The Western Maid - 257 U.S. 419 (1922)
U.S. Supreme Court
The Western Maid, 257 U.S. 419 (1922)
The Western Maid
Nos. 21, 22, 23, Original
Argued December 12, 13, 1921
Decided January 3, 1922
257 U.S. 419
1. Neither upon general principle nor under § 9 of the Shipping Act of September 7, 1916, or § 4 of the "Suits in Admiralty " Act
of March 9, 1920, * is the United States liable for a collision committed by a vessel while owned by it absolutely or pro hac vice and employed by it in public and government purposes. P. 257 U. S. 431.
2. Held that a vessel owned by the United States, assigned by the United States Shipping Board to the War Department, manned by a navy crew and engaged in transporting foodstuffs provided by the government for the relief of the civilian population of Europe after the Great War, to be paid for by the buyer, was not a merchant vessel, but a vessel engaged in a public service, and that two others, while let or chartered to the United States on a bareboat basis and devoted to military and naval uses were also of public status. P. 257 U. S. 431.
3. The maritime law is part of the law of the country only insofar as the United States has made it so, and binds the United States only insofar as the United States has consented. P. 257 U. S. 432.
4. The United States has not consented to be sued for torts, and therefore it cannot be said that, in a legal sense, the United States has been guilty of a tort. P. 257 U. S. 433.
5. This immunity extends to public vessels of the United States, at least while employed in operations of government, and liability for a tort cannot be fastened upon them by the fiction of a ship's personality, to lie dormant while they remain with the government and to become enforceable when they pass into other hands. P. 257 U. S. 433. The Siren, 7 Wall. 152, and Workman v. New York City, 179 U. S. 552, distinguished.
6. Prohibition lies to restrain the district court from exceeding its jurisdiction in admiralty cases. P. 257 U. S. 434.
Rule absolute for writs of prohibition.
Petitions by the United States for writs of prohibition and mandamus to prevent district courts from exercising jurisdiction in three proceedings in rem for collisions that occurred while the vessels libeled were owned absolutely or pro hac vice by the United States and employed in the public service.