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United States Supreme Court

71 U.S. 411

The Moses Taylor

A STATUTE of California, passed in 1851, and amended in 1860, provides that all steamers, vessels, and boats, shall be liable—

1st. For services rendered on board at the request of, or on contract with, their respective owners, masters, agents, or consignees.

2d. For supplies furnished for their use, at the request of their respective owners, masters, agents, or consignees.

3d. For materials furnished in their construction, repair, or equipment.

4th. For their wharfage and anchorage within the State.

5th. For non-performance or mal-performance of any contract for the transportation of persons or property made by their respective owners, masters, agents, or consignees.

6th. For injuries committed by them to persons or property.

And that the 'said several causes of action shall constitute liens upon all steamers, vessels, and boats, and have priority in their order, herein enumerated,' with preference over all other demands.

The statute also provides that actions for demands arising upon any of the grounds above specified, may be brought directly against such steamers, vessels, or boats; that the complaint shall designate the steamer, vessel, or boat by name; that the summons may be served on the master, mate, or any one having charge of the same; that the same may be attached as security for the satisfaction of any judgment that may be recovered; and that if the attachment be not discharged, and a judgment be recovered by the plaintiff, the steamer, vessel, or boat, may be sold by the sheriff, and the proceeds applied to the payment of the judgment.

With this statute in force, the steamship Moses Taylor, a vessel of over one thousand tons burden, was owned, in 1863, by Roberts, of the city of New York, and was employed by him in navigating the Pacific Ocean, and in carrying passengers and freight between Panama and San Francisco. In October of that year, one Hammons entered into a contract with Roberts, as owner of this steamship, by which, in consideration of $100, Roberts agreed to transport him from New York to San Francisco as a steerage passenger, with reasonable despatch, and to furnish him with proper and necessary food, water, and berths, or other conveniences for lodging, on the voyage. For alleged breach of this contract Hammons brought this action, a proceeding against the vessel, in a court of a justice of the peace within the city of San Francisco; such courts at that time having, by statute of California, jurisdiction of these cases where the amount claimed did not exceed $200, which it did not here. The breach alleged was that the plaintiff was detained at the Isthmus of Panama eight days; and that the provisions furnished him on the vessel were unwholesome, and that he was crowded into an unhealthy cabin, without sufficient room or air for either health or comfort, in consequence of the large number of steerage passengers, more than the vessel was allowed by law to have or could properly carry, to his damage, &c.

The agent of the vessel filed an answer in which he denied the allegations of the complaint, and asserted that the court had no jurisdiction; because the cause of action, as against the said vessel, was one of which the courts of admiralty had exclusive jurisdiction; for that the vessel was used exclusively in navigating the high seas, and that the said cause of action, if any, arose on the high seas.

The justice decided that he had jurisdiction, and gave judgment for the $200 claimed. The case was then taken to the County Court, where the objection to the jurisdiction was again made and again overruled. The court found as fact that Hammons had been carried on the steamer Illinois from New York to Aspinwall, thence, after the delay alleged, on railway across the Isthmus to Panama, and from there on the Moses Taylor to San Francisco; and, in substance, that the other facts alleged were as stated in the complaint. Whereupon, final judgment was entered in accordance with the decision, and from that judgment the defendant, owner of the vessel, brought this writ of error.

Messrs. W. M. Evarts and Edwards Pierrepont for the plaintiff in error:

I. An agreement to transport a man or a horse over the ocean is a 'maritime contract,' and comes under the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. [1]

It cannot be doubted that Hammons could have proceeded against the steamer in rem in the District Court of the United States, for the cause of action against the steamer set forth in the complaint.

II. The proceeding in this case is not according to the common law, but with every trait and incident of a suit in admiralty, in rem. The vessel is arrested and impleaded as the reus or defendant.

III. The admiralty jurisdiction of the Federal courts is exclusive, and any intrusion of a State court within such admiralty jurisdiction is unconstitutional.

The first section of the third article of the Constitution of the United States, is as follows:

'The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.'

And the first clause of the second section of the same article is in these words:

'The judicial power shall extend ..... to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.'

The ninth section of the Judiciary Act of 1789 declares that 'The District Courts shall have, exclusively of the courts of the several States, ..... cognizance of all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction; ..... saving to suitors, in all cases, the right of a common law remedy, where the common law is competent to give it.'

This exclusive jurisdiction has for seventy years been the settled law; and has been repeatedly affirmed by the courts.

In Martin v. Hunter, [2] this court says:

'It is manifest that the judicial power of the United States is, unavoidably, in some cases, exclusive of all State authority, and in all others may be made so at the election of Congress. No part of the criminal jurisdiction of the United States can, consistently with the Constitution, be delegated to State tribunals. The admiralty and maritime jurisdiction is of the same exclusive cognizance.'

In Cohen v. Virginia, [3] it was conceded that the Federal courts had the 'exclusive admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.'

In Martin v. Hunter, Mr. Justice Johnson says:

'With regard to admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, it would be difficult to prove that the States could resume it, if the United States should abolish the courts vested with that jurisdiction.'

An affirmation of this exclusive jurisdiction will be found in the opinion of Chief Justice Marshall, in Slocum v. Mayberry; [4] and of Story, J., in Gelston v. Hoyt; [5] and of Justices Wayne and Catron, in Waring v. Clarke, [6] all cases in this court.


^1  The Schooner Tiltan, 5 Mason, 465; Plummer v. Webb, 4 Id. 380; Drinkwater v. The Brig Spartan, Ware, 91; Steel v. Thatcher, Id. 149; De Lovie v. Boit, 2 Gallison, 465; The Sloop Mary, 1 Paine, 673; Davis v. A New Brig, Gilpin, 473, 1 Kent's Com. 370, 371; New Jersey Steam Navigation Company v. Merchants' Bank, 6 Howard, 344; Bazin v. Liverpool Steamship Company, 5 American Law Register, 465.

^2  1 Wheaton, 337.

^3  6 Id. 314, 315, 325.

^4  2 Id. 9.

^5  3 Id. 246.

^6  5 Howard, 451.

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).