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its nature require the exclusive exercise of that power, the states, until Congress acts,
may continue to legislate. 10. Hence, liens granted by the laws of a state in favor of material-men for furnishing
necessaries to a vessel in her home port in said state are valid, though the contract to furnish the same is a maritime contract, and can only be enforced by proceedings in
rem in the district courts of the United States. 11. Any person having a specific lien on, or a vested right in, a surplus fund in court,
may apply by petition for the protection of his interest under the 430 Admiralty Rule. 12. Separate libels were filed in 1871 against a steamboat, for wages, for salvage, for
supplies furnished at her home port, and for the amount due on a mortgage. Held, on the evidence, that the lien for supplies had not been perfected under the state law; and, if it had been, that the libels for such supplies could not be sustained prior to the recent change in the 12th Admiralty Rule. Held, also, that the libel upon the mortgage could not be sustained as an original proceeding; but that the mortgagees, having petitioned for the surplus proceeds of the vessel, were entitled to have the same applied to their mortgage.
APPEAL in admiralty from the circuit court for the District of Louisiana.
The libel in this case was filed in the district court of the United States for the district just above mentioned, on the 10th day of June, 1871, by William Doyle and another, against the steamer Lotawana, of New Orleans, for mariners' wages. The vessel being seized, libels of intervention were afterwards filed by various parties, some for mariners' wages, some for salvage services, some for supplies, materials, and repairs furnished in the port of New Orleans, for the use of the steamer. On the 20th day of June, 1871, Catharine Rodd, administratrix, together with several commercial firms of the city of New Orleans, filed a libel of intervention by which they set up a mortgage on the vessel, given to them by the owner, on the 20th of May, 1871, and duly recorded in the custom-house on the 22d of May, to secure the payment of various promissory notes of the same date, given to said libellants by the said owner, and amounting to more than $14,000.
The steamer, up to the 16th of May, had been engaged in the river trade on the Mississippi and Red rivers, between New Orleans and Jefferson, in Texas, and was laid up for repairs at New Orleans on that day. Most of the claims for wages and supplies arose before the date of the mortgage, although some arose afterwards. The steamer was sold for $7,500, and, after deducting expenses of sale, costs, salvage, and wages of mariners (which were admitted to have preference), there remained a surplus of $4,644.42, which the district court decreed to be paid pro rata to the mortgage creditors, to the exclusion of the claims for repairs and supplies. This decree was reversed by the circuit court, on appeal; and the surplus was decreed to be paid pro rata to the claimants for repairs and supplies, to the exclusion of the mortgage creditors, the amount not being sufficient to pay either class of creditors in full. From the latter decree an appeal was taken to this court.
The principal question presented by the appeal, therefore, was whether the furnishing to a vessel on her credit, at her home port, needful repairs and supplies created a maritime lien. If it did, such lien would take precedence of a mortgage given for the payment of money generally, and the decree must be affirmed. If it did not, the decree was to be reversed, unless the appellees could sustain themselves on some other ground.
It was also asserted by the appellees that by the law of Louisiana they had a privilege for their claims giving them a lien on the vessel and her proceeds, which lien, though not strictly a maritime one, the court was bound to enforce.
The case was twice argued, once at December term, 1873, by Mr. T. J. Semmes, for the appellant, and Messrs. J. A. Grow & L. M. Day, for the appellees; and now, at this term, October, 1874, by Mr. R. Mott, for the appellant, and Mr. J. A. Grow, for the appellees, and by Mr. W. W. Goodrich, in favor of the lien for supplies furnished the vessel in her home port, and by Mr. William Allan Butler f Mr. Andrew Boardman, in opposition to such lien.
Mr. Justice BRADLEY delivered the opinion of the court. The principal questions raised in this case were decided by this court adversely to the lien more than fifty years ago in the case of The General Smith, reported in 4 Wheaton, 438, and that decision has ever since been adhered to, except occasionally in some of the district courts. A solemn judgment relied on so long by the commercial community as a rule of property and the law of the land, ought not to be overruled except for very cogent reasons. If, however, in the progress of investigation, and with the new lights that have been thrown upon the whole subject of maritime law and admiralty jurisdiction, a more rational view of the question demands an adverse ruling in order to preserve harmony and logical consistency in the general system, the court might, perhaps, if no evil consequences of a glaring character were likely to ensue, feel constrained to adopt it. But if no such necessity exists, we ought not to permit any consideration of mere expediency or love of scientific completeness to draw us into a substantial change of the received law. The additional security which has been extended to bills of sale and mortgages on ships and vessels since the passage of the act for recording them in the customhouse ; and the confidence with which purchasers and mortgagees have invested money therein under the existing course of decisions on this subject, have placed a large amount of property at undue hazard, if those decisions may lightly, or without grave cause, be disturbed.
