The Rio Grande
86 U.S. 178 (1873)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

The Rio Grande, 86 U.S. 19 Wall. 178 178 (1873)

The Rio Grande

86 U.S. (19 Wall.) 178

Syllabus

1. Five libellants, on separate libels in rem, got a decree in the circuit court of one circuit against a vessel for sums each one under $2,000, and so without right of appeal here, and costs. Before they could get satisfaction from the vessel, she was taken out to sea.

The vessel happening to be subsequently in another district, the same five libellants now sent and libeled her there, not filing five separate libels, as in the former district, but all five persons joining in one libel, claiming for each the old sums, with interest from a day named, and claiming in one sum, and without any, specification of what portion of it was for which libellant, the sum of $1,767.62, costs of the courts of the first district, "and also all costs in this behalf expended." The circuit court decreed in favor of the libellants the amount claimed by each, with 8 percent interest from a day named, to the date of the circuit court's decree, and "the further sum of $1,767.62 costs in the district and circuit courts" of the former district, and all costs in the district and circuit courts where the libels had last been filed. With the interest thus allowed, the claims of two of the five libellants exceeded the sum of $2,000, but even with it added the claims of the remaining three did not do so.

The owners of the vessel having taken an appeal to this Court, a motion "to dismiss the appeal" for want of jurisdiction because "the matter in dispute did not exceed the sum or value of $2,000," was denied; the ground for the denial assigned being that "the motion is to dismiss the appeal," and that the decree in favor of two of the libellants was greater than $2,000 when the interest allowed by the circuit court to the date of its decree was included with the principal.

2. Great faith given to a certificate of a clerk below (in the face of things apparent on the transcript itself, and in face of the assertion by counsel of one side and the admission by counsel of the other), that a record sent here by him is a full, complete, true, and perfect transcript of the record and proceedings in a court below.

3. On an allegation of deficiency in the record, the deficiency, if any, may be supplied by certiorari. A motion to dismiss the appeal upon such allegation denied.

The Judiciary Act as amended by an act of 1803 gives appeals to this Court from the circuit courts in admiralty causes, "where the matter in dispute exceeds the sum or value of $2,000, exclusive of costs."

Page 86 U. S. 179

These provisions of law being in force, the steamer Rio Grande, owned, as was alleged, by persons in Mexico, being in the port of Mobile, in the Southern District of Alabama, certain materialmen, on the 26th of November, 1867, filed separate libels against her in the district court for the said district. The libels, with their numbers and the names of the libellants on the docket, were thus:

No. 221. William Otis, for . . . . . . . $1,508.00

No. 222. Joseph Hastings . . . . . . . . 83.75

No. 223. R. D. Post & Co. . . . . . . . 125.00

No. 224. Lyons & Keyland . . . . . . . . 1,411.83

No. 225. G. B. & C.B. Gwin & Co., . . . 713.00

Upon process issued on these libels, the vessel was seized by the marshal and held by him during the pendency of the proceedings in the said court.

Several other libels had apparently been filed against the same steamer. The record at least contained this entry, which, as it is referred to in what is said by the learned justice who delivered the opinion of this Court, and apparently as affecting the case, is here set out:

"Order granting Motion to consolidate Causes"

"Tuesday Morning, December 10, 1867"

"Court met pursuant to adjournment. Present: the honorable Richard Busteed, judge presiding."

"JOSEPH HASTINGS ET AL. v. STEAMBOAT RIO GRANDE"

"In this cause G. N. Stewart, Esquire, attorney for the claimants, moves the consideration of admiralty cases Nos. 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, and 138, with the above-mentioned case; which motion was granted by the court upon a written agreement being filed that such consolidation should not prejudice the officers of the court in respect to costs."

One Williams and others appeared as claimants and owners of the vessel.

On the 11th of May, 1868, the court dismissed all the libels, on the ground that the credit had been a personal one to the owners, and that there had been no credit to the

Page 86 U. S. 180

ship. Hereupon the claimants, on the 12th, and before it was possible to perfect an appeal, got -- through some clerical accident apparently -- an order of restoration of the vessel to themselves, and carried her right out to sea. The libellants nevertheless, on the 14th, 15th, and 16th of May took their appeal with supersedeas to the circuit court, the circuit court, of course, for the District of Alabama, and on the appeal that court, holding that the credit had been to the vessel, reversed, January 11, 1869, the decree of the district court, and awarded to each of the libellants above-named the amount claimed by him, with interest at 8 percent from the 1st of August, 1867. The order of decree, after setting out the numbers of the cases and the names of the libellants, proceeded thus:

"The above-stated cases having been appealed to this Court from the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of Alabama, came on to be heard this day, upon the libels, answers, and proofs; and, it appearing to the court that each of said claims are liens upon said steamer Rio Grande, and it further appearing to the court from the evidence:"

"That the claim of William Otis is sustained, $1,508, with interest on the same from the 1st day of August, 1867;"

"And the claim of Lyons & Keyland is sustained, for the sum of $1,411.83, with interest on the same from the 1st day of August, 1867;"

"And the claim of Joseph Hastings, for the sum of $83.75, with interest from the 1st day of August, 1867;"

"And the claim of R. D. Post, for the sum of $121.75, with interest from the 1st day of August, 1867;"

"And the claim of G. B. & C. B. Gwin & Co., for the sum of $713.14, with interest from the 1st day of August, 1867;"

"It is therefore ordered and decreed that the said steamer Rio Grande be condemned for the payment of said respective sums, ascertained and admitted to be due to the respective libellants, and that she be sold to pay the same, and the costs of this court and of the district court."

