned in it.' And in The Hine v. Trevor, [7] Miller, J., says, that the jurisdiction on the lakes and waters connecting them is governed by that statute, though he said that it was not so, as was often erroneously thought in the West, upon the rivers. Now the libel, while alleging that the tug was 'enrolled and licensed' at the time of the libel filed, does not allege that she was so 'for the coasting trade,' or enrolled and licensed at all when the damage occurred. Nor is there proof that the tug was enrolled and licensed for the 'coasting trade;' nor that she was employed in the business of commerce and navigation between ports and places in different states and territories, &c., 'at the time,' &c., or indeed at any time. There is no proof on that subject. The burden of proof is on the libellant to prove the alleged facts. On the other hand, the tug was a tow-boat, towing obviously from the lower end of Lake Huron to the upper end of Lake Erie. Both termini are within the waters of the State of Michigan, and such employment did not require the tug to go into the waters of any other State than Michigan. She was clearly, as to her occupation, within the case of Allen v. Newberry. [8]

Mr. G. B. Hibbert, contra, submitted an able brief, presenting with learning and force much the same views as are presented by the court; a brief of Mr. W. A. Moore being also filed.

Mr. Justice NELSON delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  The Thomas Jefferson, 10 Wheaton, 428; The Steamboat Orleans, 11 Peters, 175.

^2  5 Stat. at Large, 726.

^3  12 Howard, 443.

^4  Ex. gr. Allen v. Newberry, 21 Howard, 245; Maguire v. Card, Ib. 248; The Hine v. Trevor, 4 Wallace, 556.

^5  1 Howard, 28.

^6  21 Howard, 246.

^7  4 Wallace, 556.

^8  21 Howard, 246.

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).