Hannay v. Eve - 7 U.S. 242 (1806)
U.S. Supreme Court
Hannay v. Eve, 7 U.S. 3 Cranch 242 242 (1806)
Hannay v. Eve
7 U.S. (3 Cranch) 242
The courts of the United States will not enforce an agreement entered into in fraud of a law of the United States, although that agreement was made between persons who were then enemies of the United States, and the object of the agreement a mere stratagem of war.
The duty of a master of a vessel to his owners will not oblige him to violate the good faith even of an enemy in order to preserve his ship, nor to employ fraud in order to effect that object.
This was a writ of error to the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Georgia, sitting in chancery, to reverse a decree which dismissed the complainant's bill on a demurrer.
The complainant, as assignee of Cruden & Company, alleged in his bill that on 24 December, 1782, during the war between, the United States and Great Britain, the British armed ship Dawes, owned by Cruden & Company, who were British subjects, and commanded by Oswell Eve, the defendant, sailed with a cargo, the property of Cruden & Company, from Kingston, in Jamaica, for New York, then in possession of the British troops. That on her passage the ship met with much tempestuous weather, by which she was rendered incapable of reaching her port of destination, in consequence of which the defendant, after
consultation with the crew and passengers, came to the determination to sail for the nearest port in the United States, thereby to save the lives of the crew and passengers, which were in imminent danger, and also to save as much as possible to the owners. That the vessel and cargo were liable to be captured by the cruisers of the United States; or if she went into any port of the United States, without being captured, she would become a droit of admiralty to the United States, or some of them. That the defendant stated to the crew and passengers that as Congress, by its resolve of 9 December, 1781, had enacted and declared
"That all ships and vessels, with their cargoes, which should be seized by the respective crews thereof should be deemed and adjudged as lawful prize to the captors,"
as the vessel was incapable of reaching New York, and as she would be totally lost to the owners, to himself, and the crew, if captured by the cruisers of the United States, the best mode would be to seize and capture the vessel and cargo, make the passengers, who were military men of high rank and distinction, prisoners of war, and sail for the nearest port, and there obtain a condemnation of the vessel and cargo for the benefit and compensation of the crew, who would lose their wages if she was regularly captured, and that the residue should remain in the defendant's hands, as agent and trustee, and for the sole use and benefit of the owners. That this plan was agreed to and executed, and an agreement, signed by the defendant and the crew, ascertaining what share each man was to be allowed, and which was to be the basis of the judge's decree, as to the distribution of the prize money. That the crew consented to the defendant's having a larger share than they would, if he had not declared his intention to act in the whole, as the agent and trustee, and for the benefit of the owners. That the vessel was accordingly carried into a port in North Carolina, libeled, condemned, and distribution made, according to the proportion fixed by the agreement. That the defendant afterwards purchased a number of the shares of the seamen for the benefit of his owners; that he also purchased part of the cargo, at the marshal's sales, and shipped it to Charleston, where he sold it to great profit for the benefit of the owners.
The bill then prays a discovery, and that the defendant may account and be decreed to pay, &c.
To this bill the defendant demurred and assigned two causes of demurrer.
1. That it appears by the complainant's own showing that the ship and cargo were regularly condemned under the resolve of Congress of 9 December, 1781, as lawful prize, and the proceeds decreed to the defendant and others as lawful captors, the legality of which decree ought not now to be called in question.
2. That the bill contains no matter of equity but what is cognizable at law.
Upon argument, the judge (Stephens) sustained the demurrer, and dismissed the bill, but without costs.