The Rock Island Bridge - 73 U.S. 213 (1867)
U.S. Supreme Court
The Rock Island Bridge, 73 U.S. 6 Wall. 213 213 (1867)
The Rock Island Bridge
73 U.S. (6 Wall.) 213
A maritime lien can only exist upon movable things engaged in navigation, or upon things which are the subjects of commerce on the high seas or navigable waters. It cannot arise upon anything which is fixed and immovable. It does not, therefore, exist upon a bridge.
This was a libel filed in the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, against that part of the Rock Island Railroad Bridge which is situated in the Northern District of Illinois, for alleged damages done by that part of the bridge to two steamboats, the property of the libellant, employed in the navigation of the Mississippi River. It alleged that, by law and the public treaties of the United States, the Mississippi River is, for the distance of two thousand miles, a public navigable stream and common highway, free and open to all the citizens of the United States, who are entitled to navigate the same by sailing and steam vessels, and otherwise, without impediment or obstruction; that the Rock Island Bridge obstructed the free navigation of the stream; and that by collision with this obstruction the steam vessels
of the libellant had been injured, and that he had in consequence been damaged to an extent exceeding seventy thousand dollars.
In accordance with the prayer of the libel, process was issued and the property attached. The Mississippi & Missouri Railroad Company and others then intervened as claimants, and filed an exception to the jurisdiction of the court to proceed against the property in question in the manner "in which the same is sought to be proceeded against by the libel." In other words, they objected to the jurisdiction of the court to take a proceeding in rem against the property. The exception was sustained by the district and circuit courts, and the libel dismissed. The correctness of this ruling was the sole question presented for the determination of this Court.