130 U.S. 527 (1889), Butler v. Boston & S.S.S. Co.

Citation:130 U.S. 527, 9 S.Ct. 612, 32 L.Ed. 1017
Party Name:BUTLER et al. v. BOSTON & S. S. S. Co., (two cases.)
Case Date:April 22, 1889
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 527

130 U.S. 527 (1889)

9 S.Ct. 612, 32 L.Ed. 1017

BUTLER et al.

v.

BOSTON & S. S. S. Co., (two cases.)

United States Supreme Court.

April 22, 1889

Appeals from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Massachusetts.

COUNSEL

[9 S.Ct. 612] Frank Goodwin and Eugene P. Carver, for Butler, administrator.

C. T. Russell, Jr., for appellee.

OPINION

BRADLEY, J.

Page 528

These two cases are so intimately connected, both in the proceedings and in the questions arising therein, that it will be most convenient to consider them together. They arose out of the stranding, sinking, and total loss of the steam-ship City of Columbus, on Devil's Bridge, near Gay Head, at the western extremity of Martha's Vineyard, and near the mouth of Vineyard Sound, on the 18th of January, 1884. Most of the passengers and cargo were lost, and among the passengers lost was Elizabeth R. Beach, a single woman, of Mansfield,

Page 529

in the state of Connecticut. The appellants represent her, Nathaniel Beach being appointed administrator of her estate in Connecticut, Butler being appointed ancillary administrator in Massachusetts, and the other two appellants being (one an aunt and the other a niece of the deceased) dependent on her for support. The appellee, the Boston & Savannah Steam-Ship Company, was the owner of the ship. Soon after the disaster occurred, and early in February, 1884, one Brown and one Vance commenced each of them an action at law against the steam-ship company, in the superior court of the county of Suffolk, in Massachusetts, to recover damages for losses alleged to have been sustained by them by means of the stranding and sinking of the vessel. Thereupon the steam-ship company, on the 18th of February, 1884, in order to obtain the benefit of the law of limited liability, filed a libel in the district court of the United States for the district of Massachusetts, against the said Brown and Vance, and against all other persons who had suffered loss or damage by said disaster. This is one of the cases now before us on appeal. The libel was in the usual form of libels in causes of limited liability. It set [9 S.Ct. 613] forth the ownership of the vessel, the business in which she was employed, namely, as a passenger and freight steam-ship between Boston and Savannah, her seaworthiness, her being well and thoroughly officered and manned and furnished and equipped as the law required. It stated that on the 17th of January, 1884, she left Boston on a voyage to Savannah, having on board about 83 passengers and considerable merchandise, a list of the former, as far as known, and a schedule of the latter, being annexed to the libel. It stated that while prosecuting said voyage, and while on the high seas, to-wit, in or near Vineyard Sound, the steam-ship struck on the rocks near and off the shore at Gay Head, in Martha's Vineyard, in the district of Massachusetts, about half past three in the morning of January 18, 1884, and in a very few minutes thereafter keeled over, filled with, water, and sunk, becoming a total wreck and loss; that most of the passengers and crew, about 100 in number, were drowned and lost, those surviving claiming to have suffered great injury;

Page 530

and that all the property and effects of the passengers and crew, and all the cargo on board, (except a small part, salved in a damaged condition, and of little value,) together with said steam-ship, its machinery, tackle, apparel, and furniture, were destroyed and lost. The libel propounded other articles, as follows, to-wit: ' Fifth. All said great loss of life, injury, and damage to persons on board, and loss of and damage to property, were occasioned and incurred without the privity or knowledge of the libelant, the owner of said steam-ship. Sixth. The libelant further alleges that, as it is informed and believes, certain persons or corporations, owners or insurers of property on board, and lost or damaged by and at the loss of said steam-ship as aforesaid; certain other persons who claim to have been on board said steam-ship at the time of the loss aforesaid, and to have suffered in consequence thereof injuries and damage to their persons and property; and still other persons, claiming to represent persons drowned and lost in said disaster, and claiming to be entitled to recover and receive large sums of money on account of the death of and injury to said persons so represented by them,--all make, or may hereafter make, claim that the striking upon the rocks, and sinking and wreck of said steam-ship, and the loss of life, damage to persons and property aforesaid, were occasioned and incurred from the fault and neglect of the libelant, or its officers and agents, and that the libelant is liable and responsible to pay to them the loss and damages arising as aforesaid; all of which claims and allegations the libelant denies, and, on the contrary, it alleges that all such losses and damages were occasioned or incurred without its neglect, fault, privity, or knowledge, and, as it is informed and believes, without the neglect or fault of its officers or agents, or any of them.' ' Eighth. The losses and damage to persons and property incurred and occasioned by the said stranding, sinking, and loss of said steam-ship, and the alleged claims and liabilities made against the libelant, by reason thereof, greatly exceed the amount or value of the interest of the libelant, as owner, in said steam-ship, her machinery, tackle, apparel, and furniture,