Subsequently to all this the materialmen, from whose process in the Judicial District of Alabama the vessel had been withdrawn, hearing that she was now in the port of New

Page 86 U. S. 181

Orleans, in the District of Louisiana, sent over there and, on the 8th of June, 1871, there libeled her.

In this new libel they all joined in one libel. This libel set forth that the steamer was indebted to them severally in the sums already named, with interest, at the rate of 8 percent per annum, from the 1st of August, 1867, until paid, that they had libeled her in the District of Alabama, and had got a decree of the circuit court, such as has been already stated, and decreeing that the vessel should be sold to pay their claims, "and the costs of both district and circuit courts aforesaid;" that after the decree of the district court, the claimants had removed the vessel from the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court for the District of Alabama, and brought her into the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court for the District of Louisiana, where the same materialmen now libeled her. The libel reasserted the old liens for materials, asserted further a lien for $1767.62 for said costs, and prayed that the steamer "be sold to satisfy the claims of the libellants in the sum of $1767.62, costs of the courts of Alabama, with also all costs in this behalf expended." After referring to the proceedings in the district and circuit court, it added:

"All which will more fully appear by the transcript of the record of said case, which is filed herewith and made part of this libel."

The District Court for Louisiana (Mr. Justice Durell), like the District Court in Alabama, dismissed the libel. The Circuit Court of Louisiana on appeal, like the Circuit Court for Alabama, reversed the decree of the district court, and the claimants of the vessel took this appeal.

The transcript of the record, as it came to this Court, was composed of what was called in the index the "original record" (103 pages) and an "additional record" by way of continuation, and running from page 103 to page 183.

At the conclusion of the former, on page 103, and just above a certificate of the clerk of the Circuit Court of Louisiana, appeared:

Page 86 U. S. 182

"Instructions from F. Michinard, Esq., to make transcript"

"[Filed September 11, 1873]"

"WILLIAM OTIS ET AL. v. S.S. RIO GRANDE -- No. 6819"

"In making out the transcript of appeal in the above case, the clerk will please omit the following documents."

"In the case proper:"

"All appeal bonds filed in Judge Durell's court."

"Notices to take testimony and continuances."

"In the transcript filed with the libel:"

"Omit all libels except those of William Otis (1), Lyons & Keyland (2), R. D. "

"State that the original libel of Joseph Hastings is for $183.75, for 26 1/4 days' labor at $7."

"Omit bills attached to libels."

"Omit all admiralty warrants and returns, monitions &c., except in the case of William Otis."

"Omit motion for subpoena duces tecum."

"Omit orders allowing master further time, and leave to counsel to file briefs."

"Omit appeal-bonds."

"Very respectfully,"

"F. MICHINARD"

"For Rio Grande."

These instructions had been apparently more or less fully complied with. Moreover, the "original record" did not contain any transcript of a record of the proceedings in the circuit and district courts of Alabama, the record, namely, which the libel in the District Court of Louisiana referred to as appended to it, but it did contain, and following the libel, what it called "Extracts from the transcript annexed to libel and filed in the United States district court, June 8, 1871."

Nevertheless, the clerk of the circuit court for Louisiana put, under date of 26th September, 1873, and at the close of the "original record," the usual certificate that the 103 pages named contained and formed a

"full, complete, true, and perfect transcript of the record and proceedings had, together with all the evidence adduced on the trial of the case of William Otis v. Steamer Rio Grande, No. 6819 of the docket, so far as the same now remain of record

Page 86 U. S. 183

"

Then followed in the transcript sent here the "addition to the record." This opened with an agreement signed by the counsel of both sides, and dated November 27, 1873, thus:

"It is agreed that the appellants may make perfect and complete the transcript in this case, by having the following documents, forming part of the record of the circuit court, copied by the clerk and filed in the Supreme Court, before the trial of the motion to dismiss, to-wit."

[Here followed a list of documents, some, but not all of those which the clerk had omitted.]

Then came what were entitled:

"Extracts from the transcript filed with libel in the United States District Court, District of Louisiana, June 8, 1871, and in the circuit court of the United States, November 2, 1872."

This part of the transcript, that is to say, the "addition to the record," the clerk of the circuit court for Louisiana did not certify as before to be a "full, complete, true, and perfect copy" of anything; but on the contrary, under date of December 6th, 1873, certified to contain

"true and perfect copies extracts from the transcript of the record and proceedings had in the suits in Southern District of Alabama, and filed in the case of William Otis v. Steamship Rio Grande, No. 6819 of the docket, so far as the same now remain of record, or on file in said court."

A motion was now made to dismiss the appeal, because,

1st. The transcript did not contain a true copy of the record and of all the proceedings in the case.

2d. This Court had no jurisdiction in the case, as the amount in dispute was less than $2000.

Page 86 U. S. 187

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