In re New York & Porto Rico Steamship Co.
155 U.S. 523 (1895)

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U.S. Supreme Court

In re New York & Porto Rico Steamship Co., 155 U.S. 523 (1895)

In re New York & Porto Rico Steamship Company

No. 8. Original

Submitted December 17, 1894

Decided January 7, 1895

155 U.S. 523

Syllabus

In re Rice, Petitioner, ante,155 U. S. 396, affirmed and applied, to the points (1) that a party is entitled to a writ of prohibition as a matter of right where it appears that the court whose action is sought to be prohibited had clearly no jurisdiction of the cause originally, or of some collateral matter arising therein, and that he objected to the jurisdiction at the outset, and has no other remedy; (2) that where there is another remedy by appeal or otherwise, or where the question of the jurisdiction of the court is doubtful or depends on facts which are not made matter of record, or where the application is made by a stranger, the granting or refusal of the writ is discretionary, and it is not obligatory where the case has gone to sentence and the want of jurisdiction does not appear on the face of the proceedings.

When a district court has general jurisdiction in admiralty over the subject matter and over the parties, it should be allowed to proceed to decision, and if it commits error in entertaining a claimant's contention against the charterers in the same suit with the libel against the ship, the error may be corrected on appeal.

The American Sugar Refining Company and John B. Gossler filed their libel July 22, 1893, in the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York, against the British steamship Centurion, to recover damages to a consignment of hogsheads of sugar imported from ports in Porto Rico to New York under certain bills of lading. The faults specified as the grounds of the claim were negligent and improper stowage; want of proper care on the part of the master, officers, and crew, or of the agent of the vessel and persons employed by him; failure to properly clean the hold and bilges for the cargo before loading it; omission to close the hatches between certain molasses, which was stowed in the between deck, and sugar stowed in the lower hold; negligence on the part of the officers and crew to use the pumps on the voyage. And it was alleged that

"a number of hogsheads of molasses having been broken, and others having been shifted, either through stress of weather or improper stowage, their

Page 155 U. S. 524

contents ran down into the lower hold upon the sugar, partly through the hatches and partly through the scuppers; that by reason of such defective condition of the hatches, pumps, bilges, sluiceways, decks, scuppers, and other equipment and appurtenances, and the failure and negligence of the officers and crew, or those in charge of her, to properly pump the vessel, the molasses and drainage from the sugar collected in the lower hold, washing out part of the sugar from the hogsheads and damaging the remainder."

On the 28th day of February, 1894, John Blumer & Co., owners and claimants of the Centurion, filed their petition averring, among other things, that

"the Centurion, at all the times mentioned in the said libel of the American Sugar Refining Company and John B. Gossler, was under a time charter to the New York & Porto Rico Steamship Company, a domestic corporation, by a charter of demise which provided, amongst other things, that all cargoes should be loaded and stowed by the said charterers, and all work and labor in and about the loading, stowage, and discharging thereof was performed and paid for by the charterers and their servants, the master and officers of said steamship, under the charter party, having no duties to perform in connection with the loading, stowage, and discharge of the cargo, their functions being limited exclusively to the navigation of the vessel. The cargo in question was loaded by the agents and servants of the said charterers, the New York and Porto Rico Steamship Company, in Porto Rico, under the supervision of their purser and supercargo, who accompanied the vessel, and if there was any negligence in and about the loading, stowage, or care of the said cargo, as alleged in the said libel (which is expressly denied), such improper stowage, negligence, and want of care was on the part of the said servants of the time charterers, and not on the part of the master, officers, and crew of said steamship."

And petitioners prayed that process, according to the course of cases in admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, should issue against the New York and Porto Rico Steamship Company, citing it to appear and answer the petition and the libel, and that the court should pronounce against the

Page 155 U. S. 525

charterers, instead of against the steamship, if the allegations of the libel should be proved and sustained, and for general relief.

Citation was ordered to issue, and upon the return thereof the charterers appeared "specially for the purpose of objecting to the jurisdiction of this Court," and moved to set aside the process on the grounds

" 1.hat this Court has no jurisdiction in admiralty to entertain such petition."

"2. That, upon the face of said petition, it does not set forth any case wherein process ought of right to issue against the said New York and Porto Rico Steamship Company."

