Steamboat Orleans v. Phoebus
36 U.S. 175 (1837)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Steamboat Orleans v. Phoebus, 36 U.S. 11 Pet. 175 175 (1837)

Steamboat Orleans v. Phoebus

36 U.S. (11 Pet.) 175

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF

THE UNITED STATES FOR EAST LOUISIANA

Syllabus

Admiralty. It is very irregular and against the known principles of courts of admiralty to allow, in a libel in rem and quasi for possession, the introduction of any other matters of an entirely different character, such as an account of the vessels earnings or the claim of the part owner for his wages and advances as master.

The admiralty has no jurisdiction in matters of account between part owners. The master, even in a case of maritime services, has no lien upon the vessel for the payment of them.

The jurisdiction of courts of admiralty in cases of part owners having unequal interests and shares is not and never has been applied to direct a sale upon any dispute between them as to the trade and navigation of the ship engaged in maritime voyages, properly so called. The majority of the owners have a right to employ the ship on such voyages as they please, giving a stipulation to the dissenting owners for the safe return of the ship if the latter, upon a proper libel filed in the admiralty, require it, and the minority of the owners may employ the ship in the like manner if the majority decline to employ her at all.

The admiralty has no jurisdiction over a vessel not engaged in maritime trade and navigation, though on her voyages she may have touched at one terminus of them in tidewater, her employment having been substantially on other waters.

The true test of its jurisdiction in all cases of this sort is whether the vessel is engaged substantially in maritime navigation or in interior navigation and trade, not on tidewaters.

The jurisdiction of courts of admiralty is limited in matters of contract to those and those only which are maritime.

The case of The Steamboat Jefferson, 10 Wheat. 429, 6 Cond. 175, cited and approved.

By the maritime law, the master has no lien on the ship even for maritime wages. The case of Peyroux v. Howard, 7 Pet. 343, cited.

The local laws of a state can never confer jurisdiction on the courts of the United States. They can only furnish roles to ascertain the rights of the parties, and thus assist in the administration of the proper remedies where the jurisdiction is vested by the laws of the United States.

Thomas Phoebus, who was the owner of one-sixth part of the steamboat Orleans, on 30 November 1835, filed a libel in the District Court of the United States for the District of Louisiana against the appellants, who were the owners of the other five-sixths of said

Page 36 U. S. 176

boat alleging that he had been on board of said boat as master and part owner, but had been dispossessed by the other part owners, who were navigating, trading with, and using said boat contrary to his wish, and, as he conceived, to his interest, and therefore he desired no longer to be part owner with the other proprietors; that he had amicably demanded the sale of said boat, and that he might receive his portion of the proceeds; that the other owners refused to do this, and were about to send her up the Mississippi on another trip against his wishes; that the boat lay in the port of New Orleans, where the tide ebbs and flows and within the admiralty jurisdiction of the court; therefore he prayed that the boat might be sold and one-sixth part of the proceeds paid to him, and that the other owners might account to him for the earnings of the boat to the day of sale.

The appellants filed their claim denying the jurisdiction of the court over the subject matter of the libel, and denied that said boat navigated water where the tide ebbs and flows, and alleging that she navigated only between New Orleans and the interior towns on the Mississippi and its tributary waters, that she was not a maritime boat, and was never intended to navigate the high seas, and if the court should be of opinion it had jurisdiction, then they denied the merits of the case. At the same time, one of the crew of the boat, while she was in possession of Phoebus, filed a libel against her for wages. In that suit, Phoebus filed a claim against the boat for wages as master, and for necessaries advanced by him for the boat while he acted in that capacity. These charges he was permitted by agreement of parties to transfer to his own suit as though they had made a part of the case stated in his libel.

On 15 April 1836, the district court rendered a final decree which directed a public sale of the boat; that the libellant, Thomas Phoebus, should receive one-sixth of the proceeds; a year's wages at $1,500 a year and the further sum of $345.60 for necessaries furnished by him, with costs of suit. The claimants appealed to this Court.

Page 36 U. S. 181

MR. JUSTICE STORY delivered the opinion of the Court

This is an appeal from the district Court of the District of Louisiana. Thomas Phoebus, who is the owner of one-sixth part of the steamboat Orleans, filed a libel on the admiralty side of that court against Forsyth and others, who are the owners of the other five-sixth parts of the same steamboat, alleging himself to be a part owner and master of the steamboat and that he had been dispossessed by the other owners, who were navigating, trading with, and

Page 36 U. S. 182

using the boat contrary to his wishes; that he wished to have an amicable sale of the boat, but the other owners refused and were about to send her up the Mississippi on another trip against his wishes; that the boat then lay at New Orleans, within the ebb and flow of the tide and within the admiralty jurisdiction of the court; therefore he prayed admiralty process against the boat and that the boat might be sold and one-sixth part of the proceeds be paid to him, and that the other partners might account to him for the earnings of the boat to the day of the sale.

