Homer Ramsdell Trans. Co. v. La Compagnie &c. - 182 U.S. 406 (1901)
U.S. Supreme Court
Homer Ramsdell Trans. Co. v. La Compagnie &c., 182 U.S. 406 (1901)
Homer Ramsdell Transportation Company v.
La Compagnie Generale Transatlantique
Argued March 6, 1901
Decided May 27, 1901
182 U.S. 406
The statutes of New York impose compulsory pilotage on foreign vessels inward and outward bound to and from the port of New York by way of Sandy Hook. In an action at common law, the shipowner is not liable for injuries inflicted exclusively by negligence of a pilot accepted by a vessel compulsorily.
This was an action at law, brought by the Homer Ramsdell Transportation Company, a corporation of New York, against the Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, a corporation of the Republic of France, to recover damages caused by the defendant's steamship, The Bretagne, striking and injuring the plaintiff's pier in New York harbor.
The answer alleged, among other things,
"that at the time of the said collision, the said steamship La Bretagne was in the command, and her movements and navigation entirely under the orders and direction, of a pilot duly licensed under, and compulsorily imposed upon the defendant by, the authority of the State of New York, and that the regular officers and crew of the said steamship in the service of the defendant had no part in the navigation of the said steamer except to carry out or execute the orders of the said pilot, which they did promptly and efficiently in every particular."
The case was referred by the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York to Hon. William G. Choate, who reported in favor of the defendant and filed an opinion published in 63 F. 848. That court gave judgment on his report for the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which certified to this Court, together with the pleadings, the judgment
of the circuit, court, and the report and opinion of the referee, the following statement of facts and questions of law:
"The defendant in error is a foreign corporation owning and plying a regular line of steamers between Havre and New York. On the morning of December 10, 1892, one of the defendant's steamers, La Bretagne, while outward bound from the port of New York to Havre by way of Sandy Hook, with cargo and passengers, struck the plaintiff's pier, damaging it to the amount of upwards of $13,000. The said vessel, at the time she left her pier, was in all respects seaworthy and properly manned, equipped, and supplied, and her owner exercised due diligence to make her so. She had on board a Sandy Hook pilot, duly licensed under and pursuant to the laws of the State of New York, and was navigated under his direction up to the time of said collision, and all his orders were promptly and efficiently obeyed and carried out by the master, officers, and crew of said steamship. The said collision and the damage resulting therefrom were caused solely by the negligence and want of skill and care on the part of the said pilot, and not by any want of skill or negligence on the part of the master, other officers, or crew of the said steamship."
"Certain questions of law arise in the cause concerning which the court desires the instructions of the Supreme Court for its proper decision, and which are as follows:"
"First. Whether the provisions of chapter 467 of the Laws of New York passed June 28, 1853, as amended by chapter 196 of the laws of said state passed April 11, 1854; chapter 243 of the laws of the said state passed April 3, 1857; chapter 930 of the laws of the said state passed May 16, 1867, and chapter 548 of the laws of said state passed May 2, 1870, and consolidated into sections 2093 to 2133, inclusive, of chapter 410 of the laws of said state passed July 1, 1882, impose compulsory pilotage on foreign vessels inward and outward bound to and from the port of New York by way of Sandy Hook, in view of the decisions of the New York Court of Appeals."
"Second. Whether, in an action at common law ,the shipowner is liable for injuries inflicted exclusively by negligence of a pilot accepted by a vessel compulsorily. "