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immediately after said loss, and in her freight then pending. Upon and after the happening of said loss said steam-ship, her machinery, tackle, apparel, and furniture became a wreck and total loss, and, the libelant is informed and believes, were then practically worthless, and the libelant's interest therein became and was of little or no value. The gross freight then pending on the voyage of said steam-ship to Savannah was of the value of about $1,000. Ninth. The libelant, while not admitting, but denying, that it is under any liability for the acts, losses, and damages aforesaid, and desiring and claiming the right in this court to contest any such liability of itself or of said steam-ship, claims and is entitled to have limited its liability, as owner, therefor, (if any such liability shall hereafter be found to exist,) to the amount or value of its interest, as owner, in such steam-ship after said loss, and her freight then pending. Tenth. Said steam-ship, in her damaged and wrecked condition, now lies sunken near the shore at Gay Head, Martha's Vineyard, within this district, and within the jurisdiction and process of this honorable court.'

The libelant thereupon claimed and petitioned that, in case it should be found that there was any liability for the acts, losses, and damages aforesaid, upon said steam-ship City of Columbus, or the libelant, as owner thereof, (which liability the libelant did not admit, but expressly and wholly denied, and desired in that court to contest,) such liability should in no event exceed the amount or value of the interest of the libelant, as owner, in said steam-ship and her freight then pending, as by law provided; and to that end the libelant prayed that all claims for loss, damage, or injury to persons or property by reason of the premises might be heard and determined in that court, and apportioned according to law, and that due appraisement might be ordered and made of the ship, her machinery and furniture, and of her pending freight at the time of the loss, offering to pay the appraised value into court or give proper stipulation therefor, and that monition in due form should issue against said Brown and Vance and any and all persons claiming damages by reason of the premises,

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citing them to appear, etc., and that all actions and suits concerning the matters set forth might be restrained and enjoined. Upon the filing of this libel a monition was duly issued and published, and an injunction against actions and suits was granted, issued, and published. The monition was returnable to the 1st day of July, 1884. Notwithstanding these proceedings, the appellants, on the 27th of September, 1884, filed a libel [9 S.Ct. 614] against the steam-ship company, in the same district court for the district of Massachusetts, to recover damages for the death of said Elizabeth R. Beach. This is the other suit now before us on appeal. After stating the engagement of passage by Miss Beach on the steam-ship from Boston to Savannah, the character of the vessel as a coastwise sea-going steam-ship in the coasting trade, under enrollment and license, and the circumstances of the stranding and loss, and the drowning of Miss Beach, the libel of the appellants averred and charged that the disaster was caused by negligence on the part of those employed by the steam-ship company in managing the ship, and by inefficiency in the discipline of the officers and crew, and that no proper measures were taken to save the passengers. The libel further alleged that at the time of the disaster the second mate, one Harding, was in charge of the ship, and was not a pilot for those waters; that it was a part of his duty to take charge of the ship alternately with the first mate; that it was an omission of duty on the part of the owner to intrust to the second mate the charge of the ship without the aid of a special pilot; and that no pilot was on duty on the ship at the time of the accident. The libel further alleged that 'there was not proper apparatus on the vessel for launching the boats;' 'that the ship was not properly constructed in respect to bulkheads and otherwise;' and that there was unfitness, gross negligence, or carelessness on the part of the servants and agents of the respondents engaged in navigating the ship, and in not taking proper measures to save the passengers, and as displayed in the inefficiency of...

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