The appellants (the claimants and owners of the five-sixths) appeared and in their answer admitted the title of the libellant to the one-sixth part. But they denied the jurisdiction of the court, alleging that the boat did not navigate waters where the tide ebbs and flows, but that she navigated only between New Orleans and the interior towns on the Mississippi River and its tributary waters. They further alleged that she was not a maritime boat, and was never intended to navigate the high seas. They further answered, and in case their objection to the jurisdiction should be overruled, they alleged certain matters to the merits upon which it is unnecessary to dwell, as our present discussion will be confined exclusively to the questions of jurisdiction.

It seems that subsequently a libel was filed against the same boat by one of her crew for wages. In that suit, Phoebus also filed a claim for wages as master and for necessaries advanced by him for the boat while he acted as master. These charges were, by the agreement of the parties, allowed to be transferred to the present suit, and of course were to be treated as if they had been alleged in the original libel. It may be here proper to state that it is very irregular, and against the known principles of the courts of admiralty, to allow in a libel in rem and quasi- for possession (as the present libel assumes in some sort to be) the introduction of any other matters of an entirely different character, such as an account of the vessel's earnings or the claim of the part owner for his wages and advances as master. In the first place, the admiralty has no jurisdiction at all in matters of account between part owners. In the next place, the master, even in case of maritime services, has no lien upon the vessel for the payment of them. So that in both respects these matters belonged ad alium examen.

But to return to the question of jurisdiction. There is no doubt

Page 36 U. S. 183

that the boat was employed exclusively in trade and navigation upon the waters of the Mississippi and its tributary streams and that she was not employed or intended to be employed in navigation and trade on the sea or on tidewaters. And the wages of the master, and the advances made by him, for which he now claims recompense out of the proceeds of the steamboat, are on account of voyages made on such interior waters. Under these circumstances, the question arises whether the district court had jurisdiction, as a court of admiralty, to entertain either the original libel or the claims in the supplementary proceedings. We shall shortly give our opinions on both points.

And in the first place, in respect to the original libel. The jurisdiction of courts of admiralty in cases of part owners, having unequal interests and shares, is not and never has been applied to direct a sale, upon any dispute between them as to the trade and navigation of a ship engaged in maritime voyages, properly so called. The majority of the owners have a right to employ the ship in such voyages as they may please, giving a stipulation to the dissenting owners for the safe return of the ship, if the latter, upon a proper libel filed in the admiralty, require it. And the minority of the owners may employ the ship, in the like manner, if the majority decline to employ her at all. So the law is laid down in Lord Tenterden's excellent Treatise on Shipping. Abbott on Ship. part 1, ch. 3, § 4-7. If, therefore, this were a vessel engaged in maritime navigation, the libel for a sale could not be maintained.

But the case is not one of a steamboat engaged in maritime trade or navigation. Though in her voyages she may have touched at one terminus of them in tidewaters, her employment has been substantially on other waters. The admiralty has not any jurisdiction over vessels employed on such voyages in cases of disputes between part owners. The true test of its jurisdiction in all cases of this sort is whether the vessel be engaged substantially in maritime navigation or in interior navigation and trade not on tidewaters. In the latter case, there is no jurisdiction. So that in this view, the district court had no jurisdiction over the steamboat involved in the present controversy, as she was wholly engaged in voyages on such interior waters.

Secondly, in respect to the wages and advances claimed by the libellant. They are for services not maritime and for disbursements not maritime.

Under such circumstances, the admiralty has no jurisdiction,

Page 36 U. S. 184

for its jurisdiction is limited, in matters of contract, to those and those only which are maritime. This was expressly decided by this Court in the case of The Steamboat Jefferson, 10 Wheat. 429, which substantially on this point decides the present case.

There is another ground equally fatal to the claim of the master for wages, which has been already alluded to. By the maritime law, the master has no lien on the ship even for maritime wages; a fortiori the claim would be inadmissible for services on voyages not maritime.

But it is said that the law of Louisiana creates a lien in favor of the master of a vessel engaged in voyages like the present, and if so it may, upon the principles recognized by this Court in Peyroux v. Howard, 7 Pet. 343, be enforced in the admiralty. That decision does not authorize any such conclusion. It that case, the repairs of the vessel for which the state laws created a lien, were made at New Orleans, on tidewaters. The contract was treated as a maritime contract; and the lien under the state laws was enforced in the admiralty, upon the ground, that the court, under such circumstances, had jurisdiction of the contract, as maritime; and then the lien, being attached to it, might be enforced, according to the mode of administering remedies in the admiralty. The local laws can never confer jurisdiction on the courts of the United States; they can only furnish rules to ascertain the rights of parties, and thus assist in the administration of the proper remedies, where the jurisdiction is vested by the laws of the United States. In this view of the point of jurisdiction, we do not think it necessary to decide whether, by the local law of Louisiana, the master had a lien on the steamboat for his wages or not, nor whether, if such a lien existed by that law, it could be applied to any steamboats not belonging to citizens of that state for services not rendered in that state.

Upon the whole, our judgment is that the district court had no jurisdiction of the libel or its incidents, and therefore that the decree of the district court must, upon this ground, be

Reversed and a mandate awarded to the district court to dismiss the suit for want of jurisdiction.

Decree reversed.

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