Canter v. American Insurance Company
28 U.S. 307 (1830)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Canter v. American Insurance Company, 28 U.S. 3 Pet. 307 307 (1830)

Canter v. American Insurance and Ocean Insurance Company of New York

28 U.S. (3 Pet.) 307

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED

STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA

Syllabus

The libellants, in their original libel in the District Court of the United States for the District of South Carolina, prayed that certain bales of cotton might be decreed to them with damages and costs. Canter, who also claimed the cotton, prayed the court for restitution, with damages and costs. The district court decreed restitution of part of the cotton to the libellants, and dismissed the libel without any award of damages on either side. Both parties appealed from this decree to the circuit court, where the decree of the district court was reversed and restitution of all the cotton was decreed to Canter with costs, without any award of damages or any express reservation of that question in the decree. From this decree the libellants in the district

court appealed to this Court; no appeal was entered by Canter. Held that the question of a claim of damages by Canter is not open before this Court. The decree of restitution, without any allowance of damages, was a virtual denial of them, and a final decree upon Canter's claim of damages. It was his duty, at that time, to have filed a, cross-appeal if he meant to rely on a claim to damages, and not having done so, it was a submission to the decree of restitution and costs only.

The counsel fees allowed as expenses attending the prosecution of an appeal to the circuit court and to the Supreme Court in an admiralty case.

This is not a proper case for the award of damages. The proceedings of the libellants were in the ordinary course to vindicate a supposed legal title. There is no pretense to say that the suit was instituted without probable cause or was conducted in a malicious or oppressive manner. The libellants had a right to submit their title to the decision of a judicial tribunal in any legal mode which promised them an effectual and speedy redress. Where parties litigate in the admiralty and there was a probable ground for the suit or defense, the Court considers the only compensation which the successful party is entitled to is a compensation in costs and expenses. If the party has suffered any loss beyond these, it is damnum absque injuria.

It is of great importance to the due administration of justice and in furtherance of the manifest intention of the legislature in giving appellate jurisdiction to this Court upon final decrees only, that causes should not come up here in fragments or successive appeals. It would occasion very great delays and oppressive expenses.

The settled practice of this Court is that whenever damages are claimed by the libellant or the claimant in the original proceedings, if a decree of restitution and costs only passes, it is a virtual denial of damages, and the party will be deemed to have waived the claim for damages unless he then interposes an appeal or cross-appeal to sustain that claim.

Costs and expenses are not matters positively limited by law, but are allowed in the exercise of a sound discretion of the court, and no appeal lies from a mere decree respecting costs and expenses.

Page 28 U. S. 308

This case was heard at January term, 1828, upon questions submitted to the Court, on an appeal from the Circuit Court of the District of South Carolina. 26 U. S. 1 Pet. 511. The Court then decided in favor of the claimant, and directed restitution of the cotton, which was the subject of the controversy between the parties, having affirmed the decree of the Circuit Court of South Carolina. By the mandate to the circuit court it was ordered "that such execution and proceedings be had as according to right and justice and according to the laws of the United States ought to be had." Upon the filing of the mandate, the circuit court ordered

"that the case be put on the docket and it be referred to the officer of this Court to examine into the damages sustained by the claimant, David Canter, in consequence of the proceedings of the libellants, and report thereon at as early a day as possible to this Court."

The appellant, David Canter, thereupon filed in the circuit court "a statement of damages sustained by him, by the illegal seizure of 356 bales of cotton, by order of the underwriters."

The statement set forth losses on the sales of the cotton, and expenses and payments connected with the same, amounting to $3,639.87. Losses and probable gain on sales of rice purchased by the appellants, and which was sold instead of being shipped in consequence of the proceedings of the appellees; the cost of protest and damages on a bill of exchange drawn by him, and dishonored in consequence of the seizure of the cotton; law expenses at Charleston and Columbia in South Carolina and in Washington and traveling expenses to and in Washington; papers from Key West relative to judicial proceedings there; postages and protests, costs of the Supreme Court of the United States, and briefs; loss in the value of the cotton during the pendency of the proceedings, $2,860.

The counsel for the appellees filed with the register of the court a protest against the order of reference made by the circuit court, to ascertain the damages alleged to have been sustained by the appellant, on the grounds 1. that the mandate of the Supreme Court of the United States gives no

Page 28 U. S. 309

authority or instructions to the circuit court to inquire into damages; 2. that the decrees of the district, circuit, and Supreme Court, do not award damages to the appellant; 3. that the appellees were not in any manner liable for damages; 4. that at all events, the inquiry into damages cannot extend beyond the amount of the stipulations entered into by the appellees in the original proceedings, by which alone they are before the court.

The clerk of the circuit court refused all the claims preferred by the appellant, with the exception of the following:

Papers from Key West, to establish legality of

proceedings there, $51, postages and protests, $20 . . . . $ 71.00

Costs of the supreme courts and briefs, $72.02, protest and

damages on bill drawn by claimant, $222. . . . . . . . . . 294.02

This grew out of the cotton speculation, the bill was

dishonored in consequence of the seizure, the claimant

not being in funds to take up the draft.

Counsel fees, at Charleston and Washington . . . . . . . . . 1,150.00

---------

$1,515.02

Also the loss on the sale of the cotton, which was made before the proceedings were instituted against the cotton, and which sale was not completed by reason of the same, with interest on the balance of the sale after deducting the actual proceeds of the cotton, when sold by order of the district court $3,991.77, and also the actual loss on the rice purchased, to be paid for out of the proceeds of the cotton, rejecting the claim of probable profits, the sum actually allowed being $2,820.67.

