Annotate this Case
80 U.S. 329 (1871)
U.S. Supreme Court
The Patapsco, 80 U.S. 13 Wall. 329 329 (1871)
80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 329
Supplies furnished to a ship in a foreign port and necessary to enable her to complete her voyage, and actually so used by her, constitute a lien, unless it can be inferred that the master had funds or the owners had credit -- a presumption difficult to make when the owner is greatly embarrassed, and is raising money in the port where the vessel is, by mortgage of other vessels owned by him. The lien is of a high character, and when once to be inferred is removed only by proof which actually displaces it. Entries in a journal, and in a ledger, charging apparently the owners, rather than the vessel -- proof of the form of entry in the day book not appearing, owing to its being dispensed with by the materialman -- held not sufficient to displace the lien.
Boyce, a coal dealer in Baltimore, filed a libel against the steamer Patapsco in the district court at New York to recover a demand for six separate supplies of coal furnished between the 3d of February and the 26th of March, 1866, to the steamer. One Borland intervened as claimant. The question was whether the coal had been furnished on the credit of the vessel or on that of her owners only.
The facts, as the court assumed them from the weight of the evidence, itself somewhat inconsistent, were thus:
The Commercial Steamboat Company, a corporation of Rhode Island, owned and chartered certain steamers, the Kingfisher &c., and used them as a line of steamers from New York to Baltimore. The Patapsco was chartered by the company to run on the line, and registered at New York in the individual name of one Bacon, president of the company; though the company controlled her. The company had an agent at Baltimore, and the course of dealing was as follows:
When the steamers would arrive at Baltimore, their engineers would inform this agent of the amount of coal they needed for their different vessels. Thereupon the agent would fill up a printed circular directed to Boyce, requesting him to furnish "with invoice," to that steamer, by name
(in this case the Patapsco), so many tons of coal, saying nothing about charging anybody. Boyce would then fill up a printed order to his clerk, directing him to furnish the coal to the steamer named. On receipt of this latter order, the coal would be delivered on board the steamer. At the end of a month a bill would be made of all the deliverances to all the boats. The object of making out a general bill at the end of each month, it appeared, was to avoid a multiplication of bills, and for the sake of convenience.
The entries in the libellant's journal were thus -- one example showing all:
BALTIMORE, March, 1866
COMMERCIAL ST'B'T Co.:
80 tons Geo. C'k, st'r Kingfisher, $7 . . . $ 560
25 " " " " Patapsco, 7 . . . 175
80 " " " " Kingfisher, 7 . . . 560
42 " " " " Patapsco, 7 . . . 294
And in his ledger they were thus:
COMMERCIAL ST'B'T CO. DR.
Jan'y 30th To coal ac. . . . . . . . . . . $ 2,896.36
" " " bituminous ac. . . . . . . . 2,963.60
Feb. " " coal ac. . . . . . . . . . . 790
Feb. " bituminous ac. . . . . . . . 2,416.10
Mar. " coal ac. . . . . . . . . . . 1,550
" " bituminous ac. . . . . . . . 1,589
April " coal ac. . . . . . . . . . . 1,462.50
" " bituminous ac. . . . . . . . 65
May 16 " cash . . . . . . . . . . . . 39.10
Feb. 5th. By cash . . . . . . . . . . . . $ 3,000
" 9th. " " . . . . . . . . . . . . 1,000
" 15th. " " . . . . . . . . . . . . 1,849.96
Mar. 30th. " coal ac. . . . . . . . . . . 73.50
May 5th. " cash . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
June 30th. " " . . . . . . . . . . . . 3,008.41
" " " balance. . . . . . . . . . . 4,693.79
To balance. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $ 4,693.79
The form of entries in the libellant's day book did not appear, the claimant waiving the production of it, and the bills rendered to the company were not produced.
The coal was sold at the lowest price, and it was necessary for the Patapsco to make her trips and was used by her in making them. The agent of the steamship company stated that
"the coal bought for the Patapsco was ordered for this steamer expressly, but on account of the Commercial Steamship Company, the same as all coal was ordered and bought for the several steamers constituting the line."
"The owners or charterers,' he added, 'were not known in the transaction, but the steamer was supposed to belong to the Commercial Steamboat Company by the parties who furnished the coal."
During the whole time that this coal was furnished, the steamboat company was in an embarrassed state. And on the 3d of February, on which day the first item of the coal for which the steamer was libeled, was furnished, the steamship company executed six promissory notes for $7,500 each -- $45,000 in all -- to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company; following them immediately, and by the 6th, by mortgages on three of their steamers to secure payment. And it owed a balance of $25,800 to the Neptune Steamboat Company on the 1st February, 1866, so much remaining due for money laid out, paid, or advanced in the preceding year.
On the 2d of April, 1866, nine days after the last item of coal furnished to the Patapsco, the registered owner, Bacon, executed a bill of sale of her to Borland, already mentioned as the claimant in the case, to secure to him a debt of $10,500. And on the 10th following, the company failed entirely, the failure being followed by attachments to a very large amount, much of it like the $25,800 already mentioned for money lent or debts due prior to the 3d February, 1866, and the result being a general break up of the company in which the creditors got but a small portion of their claims from the whole effects of the corporation.
It was in virtue of his bill of sale above mentioned that Borland contested the libellant's claim.
The district court dismissed the libel; holding that there was no credit to the vessel. The circuit court, on appeal, held that there was, and reversed the decree. From this reversal Borland appealed to this Court.
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