The ground on which we are asked to overrule the judgment in the case of The General Smith is, that by the general maritime law those who furnish necessary materials, repairs, and supplies to a vessel, upon her credit, have a lien on such a vessel therefor, as well when furnished in her home port as when furnished in a foreign port, and that the courts of admiralty are bound to give effect to that lien.
The proposition assumes that the general maritime law governs this case, and is binding on the courts of the United States.
But it is hardly necessary to argue that the maritime law is only so far operative as law in any country as it is adopted by the laws and usages of that country. In this respect it is like international law or the laws of war, which have the effect of law in no country any further than they are accepted and received as such; or, like the case of the civil law, which forms the basis of most European laws, but which has the force of law in each state only so far as it is adopted therein, and with such modifications as are deemed expedient. The adoption of the common law by the sev- · eral states of this Union also presents an analogous case.
It is the basis
of all the state laws ; but is modified as each sees fit. Perhaps the maritime law is more uniformly followed by commercial nations than the civil and common laws are by those who use them. But, like those laws, however fixed, definite, and beneficial the theoretical code of maritime law may be, it can have only so far the effect of law in any country as it is permitted to have. But the actual maritime law can hardly be said to have a fixed and definite form as to all the subjects which may be embraced within its scope. Whilst it is true that the great mass of maritime law is the same in all commercial countries, yet, in each country, peculiarities exist either as to some of the rules, or in the mode of enforcing them. Especially is this the case on the outside boundaries of the law, where it comes in contact with, or shades off into the local or municipal law of the particular country, and affects only its own merchants or people in their relations to each other. Whereas, in matters affecting the stranger or foreigner, the commonly received law of the whole commercial world is more assiduously observed - as, in justice, it should be. No one doubts that every nation may adopt its own maritime code. France may adopt one; England another; the United States a third ; still, the convenience of the commercial world, bound together as it is by mutual relations of trade and intercourse, demands that, in all essential things, wherein those relations bring them in contact, there should be a uniform law founded on natural reason and justice. Hence the adoption by all commercial nations (our own included) of the general maritime law as the basis and groundwork of all their maritime regulations. But no nation regards itself as precluded from making occasional modifications suited to its locality and the genius of its own people and institutions, especially in matters that are of merely local and municipal consequence and do not affect other nations. It will be found, therefore, that the maritime codes of France, England, Sweden, and other countries are not one and the same in every particular ; but that whilst there is a general correspondence between them arising from the fact that each adopts the essential principles, and the great mass of the general maritime law, as the basis of its system, there are varying shades of difference corresponding to the respective territories, climate, and genius of the people of each country respectively. Each state adopts the maritime law, not as a code having any independent or inherent force, proprio vigore, but as its own law, with such modifications and qualifications as it sees fit. Thus adopted and thus qualified in each case, it becomes the maritime law of the particular nation that adopts it. And without such voluntary adoption it would not be law. And thus it happens that, from the general practice of commercial nations in making the same general law the basis and groundwork of their respective maritime systems, the great mass of maritime law which is thus received by these nations in common comes to be the common maritime law of the world.
This account of the maritime law, if correct, plainly shows that, in particular matters, especially such as approach a merely municipal character, the received maritime law may differ in different countries without affecting the general integrity of the system as a harmonious whole. The government of one country may be willing to give to its citizens, who supply a ship with provisions at her home port where the owner himself resides,
a lien on the ship ; whilst that of another country may take a contrary view as to the expediency of such a rule. The difference between them in a matter that concerns only their own citizens, in each case, cannot seriously affect the harmony and consistency of the common maritime law which each adopts and observes.
This view of the subject does not in the slightest degree detract from the proper authority and respect due to that venerable law of the sea, which has been the subject of such high encomiums from the ablest jurists of all countries; it merely places it upon the just and logical grounds upon which it is accepted, and with proper qualifications, received with the binding force of law in all countries.
