101 U.S. 453 (1880), The City Of Panama

Citation:101 U.S. 453, 25 L.Ed. 1061
Case Date:May 10, 1880
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 453

101 U.S. 453 (1880)

25 L.Ed. 1061


United States Supreme Court.

May 10, 1880


APPEAL from the Supreme Court of the Territory of Washington.

This is a proceeding in admiralty commenced in the District Court of the third judicial district of the Territory of Washington by Mary Phelps and John S. Phelps, her husband, against the steamship 'City of Panama,' owned and claimed by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, to recover damages for personal injuries sustained by the libellant Mary Phelps while a passenger on board said steamship.

The remaining facts are stated in the opinion of the court.


Mr. Austin G. Fox for the appellants.

Mr. Philip Phillips, contra.

MR. JUSTICE CLIFFORD delivered the opinion of the court.

Judicial power as well as legislative is conferred upon the territorial government by the organic act establishing the Territory, the provision being that the judicial power shall be vested in a supreme court, district courts, probate courts, and in justices of the peace. Appellate jurisdiction from the district courts to the supreme court is also given, and with that view the provision is that writs of error, bills of exception, and appeals shall be allowed under such regulations as may be prescribed by law, from which it plainly follows that the district courts created by the organic act are and were intended to be courts of general original jurisdiction.

Provision is also made for writs of error and appeals from the territorial Supreme Court to the Supreme Court of the United States in the same manner and under the same regulations as are required to remove here the judgment or decree of the Federal

Page 454

Circuit Court for re-examination, where the value of the property or the amount in controversy exceeds two thousand dollars, or where the Constitution of the United States or an act of Congress or a treaty is brought in question.

Express power is also given to the district courts of the Territory to have and exercise the same jurisdiction in all cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States as is vested in the circuit and district courts of the United States, and also of all cases arising under the laws of the Territory. 10 Stat. 175; Rev. Stat., sects. 1910, 1911.

Matters of fact of a preliminary nature, disconnected with the question of jurisdiction, are not controverted; as, for example, it is not disputed that the steamship is owned by the respondent steamship company, and that she is one of the line they employ in the transportation of passengers and freight between the port of Seattle, one of the ports of Puget Sound, and the port of San Francisco, in the State of California; nor is it denied that the complaining party purchased a ticket as a cabin passenger for a passage, at the time alleged, from the former to the latter port, nor that she went on board for that purpose, and that a stateroom was assigned to her for use during the voyage by the proper officer or agent in charge.

None of these matters are denied in the argument here, and the injured party alleges that while she had stepped into her stateroom for a few minutes a portion of a concealed hatchway in the floor of the cabin near the door of her stateroom was uncovered by some of the officers, agents, of employés of the company, and was by their gross carelessness and negligence left open and unguarded, in consequence of which and without her fault she, in returning from her stateroom to the cabin, fell through the hatchway down into the hold of the steamship, a distance of about twenty feet, whereby she broke and crushed the bones of her right arm and received other grievous injuries, which, as she believes, will disable her for life.

Compensation for her injuries being refused by the company, she, her husband joining with her, instituted the present suit in rem against the steamship in the proper district court of the Territory to recover such redress as the law affords in such cases. Service

Page 455

was made and the respondents appeared and demurred to the libel for several causes, of which the following are the most material in this investigation: (1) That the District Court had no jurisdiction of the subject-matter alleged in the libel. (2) That neither the acts of Congress nor the admiralty rules of practice promulgated by the Supreme Court apply in the courts of the territory.

Hearing was had and the District Court overruled the demurrer and the respondents excepted. Other proceedings took place before the respondents answered the libel, but they are omitted as now unimportant. Brief reference to the answer of the respondents will be sufficient, as the question of jurisdiction is the one chiefly discussed in this court. A part from that, the material matters of defence set forth in the libel consisted of a denial that the allegations of the fourth and fifth articles were true, and the respondents expressly denied that the injuries of the complaining party were in any respect caused by the carelessness or negligence of the officers or employés of the steamship. Testimony was taken, hearing had, and the District Court having made a finding of facts entered a decree in favor of the libellants for the sum of five thousand dollars. Both parties appealed to the territorial Supreme Court, where they were allowed to adduce evidence in open court. All of the testimony introduced was taken down by the order of the court and is reported in a document called a bill of exceptions. Certain motions were made by the respective parties which are not deemed material, and the parties having been again fully heard the Supreme Court entered a decree in favor of the libellants in the sum of fifteen thousand dollars, from which the respondents appealed to this court. Since the cause was entered here the respondents have filed the assignment of errors set forth in their brief, numbered from one to eleven inclusive, of which the first two call in question the jurisdiction of the territorial courts.

Jurisdiction of the territorial Supreme Court cannot be successfully denied if it be established that the original jurisdiction of the cause was vested in the District Court, as the organic act provides that writs of errors, bills of exception, and appeals shall be allowed in all cases from the final decisions of said

Page 456

District Court to the Supreme Court, under such regulations as may be prescribed by law, from which it follows that the present investigation is necessarily limited to the inquiry whether the District Court had jurisdiction to hear and determine the controversy.

Chancery, as well as common law, jurisdiction is in terms vested both in the supreme and district courts, and the same section provides that the district courts shall have and exercise the same jurisdiction under the Constitution and laws of the United States as is invested in the circuit and district courts of the United States, which is a plain reference to the enactments of Congress defining the original jurisdiction of those courts. Appellate jurisdiction is in some cases exercised by the Federal circuit courts, but inasmuch as the entire appellate judicial jurisdiction of the territory had previously been given to the Supreme Court by the same section of the organic act, it is obvious that it is original and not appellate jurisdiction that is there conferred by that clause.

Cognizance of an original character was given to the district courts, concurrent with the circuit courts, by the ninth section of the judiciary act as amended, long prior to the passage of the organic act in question, of all crimes and offences against the authority of the United States, the punishment of which is not capital, whether committed in their respective districts or upon the high seas. 1 Stat. 16; 5 id. 517.

Admiralty and maritime cognizance, original and exclusive, was also vested in those courts of all civil causes of the kind, including all seizures under laws of impost, navigation, or trade, where the seizures are made on waters navigable from the sea by vessels of ten or more tons burden. Rev. Stat. sect. 568.

Original cognizance in certain cases, concurrent with the courts of the several States, was given to the circuit courts in suits of a civil nature at common law or in equity, and of all crimes and offences cognizable under the Federal authority, ecept where that act otherwise provides, and concurrent jurisdiction of the crimes and offences cognizable in the district courts. 1...

To continue reading