The Sapphire - 78 U.S. 164 (1870)
U.S. Supreme Court
The Sapphire, 78 U.S. 11 Wall. 164 164 (1870)
78 U.S. (11 Wall.) 164
1. A foreign sovereign can bring a civil suit in the courts of the United States.
2. A claim arising by virtue of being such sovereign (such as an injury to a public ship of war) is not defeated, nor does suit therefor abate, by a change in the person of the sovereign. Such change, if necessary, may be suggested on the record.
3. If an injury to any party could be shown to arise from a continuation of the proceedings after a change in the person of the sovereign, the court, in its discretion, would take order to prevent such a result.
4. If a vessel at anchor in a gale could avoid a collision threatened by another vessel and does not adopt the means for doing so, she is a participant in the wrong, and must divide the loss with the other vessel.
The case was one of collision between the American ship Sapphire and the French transport Euryale, which took place in the harbor of San Francisco on the morning of December 22, 1867, by which the Euryale was considerably damaged. A libel was filed in the district court two days afterwards in the name of the Emperor Napoleon III, then Emperor of the French, as owner of the Euryale, against the Sapphire. The claimants filed an answer alleging, among other things, that the damage was occasioned by the fault of the Euryale. Depositions were taken and the court decreed in favor of the libellant and awarded him $15,000, the total amount claimed. The claimants appealed to the circuit court, which affirmed the decree. They then, in July, 1869, appealed to this Court. In the summer of 1870, Napoleon
III was deposed. The case came on to be argued here February 16, 1871. Three questions were raised:
1. The right of the Emperor of France to have brought suit in our courts.
2. Whether, if rightly brought, the suit had not become abated by the deposition of the Emperor Napoleon III.
3. The question of merits; one of fact, and depending upon evidence stated towards the conclusion of the opinion (see infra, pp. 78 U. S. 169-170), where the point is considered.