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United States Supreme Court

22 U.S. 658

The Consul-General of Portugal

APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Maryland.

This was the case of a libel filed by the Consul-General of Portugal, on behalf of certain Portuguese subjects, owners of a number of hides which had been brought from St. Thomas to Baltimore in the brig Fanny. The facts proved in the cause, which the Court considered to be material, are the following:

Some time in the year 1817, Robert M. Goodwin, Clement Cathill, James Halsey, and John R. Mifflin, all of them citizens of the United States, and denominated 'The American concern,' fitted out, at Buenos Ayres, a brig, called La Republicana, as a privateer to cruise against the subjects of Spain and Portugal, under a commission obtained for her from Jose Artigas. Thus prepared, she sailed under the command of Obadiah Chase, also a citizen of the United States, and, in February, 1818, she captured the Portuguese brig Aurora, which, with her cargo, were sent to St. Barts, and there sold as American property for about 20,000 dollars. With this money, thus raised, Goodwin proceeded to Baltimore, and there invested it in the purchase of a new brig, called the Athenea, which had been lately built at that port. Having changed her name to that of the New Republicana, both privateers shipped their crews at Baltimore, together with their munitions of war, except the cannon and carriages for the latter vessel, which, with a view of deceiving the custom-house officers, were put on board of a small schooner, and were transferred to this privateer, a few miles below the fort. The commission, together with other papers belonging to the Republicana, were delivered to the New Republicana, and both the privateers proceeded to sea; the latter under the command of the above mentioned Clement Cathill, one of the owners. She soon after fell in with the Portuguese ship Don Pedro de Alcantara, laden with a valuable cargo of hides, sugar, &c. which she captured on the 22d of September, 1818, and ordered in to the Five Islands, there to await the orders of Goodwin. At this place, Goodwin transhipped the principal part of the cargo into several small vessels, which proceeded to the island of St. Thomas, consigned to Souffron & Co., merchants of that place. The residue of the cargo, except a small part, which was afterwards taken, together with the Don Pedro, by Commodore Jolly, commanding a squadron belonging to the republic of Colombia was also carried by Goodwin to St. Thomas, in the old privateer, at which place it is probable the whole or a great part of the captured property was sold. Nathaniel Levy, the American Consul at that island, purchased 4004 of the hides, which, together with 555 logs of lignum vitae, he shipped in the brig Fanny to Baltimore, where she arrived in January, 1819, consigned to Lyde Goodwin. On the 21st of this month, the hides and lignum vitae were libelled as Portuguese property, illegally taken on the high seas, and on the 27th of the same month, the lignum vitae was released from the operation of the libel.

To this libel a claim was filed by Lyde Goodwin, as agent of Levy, in which it is asserted that the hides had been purchased by Levy, in the regular course of trade, from Souffron & Co., and all knowledge of the matters alleged in the libel is denied. On the 15th of March the hides were delivered upon stipulation, having been appraised at the sum of 12000 dollars.

In the progress of the cause in the District Court, the owners of the brig Fanny presented to the Judge a petition, setting forth, that on the 6th of October, 1818, Nathan Levy entered into a charter-party of affreightment with the petitioners for the brig Fanny, on certain terms stated in the petition, for a voyage from Baltimore to St. Lucie, and if required, to three other ports in the West Indies, and thence back to Baltimore. That, under this charter-party, the said brig took in a cargo at Baltimore, and sailed to St. Lucie, and to three other ports, and finally delivered the cargo to the said Levy, who afterwards shipped on board the said brig, at St. Thomas, 4000 hides and 555 sticks of lignum vitae, to be carried to Baltimore, where she arrived on the 17th of January, 1819. That upon her arrival, and when the master was about to deliver the cargo to the consignee of Levy, this libel and claim were filed, and the cargo was taken from the possession of the master by the Marshal, under the process of the said Court. That there was then due to the petitioners, on the said charter-party, the sum of 2094 dollars 50 cents, as admitted by the said Levy, which they pray may be paid out of the proceeds of the hides and lignum vitae. This petition was accompanied by an account, dated the 28th of December, 1818, signed by Nathan Levy, acknowledging a balance of 2094 dollars 50 cents to be due the said brig Fanny on the charter-party. Below this account is the following entry, not signed by any person: 'The freight on the homeward cargo, consisting of 4004 hides and 555 sticks of lignum vitae, $1047 25.' The Court made an order that the agent of the claimant should pay the freight on the above goods to the amount of 1047 dollars 25 cents.

The District Court decreed the claimants to pay to the libellant the appraised value of the hides, as mentioned in their stipulation, together with interest and costs, after deducting the amount of freight theretofore ordered to be paid. This decree being wholly affirmed by the Circuit Court, upon an appeal, both parties appealed from that decree to this Court.

