Ex Parte Newman,
81 U.S. 152 (1871)

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Ex Parte Newman, 81 U.S. 14 Wall. 152 152 (1871)

Ex Parte Newman

81 U.S. (14 Wall.) 152


Certain Prussian sailors libeled a Prussian vessel in New York in admiralty for wages, less in amount than $2,000. The master set up a provision in a treaty of the United States with Prussia by which it was stipulated that the consuls of the respective countries should sit as judges in "differences between the crews and captains of vessels" belonging to their respective countries, and the consul of Prussia, coming into the district court, protested against the district court's taking jurisdiction. The district court, however, did take jurisdiction, and decreed $712 to the sailors. On appeal, the circuit court reversed the decree and dismissed the libel because of the consul's exclusive jurisdiction. Held that mandamus would not lie to the circuit judge to compel him to entertain jurisdiction of the cause on appeal and to hear and decide the same on the merits thereof, and that this conclusion of this Court was not to be altered by the fact that, owing to the sum in controversy being less than $2,000, no appeal or writ of error from the circuit court to this Court existed.

The Constitution ordains [Footnote 1] that the judicial power of the United States shall extend "to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction."

The 10th article of the treaty of the United States with the King of Prussia, made May 1st, 1828, [Footnote 2] contains this provision:

"The consuls, vice-consuls, and commercial agents shall have the right as such to sit as judges and arbitrators in such differences as may arise between the captains and crews of the vessels belonging to the nation whose interests are committed to their charge, without the interference of the local authorities, unless the conduct of the crews, or of the captain, should disturb the order or tranquility of the country, or the said consuls, vice-consuls, or commercial agents, should require their assistance to cause their decisions to be carried into effect or supported. It is, however, understood that this species of judgment or arbitration

Page 81 U. S. 153

shall not deprive the contending parties of the rights they have to resort on their return to the judicial authority of their country."

"All treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States,' it is ordained by the Constitution of the United States, [Footnote 3] 'shall be the supreme law of the land."

With this treaty thus in force, the mate and several of the crew, all Prussians -- who had shipped in Prussia on the Prussian bark Elwine Kreplin, under and with express reference made in the shipping articles to the laws of Prussia -- got into a difficulty at New York with the master of the bark, who caused several of them to be arrested on charges of mutiny and desertion. They, on the other hand, took the case before the Prussian consul, denying all fault on their part and claiming wages. The vice-consul heard the case and decided that on their own showing they had forfeited their wages by the Prussian law applied to their contract of shipment. In addition to this, he issued a requisition addressed to any marshal or magistrate of the United States, reciting that the master and crew had been guilty of desertion and requiring such marshal or magistrate to take notice of their offense.

The mate and men now filed a libel in the district court at New York against the bark for the recovery of wages (less than $2,000), which they alleged were due to them, and the bark was attached to answer. The master of the bark, intervening for the interest of the owners, answered and set up various grounds of defense to the claim, some of which arose under the laws of Prussia, and especially he invoked the protection of the clause in the above-quoted treaty between his country and this, and denied the jurisdiction of the district court, alleging, moreover, that the matter in difference, the claim of the libellants for wages, had already in fact been adjudicated by the Prussian consul at the port of New York

Page 81 U. S. 154

Before the cause was tried in the district court, the consul general of the North German Union presented to that court his formal protest against the exercise of jurisdiction by that court in the matter in difference. [Footnote 4] He invoked therein the same clause in the treaty, and claimed exclusive jurisdiction of such matters in difference, and declared also that, before the filing of the libel, the matter had been adjudicated by him, and insisted that his adjudication was binding between the parties and could only be reviewed by the judicial tribunals of Prussia.

The district court proceeded notwithstanding to hear and adjudge the case, placing its right to do this, on the ground that the suit before it was a proceeding in rem to enforce a maritime lien upon the vessel itself, and not a "difference between the captain and crew," and also because the Prussian consul had no power to conduct and carry into effect a proceeding in rem for the enforcement of such a lien, and had not in fact passed at all and could not pass upon any such case. Accordingly after a careful examination of the facts, that court decreed in favor of the libellants $712. The case then came by appeal to the circuit court. This latter court considered that the district court had given to the treaty too narrow and technical a construction. The circuit court said:

"The master is the representative in this port of the vessel and of all the interests concerned therein. He is plainly so regarded in the treaty. The matter in difference in this cause is the claim for wages. That arises between the crew and the master, either as master or as the representative here of vessel and owners. The lien and the proceeding in rem against the vessel appertain only to the remedy. The very first step in this cause is to settle the matter in dispute. If the claim be established,

Page 81 U. S. 155

then, as incident to the right to the wages, the lien and its enforcements against the vessel follow. The district court can have no jurisdiction of the lien, nor jurisdiction to enforce it if it has no jurisdiction of the difference or dispute touching the claim for wages. To hold that the jurisdiction of the consul is confined to cases in which there is no maritime lien and in which no libel of the vessel could, apart from the treaty, be maintained is to take from the treaty much of its substance."

The circuit court adverted to and relied on the fact that the Prussian consul had moreover actually heard the mate and sailors and pronounced against them.

The circuit court accordingly, while it expressed on a general view of the merits its sympathy with the sailors, and a strong inclination to condemn the conduct of the master in the matter, yet was

"constrained to the conclusion that the treaty required that the matter in difference should have been left where the treaty with Prussia leaves it, viz., in the hands and subject to the determination of their own public officer."

The result was the dismissal of the libels by the circuit court for want of jurisdiction.

Thereupon Newman and the others, by their counsel, Messrs. P. Phillips and D. McMahon, filed a petition in this Court for a writ of mandamus to the circuit judge commanding him "to entertain jurisdiction of the said cause on appeal and to hear and decide the same on the merits thereof." The judge returned that the circuit court had entertained the appeal, and had heard counsel on all the questions raised in the case, and had decided it, and that the said court had decided that the matter in controversy was within the jurisdiction of the consul under the treaty, and that in the exercise of the jurisdiction so given him, he had decided the matter, and that therefore the court had dismissed the libel.

The question now was whether the mandamus should issue.

The reader will of course remember the provision in the 13th section of the Judiciary Act, by which it is enacted:

"That the Supreme Court shall have power to issue writs of

Page 81 U. S. 156

mandamus, in cases warranted by the principles and usages of law, to any courts appointed or persons holding office under the authority of the United States."

And also the provision of the 22d section, extended by an act of 1803 to appeals in admiralty, by which it is enacted:

"That final judgments and decrees in civil actions . . . in a circuit court . . . removed there by appeal from a district court, where the matter in dispute exceeds the sum or value of $2,000, exclusive of costs, may be reexamined and reversed or affirmed in the Supreme Court. "

Page 81 U. S. 161

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.