Steamboat Orleans v. Phoebus
Annotate this Case
36 U.S. 175 (1837)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Steamboat Orleans v. Phoebus, 36 U.S. 11 Pet. 175 175 (1837)
Steamboat Orleans v. Phoebus
36 U.S. (11 Pet.) 175
Admiralty. It is very irregular and against the known principles of courts of admiralty to allow, in a libel in rem and quasi for possession, the introduction of any other matters of an entirely different character, such as an account of the vessels earnings or the claim of the part owner for his wages and advances as master.
The admiralty has no jurisdiction in matters of account between part owners. The master, even in a case of maritime services, has no lien upon the vessel for the payment of them.
The jurisdiction of courts of admiralty in cases of part owners having unequal interests and shares is not and never has been applied to direct a sale upon any dispute between them as to the trade and navigation of the ship engaged in maritime voyages, properly so called. The majority of the owners have a right to employ the ship on such voyages as they please, giving a stipulation to the dissenting owners for the safe return of the ship if the latter, upon a proper libel filed in the admiralty, require it, and the minority of the owners may employ the ship in the like manner if the majority decline to employ her at all.
The admiralty has no jurisdiction over a vessel not engaged in maritime trade and navigation, though on her voyages she may have touched at one terminus of them in tidewater, her employment having been substantially on other waters.
The true test of its jurisdiction in all cases of this sort is whether the vessel is engaged substantially in maritime navigation or in interior navigation and trade, not on tidewaters.
The jurisdiction of courts of admiralty is limited in matters of contract to those and those only which are maritime.
The case of The Steamboat Jefferson, 10 Wheat. 429, 6 Cond. 175, cited and approved.
By the maritime law, the master has no lien on the ship even for maritime wages. The case of Peyroux v. Howard, 7 Pet. 343, cited.
The local laws of a state can never confer jurisdiction on the courts of the United States. They can only furnish roles to ascertain the rights of the parties, and thus assist in the administration of the proper remedies where the jurisdiction is vested by the laws of the United States.
Thomas Phoebus, who was the owner of one-sixth part of the steamboat Orleans, on 30 November 1835, filed a libel in the District Court of the United States for the District of Louisiana against the appellants, who were the owners of the other five-sixths of said
boat alleging that he had been on board of said boat as master and part owner, but had been dispossessed by the other part owners, who were navigating, trading with, and using said boat contrary to his wish, and, as he conceived, to his interest, and therefore he desired no longer to be part owner with the other proprietors; that he had amicably demanded the sale of said boat, and that he might receive his portion of the proceeds; that the other owners refused to do this, and were about to send her up the Mississippi on another trip against his wishes; that the boat lay in the port of New Orleans, where the tide ebbs and flows and within the admiralty jurisdiction of the court; therefore he prayed that the boat might be sold and one-sixth part of the proceeds paid to him, and that the other owners might account to him for the earnings of the boat to the day of sale.
The appellants filed their claim denying the jurisdiction of the court over the subject matter of the libel, and denied that said boat navigated water where the tide ebbs and flows, and alleging that she navigated only between New Orleans and the interior towns on the Mississippi and its tributary waters, that she was not a maritime boat, and was never intended to navigate the high seas, and if the court should be of opinion it had jurisdiction, then they denied the merits of the case. At the same time, one of the crew of the boat, while she was in possession of Phoebus, filed a libel against her for wages. In that suit, Phoebus filed a claim against the boat for wages as master, and for necessaries advanced by him for the boat while he acted in that capacity. These charges he was permitted by agreement of parties to transfer to his own suit as though they had made a part of the case stated in his libel.
On 15 April 1836, the district court rendered a final decree which directed a public sale of the boat; that the libellant, Thomas Phoebus, should receive one-sixth of the proceeds; a year's wages at $1,500 a year and the further sum of $345.60 for necessaries furnished by him, with costs of suit. The claimants appealed to this Court.