Ocean Insurance Company v. Polleys
38 U.S. 157 (1839)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ocean Insurance Company v. Polleys, 38 U.S. 13 Pet. 157 157 (1839)

Ocean Insurance Company v. Polleys

38 U.S. (13 Pet.) 157

Syllabus

The settled construction given by the Supreme Court to the 25th section of the Judiciary Act of 1789 is that, to bring a case within the reach of that section, it must appear on the face of the record of the state court, either by express terms or by clear and necessary intendment, that the question of the construction of a clause of a statute of the United States did actually arise in the state court, not that it might have arisen or have been applicable to the case, and that the question was actually decided, not that it might have been decided by the state court against the title, right, privilege, or exemption set up by the party. If, therefore, the decision made by the state court upon the face of the record is entirely consistent with the construction of the statute contended for by the party appellant, no case is made out for the exercise of the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

In the exercise of the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court on the decisions of state courts, the Supreme Court is not at liberty to resort to forced inferences and conjectural reasonings, or possible, or even probable suppositions of the points raised and actually decided by those courts. The court must see plainly that the decision was either directly made of some matter within the purview of the 25th section of the act of 1789 or that the decision could not have been such as it was without necessarily involving such matter.

It is to the record and to the record alone that the Supreme Court can resort to ascertain its appellate jurisdiction in cases decided in the supreme or superior court of a state.

A policy of insurance on a vessel sailing under a register which has been obtained without conforming to the requisitions of the laws of the United States relative to the registry and enrolling of vessels of the United States is not void, and an action may be maintained on such a policy to recover a loss sustained by the assured. The policy may not have been designed to aid, assist, or advance any unlawful purpose, and was a lawful contract in itself, and only remotely connected with the use of the certificate of registry. There are cases in which a contract may be valid notwithstanding it is remotely connected with an independent illegal transaction, which, however, it is not designed to aid or

promote. Suppose a vessel had been actually forfeited for some antecedent illegal act -- are all contracts for her future employment void although there is no illegal object in view and the forfeiture may never be enforced?

The original action was assumpsit on a policy of insurance, dated July 17, 1833, upon the schooner called the Mary and owned by said Polleys, for the term of one year, commencing on the 11th of said July -- sum insured $3,000. The schooner during the said year, on June 10, 1834, was totally lost. The general issue was pleaded.

It appeared on the trial that a sloop was built in 1816, and was enrolled by the name of the Sophronia, and was again enrolled in the custom house in Portland by the same name March 24, 1822. That schooner Mary was built upon the keel, floor timbers and naval timbers of the said sloop Sophronia, and the size enlarged nearly twelve tons, and the name of the Mary given to her after being so enlarged, and that this was known to the defendants at the time of executing the policy, and that the certificate of Mark Leavit was procured by said Polleys and presented to the custom house to obtain the enrollment of the schooner Mary without any fraudulent intent to deceive or defraud, but with a fair and honest intention, as the jury believed. But that the enrollment of the sloop

Page 38 U. S. 158

Sophronia was not first surrendered and delivered up at the custom house before the issuing of the enrollment of the Mary, which was on 3 June, 1833.

The counsel for the original defendant, on the trial, objected to the admission in evidence of the enrollment of June 3, 1833, as contrary to the laws of the United States, but the judge overruled the objection and it was admitted, and the counsel further insisted that schooner on the voyage in which she was lost was sailing under circumstances rendering her liable to forfeiture for a violation of the laws of the United States, and that therefore a policy on a vessel pursuing such a voyage was not valid or legal and binding; but the judge also overruled this objection as insufficient to bar the action. The cause was thereupon submitted to the jury, which returned a verdict for the original plaintiff.

The defendant prosecuted this writ of error.

Page 38 U. S. 161

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