These allowances were all excepted to by the appellees, and the appellant also excepted to the refusal of the clerk of the circuit court to admit all of the claims preferred in "the statement."

The circuit court refused to allow to the appellant any of the items reported by the clerk, with the exception of some of those comprehended in the "incidental expenses." As to

Page 28 U. S. 310

those items, the clerk rejected the sum of $222 for protests and damages on a bill of exchange, and ordered the counsel fees of the appellant to be paid under the mandate, upon the authority of The Apollon, 9 Wheat. 362, as the costs awarded him by the Supreme Court $1,372.82.

The appellant appealed to this Court.

At the last term, Mr. Cruger moved to dismiss the appeal on the ground that the mandate from this Court gave no authority to the Circuit Court of South Carolina to assess damages to the appellant. This motion was opposed by Mr. Coxe, for the appellant, and the court ordered the cause to be argued upon all the questions it involved, when it should be regularly called.

Page 28 U. S. 316

MR. JUSTICE STORY delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case was formerly before this Court upon an appeal taken by the original libellants, the American and Ocean Insurance Companies, to the decree of the circuit court awarding restitution of the property to the claimant, Canter, with costs. That decree was affirmed by this Court, and a mandate issued to the circuit court commanding

"that such execution and proceedings be had in said cause as according to right and justice and the laws of the United States ought to be had, the appeal notwithstanding."

The case is reported at large in 26 U. S. 1 Pet. 547.

When the case came before the circuit court upon the mandate, Canter made an application to the court to refer the same to the proper officer to examine into the damages sustained by him in consequence of the proceedings of the libellants, and to report thereon. A reference was accordingly made to the register to ascertain the damages, and when the case came on before him, the libellants entered a protest against any such proceedings upon the grounds that the mandate gave no authority to inquire into damages; that none had been in fact awarded, either by the district,

Page 28 U. S. 317

circuit, or Supreme Court, and that the libellants were not in any manner liable for damages. The register, notwithstanding the protest, proceeded to inquire into the damages, and made his report thereon to the circuit court, where the same grounds of objection were again taken by the libellants. The court, upon the hearing, asserted the right to inquire into the damages as a matter undisposed of in the former decree, but denied any allowance of them upon the merits, and decreed costs and expenses only to the claimant. From this last decree both parties have appealed to this Court, and the case now stands before us for judgment upon these cross-appeals.

It is proper to add that the libellants in their original libel prayed that the 356 bales of cotton might be decreed to them, with damages and costs, and that the claimant Canter, in his claim, also prayed for restitution of the cotton, with damages and costs. The district court decreed restitution to the libellants of part of the cotton, and dismissed the libel as to the residue, without any award of damages on either side. Both parties appealed from this decree to the circuit court, where, upon the hearing, the decree of the district court was reversed and restitution of all the cotton was decreed to Canter, with costs, as has been before mentioned, but without any award of damages or any express reservation of that question in the decree.

Two questions have been made and argued at the bar. The first is whether, under the circumstances, the inquiry into damages could be entertained by the court below after the cause was remanded for execution by the mandate of this Court. The second is whether, if such proceedings could be had, the present is a fit case for damages.

In respect to the last question, if we felt at liberty to entertain it, we should have no difficulty in concurring in the opinion of the circuit court that this case was not a fit one for an award of damages. The proceedings of the libellants were in the ordinary course to vindicate a supposed legal title to the property. There is no pretense to say that the

Page 28 U. S. 318

suit was instituted without probable cause, or was conducted in a malicious or oppressive manner. The libellants had a right to submit their title to the decision of a judicial tribunal in any legal mode which promised them an effectual and speedy redress. They have failed, not so much from any infirmity in their original title as from the sentence of a court of competent jurisdiction (whose very jurisdiction was the matter in question), having been adjudged to be conclusive upon that title. Where parties litigate in the admiralty and there was a probable ground for the suit or defense, the court considers the only compensation which the successful party is entitled to is a compensation in costs and expenses. If the party has suffered any loss beyond these, it is, as was justly observed in the opinion of the circuit court, damnum absque injuria.

But we are of opinion that the question of damages is not now open before this Court. The original decree of restitution with costs, without any allowance of damages or any express reservation of that question, was a virtual denial of damages and a final decree as to the demand of damages set up by Canter in his original claim. It was his duty at that time to have filed a cross-appeal if he meant to rely upon his claim for damages, and not having then done so, it was a waiver of the claim, and a submission to the decree of restitution and costs only. It is of great importance to the due administration of justice, and is in furtherance of the manifest intention of the legislature in giving appellate jurisdiction to this Court upon final decrees only, that causes should not come up here in fragments, upon successive appeals. It would occasion very great delays and oppressive expenses. We have already had occasion to advert to this subject in the cases of The Santa Maria, 10 Wheat. 431; The Palmyra, 10 Wheat. 502; Chace v. Vasquez, 11 Wheat. 429. We wish it now to be understood by the bar as the settled practice of this Court that wherever damages are claimed by the libellant or the claimant in the original proceedings, if a decree for restitution and costs only passes, it is a virtual

Page 28 U. S. 319

denial of damages, and the party will be deemed to have waived the claim for damages unless he then interposes an appeal or cross-appeal to sustain that claim.

As to the costs and expenses, we perceive no error in the allowance of them in the circuit court. They are not matters positively limited by law, but are allowed in the exercise of a sound discretion of the court. And besides, it may be added that no appeal lies from a mere decree respecting costs and expenses.

The decree of the circuit court is therefore

Affirmed with costs.

This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of South Carolina and was argued by counsel, on consideration whereof it is ordered and decreed by this Court that the decree of the said circuit court in this cause be and the same is hereby affirmed without costs for the libellants.

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