The district court denied the motion to set aside, the district judge stating in a memorandum,

"I cannot sustain either of the within objections, and no such inconveniences are made probable as should lead to the disallowance in this instance as a matter of discretion."

The New York and Porto Rico Steamship Company then applied to this Court for an order to show cause why a writ of prohibition should not issue prohibiting the district court from taking jurisdiction of the petition under which that company was brought into the suit of the libelants against the Centurion. Leave having been granted to file the application and a rule having been entered thereon, the district judge made his return thereto, submitting:

"That the order and the citation to make the New York and Porto Rico Steamship Company a party defendant were issued because, in the libel, it was alleged that the damage to the sugars in question arose from different alleged acts of negligence, for some of which, if established, it appeared by the petition of the owners of the Centurion that the New York and Porto Rico Company would be primarily liable, and bound to indemnify the shipowners, and for other of said acts of negligence, if proved, the ship would be primarily liable, and that the presence of the last-named company as a party to the suit was necessary to the due administration of justice, in order to avoid a multiplicity of suits; to secure a complete hearing of the subject matter, through the presence of all the parties interested; to obtain an adjudication which should do justice to each, and be binding upon all; to avoid conflicting decisions to which separate suits would be liable

Page 155 U. S. 526

through the different evidence likely to be produced in them when the parties were different, and thus to avoid any possible failure of justice through such causes, and any discredit to the administration thereof, and because the case, though not within the letter, was deemed to be within the spirit of the fifty-ninth Rule of the Supreme Court in admiralty, and because the order of this court to bring in the said company as a defendant at once, instead of requiring the owners of the Centurion to wait until after a judgment against them before filing an independent libel against the said company in case negligent stowage was established, was, in the absence of any express rule on the subject by the Supreme Court, deemed to be within the limits of the authority of this court, as conferred by section 918 of the Revised Statutes, whereby this court is authorized 'to regulate its own practice as may be necessary or convenient for the advancement of justice and the prevention of delays in proceedings,' and also as conferred by the forty-sixth Rule of the Supreme Court in admiralty, authorizing the district court, in cases 'not provided for by the previous rules,' to regulate its practice 'in such manner as it shall deem most expedient for the due administration of justice in suits in admiralty.' Of these considerations a fuller statement has been given by this court in the cases of The Hudson, 15 F. 162, and The Alert, 40 F. 836, to which reference is hereby respectfully made."

"A further reason for the said order and citation was that since the promulgation of the said 59th Rule, the constant resort to it in innumerable instances has been found, in practice, most useful in preventing abuses, and in general extremely satisfactory, and the occasional application of the rule to other cases of negligence or torts, closely analogous to those expressly covered by the 59th Rule, has proved equally conducive to the most speedy and satisfactory distribution of justice."

"The motion to set aside the citation was denied for the above reasons, and because, in the present instance, no inconvenience to the said New York and Porto Rico Company was shown, or even averred, to be likely to arise such as

Page 155 U. S. 527

might lead the court, in its discretion, to withhold the relief asked for by the defendant shipowners."

"I further certify that the following additional pleadings have been filed in said cause, viz., the claimants' answer to the libel, and the libelants' answer to the petition, copies of which are hereto annexed, and that, on the argument of the motion to set aside the additional process, the substance of said claimants' answer was stated to the court, as the answer to be filed, and that the New York and Porto Rico Steamship Company has not answered, having been given by me until twenty days after the decision on this application for a writ of prohibition, in which to answer."

The answer of claimants thus referred to denied that the loss was ascribable to any act or omission for which the vessel or her owners were liable, but averred that it should be ascribed to perils of the sea, and, in the alternative,

"that if there was any neglect or default on the part of those engaged in or about the stowage, care, or delivery of the cargo, as to which they had no knowledge, such neglect or default was on the part of the said charterers, their agents or servants, for which the claimants and the said steamship should not be held responsible."

Claimants also set up in bar of the suit a decree in favor of libelants under a previous libel. The Centurion, 57 F. 412. That was a case arising on a different consignment of cargo stored in the same hold, on the same voyage, and the charterers, who were brought in as in this case, were held to pay the decree.

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