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United States Supreme Court

78 U.S. 411

The Montello

APPEAL from the Circuit Court for the District of Wisconsin.

This case was heard on the libel of information, as amended, filed by the United States against the steamer Montello, and the exception to it taken by the claimants. The object of the proceeding was to recover two penalties alleged to have been forfeited to the United States; one by the neglect of the owners or captain of the vessel to procure her enrolment and license whilst she was engaged in navigating Fox River, in the State of Wisconsin, between Oshkosh and Portage City, and in transporting passengers and merchandise between those places; and the other, by their failure to put upon the boilers of the steamer an additional safety-valve prescribed by the board of supervising inspectors, and to provide a good and reliable water-gauge for the boilers.

For the first penalty claimed the libel alleged in its first article in substance, that the owners of the vessel, which was propeled in whole or part by steam, and was of twenty tons burden and upwards, on the 1st of October, 1867, transported in her, passengers and merchandise on the bays, rivers, and other navigable waters of the United States; and that, in carrying passengers, they navigated Fox River, in the State of Wisconsin, between the ports of Oshkosh and Portage City, and that prior to that period they were engaged in transporting between those places merchandise consisting of the products of Wisconsin, which were destined for use and consumption in other States of the Union and in foreign countries, and also in transporting merchandise consisting of the products of other States, brought from those States to Wisconsin, and destined to different places within her limits, without having the steamer enrolled and licensed, as required by the act of Congress of July 7th, 1838, and the amendatory act of August 30th, 1852.

For the second penalty claimed the libel alleged in its second article that an additional safety-valve, of such dimensions and arrangement as had been prescribed by the board of supervising inspectors, had not been placed upon the boilers of the steamer as required by law, and that a good and reliable water-gauge had not been provided for the boilers.

The act of July 7th, 1838, [1] above referred to, provides, in its second section, that it shall not be lawful for the owner, master, or captain of any vessel, propelled in whole or in part by steam, to transport any merchandise or passengers upon 'the bays, lakes, rivers, or other navigable waters of the United States,' after the 1st of October of that year, without having first obtained from the proper officer a license under existing laws; that for every violation of this enactment the owner or owners of the vessel shall forfeit and pay to the United States the sum of five hundred dollars; and that for this sum the vessel engaged shall be liable, and may be seized and proceeded against summarily by libel in the District Court of the United States.

The act of August 30, 1852, [2] which is amendatory of the act of July 7th, 1838, provides for the inspection of vessels propelled in whole or in part by steam and carrying passengers, and the delivery to the collector of the district of a certificate of such inspection, before a license, register, or enrolment, under either of the acts, can be granted, and declares that if any vessel of this kind is navigated with passengers on board, without complying with the terms of the act, the owners and the vessel shall be subject to the penalties prescribed by the second section of the act of 1838.

The act requires, among other things, that the supervising inspectors, appointed under its provisions, shall satisfy themselves that the safety-valves of the boilers on the steamers are of suitable dimensions, sufficient in number, well arranged and in good working order, and that there is a suitable number of gauge-cocks properly inserted, and a suitable water-gauge and steam-gauge indicating the height of the water and the pressure of the steam, [3] before giving their certificate to the collector.

The exception of the claimants to the libel was, that the court had no jurisdiction of the matters contained in the articles, on the ground that they were not matters of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, in this, that the steamer Montello was employed wholly on the inland waters of the State of Wisconsin at the time of the seizure and previously, and was not engaged in the coasting trade, or in foreign commerce, or in commerce between the States.

The District Court sustained the exception, and dismissed the libel. The Circuit Court affirmed the decision, and the United States brought the case here on appeal.

Mr. Akerman, Attorney-General, for the United States, cited the case of The Daniel Ball. [4] No one appeared for the claimants in this court.

Mr. Justice FIELD, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court, as follows:


^1  5 Stat. at Large, 304.

^2  10 Stat. at Large, 61.

^3  10 Stat. at Large, § 9, second head, p. 64.

^4  10 Wallace, 557.

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).