The Moses Taylor
Annotate this Case
71 U.S. 411 (1866)
U.S. Supreme Court
The Moses Taylor, 71 U.S. 4 Wall. 411 411 (1866)
The Moses Taylor
71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 411
1. A contract for the transportation of passengers by a steamship on the ocean is a maritime contract, and there is no distinction in principle between it and a contract for the like transportation of merchandise. The same liability attaches upon its execution both to the owner and the steamship.
2. The distinguishing and characteristic feature of a suit in admiralty, is that the vessel or thing proceeded against itself is seized and impleaded as the defendant and is judged and sentenced accordingly. By the common law process, property is reached only through a personal defendant, and then only to the extent of his title.
3. A statute of California which authorizes actions in rem against vessels for causes of action cognizance in the admiralty to that extent attempts to invest her courts with admiralty jurisdiction.
4. The judicial power of the United States is in some cases unavoidably exclusive of all state authority, and in all others it may be made so at the election of Congress.
5. The provision of the ninth section of the Judiciary Act which vests in the district courts of the United States exclusive cognizance of civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction is constitutional.
6. The clause of the ninth section saving to suitors "the right of a common
law remedy where the common law is competent to give it" does not save a proceeding in rem, as used in the admiralty courts. Such a proceeding is not a remedy afforded by the common law.
A statute of California, passed in 1851, and amended in 1860, provides that all steamers, vessels, and boats, shall be liable:
1st. For services rendered on board at the request of or on contract with their respective owners, masters, agents, or consignees.
2d. For supplies furnished for their use at the request of their respective owners, masters, agents, or consignees.
3d. For materials furnished in their construction, repair, or equipment.
4th. For their wharfage and anchorage within the state.
5th. For nonperformance or malperformance of any contract for the transportation of persons or property made by their respective owners, masters, agents, or consignees.
6th. For injuries committed by them to persons or property.
And that the "said several causes of action shall constitute liens upon all steamers, vessels, and boats, and have priority in their order, herein enumerated," with preference over all other demands.
The statute also provides that actions for demands arising upon any of the grounds above specified may be brought directly against such steamers, vessels, or boats; that the complaint shall designate the steamer, vessel, or boat by name; that the summons may be served on the master, mate, or anyone having charge of the same; that the same may be attached as security for the satisfaction of any judgment that may be recovered; and that if the attachment be not discharged and a judgment be recovered by the plaintiff, the steamer, vessel, or boat may be sold by the sheriff and the proceeds applied to the payment of the judgment.
With this statute in force, the steamship Moses Taylor, a vessel of over one thousand tons burden, was owned in 1863 by Roberts, of the City of New York, and was employed by him in navigating the Pacific Ocean and in carrying
passengers and freight between Panama and San Francisco. In October of that year, one Hammons entered into a contract with Roberts, as owner of this steamship, by which, in consideration of $100, Roberts agreed to transport him from New York to San Francisco as a steerage passenger with reasonable dispatch and to furnish him with proper and necessary food, water, and berths or other conveniences for lodging on the voyage. For alleged breach of this contract Hammons brought this action, a proceeding against the vessel, in a court of a justice of the peace within the City of San Francisco, such courts at that time having, by statute of California, jurisdiction of these cases where the amount claimed did not exceed $200, which it did not here. The breach alleged was that the plaintiff was detained at the Isthmus of Panama eight days, and that the provisions furnished him on the vessel were unwholesome, and that he was crowded into an unhealthy cabin, without sufficient room or air for either health or comfort in consequence of the large number of steerage passengers, more than the vessel was allowed by law to have or could properly carry, to his damage &c.
The agent of the vessel filed an answer in which he denied the allegations of the complaint and asserted that the court had no jurisdiction, because the cause of action as against the said vessel was one of which the courts of admiralty had exclusive jurisdiction, for that the vessel was used exclusively in navigating the high seas and that the said cause of action, if any, arose on the high seas.
The justice decided that he had jurisdiction and gave judgment for the $200 claimed. The case was then taken to the county court, where the objection to the jurisdiction was again made and again overruled. The court found as fact that Hammons had been carried on the steamer Illinois from New York to Aspinwall, thence, after the delay alleged, on railway across the Isthmus to Panama, and from there on the Moses Taylor to San Francisco, and in substance that the other facts alleged were as stated in the complaint. Whereupon final judgment was entered in accordance
with the decision, and from that judgment the defendant, owner of the vessel, brought this writ of error.
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