Mr. D. Hoffman, for the libellant, argued, 1. That this was a piratical taking, there being no sufficient evidence of a valid commission. [a] But if the power granting the commission were valid, still the seizure is piratical, as the commission was not only amortised, but transferred to a new vessel and a new commander, by whom it was abused in the grossest acts of violence, evincive of an animus depredandi, and which constituted the captors trespassers ab initio. [b] Had the authority which granted the commission been competent, and the proceedings under it regular, as the laws of this country have been violated by the captors, who are American citizens, this Court will restore the res capta. [c] The appellant claims the protection of this Court, on the ground of his being a bonae fidei purchaser, under a valid condemnation. If this could avail him in law, he has failed in his proof of bona fides. Every circumstance of evidence and probability is against him. Admitting, however, that there was a purchase in good faith, and under entire ignorance of the circumstances, the title of this claimant cannot be valid against that of the original owners, since there was no condemnation in point of fact; and if there had been, still, as the taking was either without a valid commission, or in virtue of an amortised or abused one, the condemnation would be inoperative. [d]

2. Levy, if free from all blame, cannot sustain his claim, under the doctrine of market overt. There can be no such protection for property taken jure belli, at least until after condemnation; and the doctrine of market overt is itself unknown to the jus gentium. [e]

3. A condemnation is produced, but it is wholly unnecessary to dwell on its operation, since a condemnation, in all respects valid as between belligerents, cannot deprive this Court of its power to restore, when the original taking was in violation of our laws. And, secondly, the condemnation now exhibited, cannot possibly apply to the property in question, as it will be found, on reference to the dates, that this decree of condemnation was some time after Levy's alleged purchase, and, indeed, only a few days prior to the filing of the libel in this cause. [f] But,

4. The main point of inquiry regards the claim to freight. We contend, that the appellant is responsible to us for the entire value of the hides, as the same is ascertained by the stipulation, together with interest; and that the freight bill, though properly paid by the appellant to the innocent ship-owner, cannot now be deducted by this illegal captor, from the amount stipulated to be paid by him. Waiving all question which might be made, as to the power of this Court to decree freight in the case, on the ground of incidental jurisdiction, we insist that the present is not a claim by the ship-owner for his freight, but by the appellant, to have the same allowed to him out of this fund, as having been properly paid by him. If this Court reject the claim of the appellant to the property, on the ground of its having been illegally captured, and that this infirmity adheres to the property even in the hands of a bonae fidei purchaser, we are at a loss to conceive how this purchaser can rightfully impose any charge or incumbrance whatever upon it. But when we advert to the real character of the appellant, and find him an unworthy claimant, in truth as much so as the captor himself had been, we cannot suppose that he can be entitled to any favour at the hands of this Court. He brought this prize property into an American port, without the knowledge or privity of its owner, and surely ought not to claim either compensation or indemnity, for doing that which, as to the other party, is in invitum, and has proved, in fact, extremely prejudicial to him. If this be a claim on the fund, it is only so as regards the innocent owner. No lien can be created by one who has no property, general or special, in the thing. If a malae fidei possessor cannot so mortgage or pledge the property, as that such mortgage or pledge shall be valid against the true proprietor, he is not competent to create any lien, nor to impose any charge or incumbrance whatever. But without pressing this point, we do not think that the appellant is entitled to be subrogated to the rights of the innocent ship-owner, if such right of lien even vested in him. If this claim to freight were one in rem, as well as in personam, and the illegal captors, or those claiming under them, have satisfied the personal obligation, it does not follow that they can now enforce that lien against the fund which it might, argumenti gratia, be admitted that the ship-owner possessed. This is very unlike the case of a neutral's claim for freight on belligerent property captured from him by another belligerent. The neutral had a right so to employ his vessel, subject only to the belligerent's right to make the seizure; he, therefore, in such case, takes it cum onere, and must pay the neutral his freight. The object here, however, is to transfer the obligation of paying the freight from the illegal captor to the despoiled individual. If the controversy were now wholly between the Portuguese owners of the property and the innocent American ship-owner, the claim might deserve some consideration. In this case, the ship-owner is the agent of the captors, or those claiming under them, not of the Portuguese owner, and as such, must look to his employers, and not to the goods; and if, in fact, the illegal captor has paid the freight, he cannot thereby entitle himself to be refunded out of the fruits of his piratical taking. The claim to freight is always conventional; a claim even to pro rata freight, arises from some convention, and not from the simple fact of transportation. In this case, no consent of the owners to the shipment to Baltimore can be implied. Our claim to the property is disputed on all points; and if none of these is found tenable, but the taking is ascertained to be a gross act of piracy, it would be a strange anomaly, that an honest and lawful belligerent must pay freight to a neutral ship-owner, and yet that a piratical captor shall be exempt from charges voluntarily imposed by him on the property, and that these shall be cast on those whom he has endeavoured to despoil.

5. The Court below has, also, manifestly erred in allowing the entire freight bill, as this includes a charge on some lignum vitae, which formed no part of that which is owned or demanded by the libellant. We, therefore, ask at the hands of this Court, the whole value of the property, as it is ascertained by the stipulation, together with interest from its date, so that the claim to freight may be wholly rejected. The ship-owner is, indeed, the petitioner for freight in this case; but he has been since paid, and the claim, in truth, is now at the instance of the captor, who desires to be subrogated to the rights of the ship-owner, and to enforce his lien, if he had one. We have endeavoured to show, that no such right existed, and that if it ever did, the captor is not entitled to receive the benefit of such lien.

Mr. Winder, contra, argued principally upon the facts, to show that the alleged purchase was bona fide. March 15th.

Mr. Justice WASHINGTON, delivered the opinion of the Court; and after stating the case, proceeded as follows:

NotesEdit

^a  7 Wheat. Rep. 476. 8 Wheat. Rep. 111.

^b  3 Wood. Lec. 14 Johns. Rep. 273.

^c  6 Wheat. Rep. 152. 7 Wheat. Rep. 496. 8 Wheat. Rep. 108.

^d  2 Bro. Civ. Law, 55. 252, 253. 268. 461. 464. 1 Johns. Rep. 471. Bee's Rep. 308. 5 Wheat. Rep. 345, 346.

^e  7 Wheat. Rep. 490.

^f  Wheat. Rep. 108. 167. 174.

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).