The Conqueror
166 U.S. 110 (1897)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

The Conqueror, 166 U.S. 110 (1897)

The Conqueror

No. 98

Argued January 6-7, 1897

Decided March 8, 1897

166 U.S. 110


So long as the transcript of the record in the circuit court is in the circuit court of appeals, the fact that a mandate from it has gone down to the circuit court, affirming its decree, does not affect the right of this Court to issue a writ of certiorari to the court of appeals, to bring the record here.

An application for a writ of certiorari to bring here for review a record and judgment entered after the final adjournment of this Court, made at the next term and within a year after the original decree, is made within time.

A foreign built vessel, purchased by a citizen of the United States, and brought into the waters thereof, is not taxable under the tariff laws of the United States.

Rev.Stat. § 970, which provides that,

"when, in any prosecution commenced on account of the seizure of any vessel, goods, wares or merchandise, made by any collector or other officer, under any act of Congress authorizing such seizure, judgment is rendered for the claimant, but it appears to the court that there was reasonable cause of seizure, the court shall cause a proper certificate thereof to be entered, and the claimant shall not, in such case, be entitled to costs, nor shall the person who made the seizure, nor the prosecutor, be liable to suit or judgment on account of such suit or prosecution: provided that the vessel, goods, wares or merchandise be, after judgment, forthwith returned to such claimant or his agent,"

only affords the collector immunity against a judgment for damages in cases where proceedings against the vessel were instituted upon information filed by the United States, for a fine or forfeiture incurred by the vessel itself.

A collector of customs who seizes a foreign built vessel purchased by a citizen of the United States and brought by him into their waters, and holds the same on the claim that it is taxable for duties under the tariff laws, is not protected against a judgment for damages by a certificate of probable cause.

Demurrage is a proper element of damages, but it can only be allowed when profits have either actually been lost, or may be reasonably supposed to have been lost, and their amount is proven with reasonable certainty.

The best evidence of damage suffered by detention is the sum for which vessels of the same size and class can be chartered in the market, but

Page 166 U. S. 111

in the absence of such market value, the value of her use to her owner in the business in which she was engaged at the time of the collision is a proper basis for estimating damages for detention, and the books of the owner showing her earnings about the time of her collision are competent evidence of her probable earnings during the time of her detention.

Testimony as to value may be properly received from witnesses who are duly qualified as experts, but the jury, even if such testimony be uncontradicted, may exercise their independent judgment, and there is no rule of law which requires them to surrender their judgment, or to give a controlling influence to the opinions of scientific witnesses.

The testimony in this case falls far short of establishing such a case of loss of profits as entitles the claimant to recover the large sum awarded to him for the detention of his yacht.

Whether the other charges were proper or not was a matter for the courts below to determine in the exercise of their best judgment, and, as the commissioner found that they were proper, and as both the district court and the court of appeals affirmed his action in that regard, this Court is not disposed to disturb their finding, although the amount seems large.

This was a libel by Frederick W. Vanderbilt to recover possession of the steam yacht Conqueror, of which he was the owner, and which was alleged to be illegally detained by J. Sloat Fassett, then collector of customs for the district of New York.

The material facts of the case are as follows: in May, 1891, Vanderbilt, who is a native-born American citizen, purchased of one Bailey, or Kingston-upon-Hull, England, the yacht Conqueror, a foreign-built vessel, for the sum of

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