The Panoil,
266 U.S. 433 (1925)

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Panoil, 266 U.S. 433 (1925)

United States v. Steamship "Panoil"

No. 139

Argued December 10, 1924

Decided January 5, 1925

266 U.S. 433




The district court has not admiralty jurisdiction of a libel in rem against a vessel for damages caused by its colliding with a spur dike, a structure mainly of wood, driven into the bed and extending out from the bank of a navigable river, the purpose of which is to improve the channel in aid of navigation by producing shore deposits through a slackening of water flow. P. 266 U. S. 434.

Appeal from a decree of the district court in admiralty which dismissed a libel for want of jurisdiction.

Page 266 U. S. 434

MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The United States libeled the steamship Panoil and asked a decree for $2,000 because of damage inflicted upon spur dike No. 5, a structure extending into the Mississippi River. Upon exception duly taken, the district court correctly concluded that it lacked jurisdiction of the matter, and dismissed the libel.

In order to deflect the current and cause it to deepen the channel at the mouth of the river, the United States built submerged dikes and sills, composed of willow mattresses weighted down with stone; also several spurs. Spur dike No. 5, located near the "Head of the Passes," consists of a cribwork of round piles, hewn walings, and

Page 266 U. S. 435

sawn cross-braces, all securely bolted together, with a curtain of round piles bolted against the upstream face. It is driven into the bed of the river, and extends out about 700 feet from the east bank, approximately at right angles to the channel. Its special purpose is to slacken the current, induce deposits of sediment, and eventually built out the shore, and in this way to improve the channel and aid navigation. Proceeding in a thick fog, the Panoil struck this dike, shoved 30 feet of the channel end upstream, and so damaged it as to require rebuilding at an expense of $2,000.

Appellants maintain that, as the dike is an aid to navigation, the court below had jurisdiction of the alleged tort within the doctrine of The Blackheath, 195 U. S. 361, and The Raithmoor, 241 U. S. 166. We think the principle of those cases does not go so far. The dike constitutes an extension of the shore, and must be regarded as land. The mere fact that its presence may affect the flow of the water, and thereby ultimately facilitate navigation, is not enough to bring the injury within the admiralty jurisdiction. Cleveland Terminal & Valley Railroad Co. v. Cleveland Steamship Co., 208 U. S. 316; The Troy, 208 U. S. 321.


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