148 U.S. 1 (1893), 1117, The J. E. Rumbell

Docket Nº:No. 1117
Citation:148 U.S. 1, 13 S.Ct. 498, 37 L.Ed. 345
Party Name:The J. E. Rumbell
Case Date:March 06, 1893
Court:United States Supreme Court

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148 U.S. 1 (1893)

13 S.Ct. 498, 37 L.Ed. 345

The J. E. Rumbell

No. 1117

United States Supreme Court

March 6, 1893

Submitted October 14, 1892




In the admiralty and maritime law of the United States, the following propositions are established by the decisions of this Court:

(1) For necessary repairs or supplies furnished to a vessel in a foreign port, a lien is given by the general maritime law, following the civil law, and may be enforced in admiralty.

(2) For repairs or supplies in the home port of the vessel, no lien exists or can be enforced in admiralty under the general law, independently of local statute.

(3) Whenever the statute of a state gives a lien, to be enforced by process in rem against the vessel, for repairs or supplies in her home port, this lien, being similar to the lien arising in a foreign port under the general law, is in the nature of a maritime lien, and therefore may be enforced in admiralty in the courts of the United States.

(4) This lien, in the nature of a maritime lien and to be enforced by process in the nature of admiralty process, is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of the United States, sitting in admiralty.

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In the admiralty courts of the United States, a lien upon a vessel for necessary supplies and repairs in her home port, given by the statute of a state, and to be enforced by proceedings in rem in the nature of admiralty process, takes precedence of a prior mortgage, recorded under section 4192 of the Revised Statutes.

This was a certificate from the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit under the Act of March 3, 1891, c. 517, § 6, 26 St. 828, of a question upon which it desired the instruction of this Court in an admiralty appeal. The case, as stated in the certificate, was as follows:

On August 15, 1891, under a writ of venditioni exponas from the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois, in admiralty, the propeller J. E. Rumbell was sold by the marshal for the sum of $1,850, and the proceeds were paid into the registry of the court.

On August 21, 1891, F. August Reich and August Reich, partners under the name of F. A. Reich & Son, former owners of the vessel, who had sold and delivered her to Michael C. Hayes on April 23, 1891, filed a petition against those proceeds, claiming the sum of $3,000 and interest, due upon notes given to them by Hayes for the purchase money, and secured by mortgage of the vessel, executed by Hayes to them on the day of the sale, and recorded on the same day in the office of the collector of customs of the port of Chicago, the residence of the owner, and the home port of the vessel, under section 4192 of the Revised Statutes of the United States. In that mortgage it was provided that if at any time there should be any default of payment, or if the mortgagees should deem themselves in danger of losing any part of the debt by delaying its collection until the time limited for its payment, or if the mortgagor should suffer the vessel to run in debt beyond the sum of $150, the mortgagees might immediately take possession of the vessel, and, after ten days' notice to the mortgagor, sell her to satisfy the mortgage debt. The petition of the mortgagees alleged that each of these contingencies had happened.

On September 16, 1891, George C. Finney and others filed a petition against said proceeds for sums due to the petitioners

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severally, and amounting in all to $1,108.56, for ship chandler's supplies, engineer's supplies, groceries, provisions, fuel, lumber, and repairs bought for and furnished to the vessel at the port of Chicago since the recording of the mortgage and used for the benefit of the vessel and alleged to have been reasonable and proper to be furnished and done, and also for the sum of $220, due to Patrick Bowe, one of these petitioners, for services as master of the vessel since the recording of the mortgage, "for which supplies, repairs, and services" (the certificate stated) "there was a lien upon the said vessel under the laws of the State of Illinois."

[13 S.Ct. 499] The district court found and adjudged that the sums claimed in each petition were due to the petitioners respectively; that in the distribution of the proceeds, the claim of the mortgagees, Reich & Son, should have priority over that of the other petitioners, Finney and others, and that the entire proceeds of the sale of the vessel, amounting (after payment of seamen's wages and preferred claims for towage and salvage) to $1,105.59, should be paid to the mortgagees.

