168 U.S. 437 (1897), The Resolute, Dowsett

Citation:168 U.S. 437, 18 S.Ct. 112, 42 L.Ed. 533
Party Name:The Resolute, Dowsett
Case Date:December 06, 1897
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 437

168 U.S. 437 (1897)

18 S.Ct. 112, 42 L.Ed. 533

The Resolute, Dowsett

United States Supreme Court

December 6, 1897




A district court of the United States has jurisdiction of a libel of a vessel for seamen's wages, which accrued while the vessel was in the custody of a receiver appointed by a state court upon the foreclosure of a mortgage

Page 438

upon the property of a railroad company, owner of the vessel, the vessel having been sold and passed into the purchaser's hands, and the receiver discharged when the warrant of arrest was served.

The remedy against the decree of the district court was an appeal to the circuit court of appeals.

No. 135 was an appeal from the District Court for the District of Oregon, awarding to the libellant, George Dowsett, the sum of $825.50 due to him individually, and the further sum of $358.02 due to him as the assignee of one Tellefson, for wages as seamen upon the tug Resolute. The tug was engaged in the business of towing vessels and barges on and over the bar between Yaquina Bay and the Pacific Ocean, and the waters tributary, thereto, within the District of Oregon.

The libel, which was filed on April 26, 1894, was in the ordinary form of a libel for seamen's wages, except that it alleged that the vessel was at that time in the hands of a receiver of a circuit court for the Oregon. Upon application's being made for a warrant for arrest, it was refused upon the ground that the tug was within the custody of a receiver of a state court. Subsequently, and on February 25, 1895, upon affidavit that the receiver had been discharged and the property sold, the order denying the warrant of arrest and directing that the libel remain in abeyance until the tug should be discharged from the custody of the state court, was vacated, and a warrant of arrest ordered to issue. The tug having been released upon bond given, the libel was thereupon amended by alleging that, while the said services were being rendered, the steam tug was in charge of a receiver appointed by the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon, and that she had since been sold to parties having notice of libellant's claim and bad been discharged from such receivership. Exceptions were thereupon filed to the libel upon the ground that it showed that, when the services were rendered, the steam tug was in charge of and operated by a receiver of the Oregon and Pacific Railroad Company, a corporation, the owner of said steam tug, and that no maritime or other lien had arisen by reason of such employment or by the rendition of such services, and also that the court had no jurisdiction

Page 439

in the premises. Upon a hearing before the court, these exceptions were overruled, and leave given to answer the amended libel.

Claimants having elected not to answer the libel, their default was entered, and a final decree awarded in favor of the libelant in the amount claimed by him, whereupon the claimants prayed an appeal to this Court, and the district court certified that

the only question arising upon said appeal is the question as to whether or not, under the facts stated in the amended libel and the exceptions thereto, this Court acquired or had jurisdiction to pronounce the said decree.

BROWN, J., lead opinion

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

The sole question presented by the record [18 S.Ct. 113] in this case is whether the court was correct in assuming jurisdiction of a libel for seamen's wages which accrued while the vessel was in the custody of a receiver, appointed by a state court, upon the foreclosure of a mortgage upon the property of the Oregon & Pacific Railroad Company, owner of the tug.

Jurisdiction is the power to adjudicate a case upon the merits, and dispose of it as justice may require. As applied to a suit in rem for the breach of a maritime contract, it presupposes -- first, that the contract sued upon is a maritime contract; and, second, that the property proceeded against is within the lawful custody of the court. These are the only requirements necessary to give jurisdiction. Proper cognizance of the parties and subject matter being conceded, all other matters belong to the merits.

Page 440

The contention of libelant is that, as a maritime...

To continue reading