In re Cooper
143 U.S. 472 (1892)

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U.S. Supreme Court

In re Cooper, 143 U.S. 472 (1892)

In re Cooper

No. 6, Original

Argued November 9-10, 1891

Decided February 29, 1892

143 U.S. 472



The District Court for the District of Alaska has jurisdiction in admiralty to forfeit vessels for violating the provisions of Rev.Stat. § 1956 on any of the navigable waters of the United States which were acquired by the treaty with Russia concluded March 30, 1857, 15 Stat. 539.

Page 143 U. S. 473

Prohibition will not go after judgment and sentence unless want of jurisdiction appears on the face of the proceedings; but before judgment, the superior court can examine not simply the process and pleadings technically of record, but also the facts and evidence upon which action was taken.

United States district courts, sitting in admiralty, are courts of superior jurisdiction, and every intendment is made in favor of their decrees, and when it appears that the court had jurisdiction of the subject matter and either that the defendant was duly served with process or that he voluntarily appeared and made defense, the decree is not open collaterally to any inquiry upon the merits or jurisdiction dependent on those facts.

On an application for a writ of prohibition, the inquiry being confined to the matter of jurisdiction, only the record proper should be looked into, and not documents and other evidence in addition to the record which may be sent up under the provisions of Rev.Stat. § 698.

The latter part of § 7 of the Act of May 17, 1584, 23 Stat. 24, 26, mad be read as follows: "And the final judgments and decrees of said District Court of Alaska may be reviewed by the Supreme Court of the United States as in other cases," and, being so read, its meaning is that this Court may review the final judgments or decrees of that court, as in cases of the same kind from other courts.

When a party aggrieved by a judgment has an appeal to this Court which becomes inefficacious through his neglect, a writ of prohibition to prevent the enforcement of the judgment will not issue from this Court.

The Act of February 16, 1875, 18 Stat. 315, c. 77, § 1, applies to appeals taken from decrees of the District Court of the United States for the District of Alaska sitting in admiralty.

At a time when a diplomatic correspondence was going on between the United States and Great Britain respecting the extent of the jurisdiction of the former in the waters of Behring Sea, a libel in admiralty was filed in the District Court of Alaska alleging a seizure by the United States authorities of a vessel "within the limits of Alaska Territory, and in the waters thereof and within the civil and judicial District of Alaska," to-wit:

"Within the waters of that portion of Behring Sea belonging to the United States and said district, on waters navigable from the sea by vessels of ten or more tons burden,"

and charging that

"the said vessel and her captain, officers and crew were then and there found engaged in killing fur seals within the limits of Alaska Territory and in the said waters thereof, in violation,"

etc. The findings of fact followed this description, and described the act complained of as done "within the waters of Alaska." No request was made to have the findings made more specific as to the place where the offense was committed. The vessel being condemned, the claimants appealed to this Court. The appeal was duly entered and docketed, and was then dismissed on application of the appellant, who applied for leave to file an application for a writ of prohibition to restrain the court below from enforcing the sentence

Page 143 U. S. 474

or the decree of condemnation. Leave being granted, the petition was filed, and it is now


(1) That the legal inference from the findings of fact is that the act took place within the jurisdiction of the United States.

(2) That an appeal lay to this Court from the decree of the district court.

(3) That, the district court having found the facts, this Court would be limited on appeal to the consideration of the questions of law presented by the record.

(4) That the district court on the pleadings and facts found had jurisdiction of the case, and the petitioner might have prosecuted an appeal, and that the appeal taken was insufficient for the petitioner's purposes because of his neglect to have included in the findings the exact locality of the seizure.

(b) That for this reason the writ of prohibition should not issue, the court resting its denial of it on this ground, although it might have placed it upon the well settled principle that an application to a court to review the action of the political department of the government, upon a question pending between it and a foreign power, and to determine whether the government was right or wrong, made while diplomatic negotiations were still going on, should be denied.

The Court stated the case as follows:

This is an application for a writ of prohibition to the District Court of the United States for the District of Alaska, to restrain the enforcement of a sentence of forfeiture and condemnation entered in that court September 19, 1887, on a libel filed by the United States against the schooner W. P. Sayward upon the ground that that court was without jurisdiction in the premises. The petitioner, Cooper, is the owner of the vessel, and with his petition a suggestion was presented by Sir John Thompson, K.C.M.G., her Britannic majesty's Attorney General of Canada, with the knowledge and approval of the imperial government of Great Britain, requesting the aid of the court for the claimant, a subject of her Britannic majesty.

The motion for leave to file the application was made on the 12th of January, 1891, and leave was granted on the second day of February. The application having accordingly been filed, a rule was issued against the judge of the District

Page 143 U. S. 475

Court of Alaska to show cause why the writ should not go. The petition is set out in extenso in In re Cooper,138 U. S. 404. The main averments are that the schooner W. P. Sayward, a British vessel, while lawfully sailing upon the high seas in latitude 44

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