The proposition, therefore, that by the general maritime law a lien is given in cases of the kind now under consideration, does not advance the argument a single step, unless it be shown to be in accordance with the maritime law as accepted and received in the United States. It certainly has not been the maritime law of England for more than two centuries past; and whether it is the maritime law of this country depends upon questions which are not answered by simply turning to the ordinary European treatises on maritime law, or the codes or ordinances of any particular country.
That we have a maritime law of our own, operative throughout the United States, cannot be doubted. The general system of maritime law, which was familiar to the lawyers and statesmen of the country when the Constitution was adopted, was most certainly intended and referred to when it was declared in that instrument that the judicial power of the United States shall extend “to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction." But by what criterion are we to ascertain the precise limits of the law thus adopted? The Constitution does not define it. It does not declare whether it was intended to embrace the entire maritime law as expounded in the treatises, or only the limited and restricted system which was received in England ; or lastly, such modification of both of these as was accepted and recognized as law in this country. Nor does the Constitution attempt to draw the boundary line between maritime law and local law; nor does it lay down any criterion for ascertaining that boundary. It assumes that the meaning of the phrase “ admiralty and maritime jurisdiction " is well understood. It treats this matter as it does the cognate ones of common law and equity, when it speaks of
cases in law and equity,” or of “suits at common law,” without defining those terms, assuming them to be known and understood.
One thing, however, is unquestionable: the Constitution must have referred to a system of law coextensive with, and operating uniformly in, the whole country. It certainly could not have been the intention to place the rules and limits of maritime law under the disposal and regusation of the several states, as that would have defeated the uniformity and consistency at which the Constitution aimed on all subjects of a commercial character affecting the intercourse of the states with each other or with foreign states.
The question is discussed with great felicity and judgment by Chief Justice Taney, delivering the opinion of the court in the case of The St. Lawrence, 1 Black, 526, 527, where he says: “ Judicial power, in all
cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, is delegated by the Constitution to the federal government in general terms, and courts of this character had then been established in all commercial and maritime nations, differing, however, materially in different countries in the powers and duties confided to them, — the extent of the jurisdiction conferred depending very much upon the character of the government in which they were created; and this circumstance, with the general terms of the grant, rendered it difficult to define the exact limits of its power in the United States. This difficulty was increased by the complex character of our government, where separate and distinct specified powers of sovereignty are exercised by the United States and a state independently of each other within the same territorial limits. And the reports of the decisions of the court will show that the subject has often been before it, and carefully considered, without being able to fix with precision its definite boundaries ; but certainly no state law can enlarge it, nor can an act of Congress or rule of court make it broader than the judicial power may determine to be its true limits. And this boundary is to be ascertained by a reasonable and just construction of the words used in the Constitution, taken in connection with the whole instrument, and the purposes for which admiralty and maritime jurisdiction was granted to the federal government."
Guided by these sound principles, this court has felt itself at liberty to recognize the admiralty jurisdiction as extending to localities and subjects which, by the jealousy of the common law, were prohibited to it in England, but which fairly belong to it on every ground of reason when applied to the peculiar circumstances of this country, with its extended territories, its inland seas, and its navigable rivers, especially as the narrow restrictions of the English law had never prevailed on this side of the Atlantic, even in colonial times.
The question as to the true limits of maritime law and admiralty jurisdiction is ụndoubtedly, as Chief Justice Taney intimates, exclusively a judicial question, and no state law or act of Congress can make it broader, or (it may be added) narrower, than the judicial power may determine those limits to be. But what the law is within those limits, assuming the general maritime law to be the basis of the system, depends on what has been received as law in the maritime usages of this country, and on such legislation as may have been competent to affect it.
To ascertain, therefore, what the maritime law of this country is, it is not enough to read the French, German, Italian, and other foreign works on the subject, or the codes which they have framed ; but we must have regard to our own legal history, Constitution, legislation, usages, and adjudications as well. The decisions of this court illustrative of these sources, and giving construction to the laws and Constitution, are especially to be considered ; and when these fail us, we must resort to the principles by which they have been governed.
But we must always remember that the court cannot make the law; it can only declare it. If, within its proper scope, any change is desired in its rules, other than those of procedure, it must be made by the legislative department. It cannot be supposed that the framers of the Constitution contemplated that the law should forever remain unalterable. Congress