Knapp, Stout & Co. Company v. McCaffrey - 177 U.S. 638 (1900)
U.S. Supreme Court
Knapp, Stout & Co. Company v. McCaffrey, 177 U.S. 638 (1900)
Knapp, Stout & Co. Company v. McCaffrey
Submitted April 24, 1900
Decided May 14, 1900
177 U.S. 638
A bill in equity in a state court to foreclose a common law lien upon a raft for towage services is not an invasion of the exclusive admiralty jurisdiction of the district courts, but is a proceeding to enforce a common law remedy, and within the saving clause of section 583 of a remedy which the common law is competent to give.
This was a bill in equity filed in the Circuit Court for the County of Mercer, Illinois, by the defendant in error, John McCaffrey, against the Knapp, Stout & Co. Company (hereinafter called the Knapp Company), and the Schulenburg & Boeckler Lumber Company (hereinafter called the Schulenburg Company), and its assignees, to enforce a lien for towage upon a half raft of lumber then lying at Boston Bay, in Mercer County.
The suit arose from a contract made April 6, 1893, by McCaffery with the Schulenburg Company in which, after reciting that McCaffrey had purchased of this company three steam towboats for the sum of $17,500, it was agreed that McCaffrey was to tow all the rafted lumber such company would furnish him at or below their mill at Stillwater, Minnesota, to St. Louis, and deliver the same there to the company in quantities not exceeding one-half a raft at a time, for which service he was to be paid $1.12 1/2 per thousand feet, board measure, for the lumber contained in the raft. The other provisions of the contract, of which there were many, were not material to the present controversy. After towing a number of rafts for the company, the charges for which remained unpaid, one of McCaffrey's steamers, known as the Robert Dodds, left Stillwater October 13, 1894, with raft No. 10 of that year. The river being low and navigation difficult, McCaffrey was instructed to divide the raft, to bring one-half to St. Louis, and to lay up the other half in some safe harbor. In compliance with these instructions,
McCaffrey divided the raft on October 20 at Boston Bay Harbor in Mercer County, leaving one-half there while the other half was towed to St. Louis and delivered to the lumber company on November 2. The company paid the clerk of the boat $1,250 without directions as to its application, and McCaffrey applied it on the amount due him for the towage of other rafts. The steamer returned to Boston Bay the morning of November 4, and laid up outside the raft for the winter.
On the next day, November 5, the Schulenburg Company sold the half raft in Boston Bay to the Knapp Company for $15,000, part in cash and the remainder in a note due in four months, which was paid at maturity. A bill of sale was given for the lumber, and a letter written to the watchman in charge of the raft informing him of the sale. On November 9, the Schulenburg Company made a voluntary assignment in St. Louis for the benefit of creditors. McCaffrey, hearing of the assignment, offered both companies to tow the half raft to St. Louis under his contract, but the Knapp Company informed him that they did not wish him to do so, saying that they did their own towing, whereupon McCaffrey, claiming to be still in possession of the half raft and believing that the company was about to take it from him by force, filed this bill to foreclose his lien for towage. The Knapp Company gave a bond for the amount of the claim and took the raft away.
The case came on for hearing in the circuit court upon pleadings and proofs, and resulted in a decree dismissing the bill without prejudice. McCaffrey appealed to the appellate court, which reversed the decree of the circuit court and remanded the cause with directions to enter a decree for the sum of $3,643.17, with interest thereon. The Knapp Company appealed to the supreme court of the state, which affirmed the judgment of the appellate court, 178 Ill. 107, whereupon defendant sued out a writ of error from this Court.