Slocum v. Mayberry - 15 U.S. 1 (1817)


U.S. Supreme Court

Slocum v. Mayberry, 15 U.S. 2 Wheat. 1 1 (1817)

Slocum v. Mayberry

15 U.S. (2 Wheat.) 1

Syllabus

The courts of the United States have exclusive jurisdiction of all seizures made on land or water for a breach of the laws of the United States, and any intervention of a state authority which, by taking the thing seized out of the hands of the United States officer, might obstruct the exercise of this jurisdiction is unlawful.

In such a case, the court of the United States having cognizance of the seizure may enforce a redelivery of the thing, by attachment or other summary process.

The question under such a seizure whether a forfeiture has been actually incurred belongs exclusively to the courts of the United States, and it depends upon the final decree of such courts whether the seizure into be deemed rightful or tortious.

If the seizing officer refuse to institute proceedings to ascertain the forfeiture, the district court may, upon application of the aggrieved party, compel the officer to proceed to adjudication or to abandon the seizure.

And if the seizure be finally adjudged wrongful and without probable cause, the party may proceed, at his election, by a suit at common law or in the instance court of admiralty, for damages for the illegal act.

But the common law remedy in such a case must besought for in the state courts, the courts of the United States having no jurisdiction to decide on the conduct of their officers in the execution of their laws in suits at common law until the case shall have passed through the state courts.

When a seizure was made, under the eleventh section of the embargo act of April 1808, it was determined that no power is given by law to detain the cargo if separated from the vessel, and that the owner had a right to take the cargo out of the vessel and to dispose of it in any way not prohibited by law, and in case of its detention to bring an action of replevin therefor in the state court.

Page 15 U. S. 2

John Slocum, the plaintiff in error, was surveyor of the customs for the port of Newport, in Rhode Island, and under the directions of the collector had seized the Venus, lying in that port with a cargo ostensibly bound to some other port in the United States. The defendants in error, who were owners of the cargo, brought their writ of replevin in the state court of Rhode Island for the restoration of the property. The defendant pleaded that the Venus was laden in the night not under the inspection of the proper revenue officers, and that the collector of the port, suspecting an intention to violate the embargo laws, had directed him to seize and detain her till the opinion of the President

Page 15 U. S. 3

should be known on the case, and concluded to the jurisdiction of the court. The same matter was also pleaded in bar. To both these pleas the plaintiff in the state court demurred, and the defendants joined in demurrer. Judgment having been rendered in favor of the plaintiff in the state court, the cause was removed into this Court by writ of error.

Page 15 U. S. 9



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