Finney and others appealed to the circuit court of appeals, which certified to this Court the following question:

Whether a claim arising upon a vessel mortgage is to be preferred to the claim for supplies and necessaries furnished to a vessel in its home port in the State of Illinois subsequently to the date of the recording of the mortgage.

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GRAY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE GRAY, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the Court.

By the admiralty law, maritime liens or privileges for necessary advances made or supplies furnished to keep a vessel fit for sea take precedence of all prior claims upon her, unless for seamen's wages or salvage. It is upon this ground that such advances or supplies, made or furnished in good faith to the master in a foreign port, are preferred to a prior mortgage, or to a forfeiture to the United States for a precedent violation of the navigation laws. The St. Jago de Cuba, 9 Wheat. 409, 416; The Emily Souder, 17 Wall. 666, 672.

In The St. Jago de Cuba, Mr. Justice Johnson, in delivering judgment and speaking of the lien of materialmen and other implied liens under maritime contracts, said:

The whole object of giving admiralty process and priority of payment to privileged creditors is to furnish wings and legs to [the vessel] to get back for the benefit of all concerned; that is, to complete her voyage. . . . In every case, the last lien given will supersede the preceding. The last bottomry bond will ride over all that precede it, and an abandonment to a salvor will supersede every prior claim. The vessel must get on. This is the consideration which controls every other, and not only the vessel, but even the cargo, is sub modo subjected to this necessity.

9 Wheat. 416.

In the Yankee Blade, 19 How. 82, 89-90, Mr. Justice Grier, speaking for this Court, said:

The maritime privilege or lien is adopted from the civil law, and imports a tacit hypothecation of the subject of it. It is a jus in re, without actual possession or any right of possession. It accompanies the property into the hands of a bona fide purchaser. It can be executed and divested only by a proceeding in rem. This sort of proceeding against personal property is unknown to the common law, and is peculiar to the process of courts of admiralty. The foreign and other attachments of property in

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the state courts, though by analogy loosely termed "proceedings in rem," are evidently not within the category. . . . These principles will be found stated, and fully vindicated by authority, in the cases of The Young Mechanic, 2 Curtis C.C. 404, and The Kiersage, 2 Curtis C.C. 421.

Both the decisions of Mr. Justice Curtis thus referred to depended on a statute of Maine giving in general terms a lien upon a vessel for labor performed or materials furnished in her construction or repair, without undertaking to fix the comparative precedence of such liens.

In The Young Mechanic, after elaborate discussion of the nature of such a lien, it was held to be a jus in re -- a right of property in the thing itself -- existing independently of possession;

an appropriation made by the law of a particular thing as security for a debt or claim, the law creating an encumbrance thereon and vesting in the creditor what we term a special property in the thing, which subsists from the moment when the debt or claim arises, and accompanies the thing even into the hands of a purchaser. . . . Though tacitly created by the law, and to be executed only by the aid of a court of justice, and resulting in a judicial sale, it is as really a property in the thing, as the right of a pledgee, or the lien of a bailee for work,

and is not

only a privilege to arrest the vessel for the debt, which, of itself, constitutes no encumbrance on the vessel, and becomes such only by virtue of an actual attachment.

2 Curtis C.C. 406, 410-412.

In The Kiersage, Mr. Justice Curtis held that the lien for labor and materials in the home port had precedence over a prior mortgage, and, after observing that, as he had held in The Young Mechanic, this lien

was, in substance, a tacit hypothecation of the vessel, as security for the debt, . . . a jus in re constituting an encumbrance on the property by operation of law,

he added:

And there can be no doubt that it takes effect wholly irrespective of the State of the title to the vessel. Whether the vessel belongs to one or more persons -- whether the title has been so divided that one is a special and another a general owner -- and however it may be encumbered, the law gives the lien on the thing. The mortgagees can have

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no claim to be preferred over the lienholder because of their priority in time, for their interest in the vessel is as much subject to the statute lien as the interest of any other party. It is not in the power of the owner, by his voluntary act, to withdraw any part of the title from the operation of the lien. If he could, he might altogether defeat it.

2 Curtis C.C. 422-423.

It was assumed in each of those cases that a lien given by the local law for building a ship stood on the same ground as a lien under the same law for repairing her. It has since been decided, and is now [13 S.Ct....

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