175 U.S. 677 (1900) (1900), The Paquete Habana

Citation:175 U.S. 677, 20 S.Ct. 290, 44 L.Ed. 320
Party Name:The Paquete Habana
Case Date:January 08, 1900
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 677

175 U.S. 677 (1900) (1900)

20 S.Ct. 290, 44 L.Ed. 320

The Paquete Habana

United States Supreme Court

January 8, 1900

        APPEALS FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED

        STATES FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA

        Syllabus

        Under the Act of Congress of March 3, 1891, c. 517, this Court has jurisdiction of appeals from all final sentences and decrees in prize causes, without regard to the amount in dispute and without any certificate of the district judge as to the importance of the particular case.

        International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination. For this purpose, where there is no treaty and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations, and, as evidence of these, to the works of jurists and commentators, not for the speculations of their authors concerning what the law ought to be, but for trustworthy evidence of what the law really is.

        At the present day, by the general consent of the civilized nations of the world and independently of any express treaty or other public act, it is an established rule of international law that coast fishing vessels, with their implements and supplies, cargoes and crews, unarmed and honestly pursuing their peaceful calling of catching and bringing in fresh fish, are exempt from capture as prize of war. And this rule is one which prize courts, administering the law of nations, are bound to take judicial notice of, and to give effect to, in the absence of any treaty or other public act of their own government in relation to the matter.

        At the breaking out of the recent war with Spain, two fishing smacks -- the one a sloop, 43 feet long on the keel and of 25 tons burden, and with a crew of three men, and the other a schooner, 51 feet long on the keel and of 35 tons burden, and with a crew of six men -- were regularly engaged in fishing on the coast of Cuba, sailing under the Spanish flag, and each owned by a Spanish subject, residing in Havana; her crew, who also resided there, had no interest in the vessel, but were entitled to shares, amounting in all to two thirds, of her catch, the other third belonging to her owner, and her cargo consisted of fresh fish, caught by her crew from the sea, put on board as they were caught, and kept and sold alive. Each vessel left Havana on a coast fishing voyage, and sailed along the coast of Cuba about two hundred miles to the west end of the island; the sloop there fished for twenty-five days in the territorial waters of Spain, and the schooner extended her fishing trip a hundred

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miles farther across the Yucatan Channel, and fished for eight days on the coast of Yucatan. On her return, with her cargo of live fish, along the coast of Cuba, and when near Havana, each was captured by one of the United States blockading squadron. Neither fishing vessel had any arms or ammunition on board, had any knowledge of the blockade, or even of the war, until she was stopped by a blockading vessel, made any attempt to run the blockade, or any resistance at the time of her capture, nor was there any evidence that she, or her crew, was likely to aid the enemy. Held that both captures were unlawful, and without probable cause.

        The cases are stated in the opinion of the Court.

        GRAY, J., lead opinion

        MR. JUSTICE GRAY delivered the opinion of the Court.

        These are two appeals from decrees of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of Florida condemning two fishing vessels and their cargoes as prize of war.

        Each vessel was a fishing smack, running in and out of Havana, and regularly engaged in fishing on the coast of Cuba; sailed under the Spanish flag; was owned by a Spanish subject of Cuban birth, living in the City of Havana; was commanded by a subject of Spain, also residing in Havana, and her master and crew had no interest in the vessel, but were entitled to shares, amounting in all to two-thirds, of her catch, the other third belonging to her owner. Her cargo consisted of fresh fish, caught by her crew from the sea, put on board as they were caught, and kept and sold alive. Until stopped by the blockading squadron, she had no knowledge of the existence of the war or of any blockade. She had no arms or ammunition on board, and made no attempt to run the blockade after she knew of its existence, nor any resistance at the time of the capture.

        The Paquete Habana was a sloop, 43 feet long on the keel,

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and of 25 tons burden, and had a crew of three Cubans, including the master, who had a fishing license from the Spanish government, and no other commission or license. She left Havana March 25, 1898, sailed along the coast of Cuba to Cape San Antonio at the western end of the island, and there fished for twenty-five days, lying between the reefs off the cape, within the territorial waters of Spain, and then started back for Havana, with a cargo of about 40 quintals of live fish. On April 25, 1898, about two miles off Mariel, and eleven miles from Havana, she was captured by the United States gunboat Castine.

        The Lola was a schooner, 51 feet long on the keel, and of 35 tons burden, and had a crew of six Cubans, including the master, and no commission or license. She left Havana April 11, 1898, and proceeded to Campeachy Sound, off Yucatan, fished there eight days, and started back for Havana with a cargo of about 10,000 pounds of live fish. On April 26, 1898, near Havana, she was stopped by the United States steamship Cincinnati, and was warned not to go into Havana, but was told that she would be allowed to land at Bahia Honda. She then changed her course, and put for Bahia Honda, but on the next morning, when near that port, was captured by the United States steamship Dolphin.

        Both the fishing vessels were brought by their captors into Key West. A libel for the condemnation of each vessel and her cargo as prize of war was there filed on April 27, 1898; a claim was interposed by her master on behalf of himself and the other members of the crew, and of her owner; evidence was taken, showing the facts above stated, and on May 30, 1898, a final decree of condemnation and sale was entered,

the court not being satisfied that as a matter of law, without any ordinance, treaty, or proclamation, fishing vessels of this class are exempt from seizure.

        Each vessel was thereupon sold by auction; the Paquete Habana for the sum of $490 and the Lola for the sum of $800. There was no other evidence in the record of the value of either vessel or of her cargo.

        It has been suggested in behalf of the United States that

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this Court has no jurisdiction [20 S.Ct. 292] to hear and determine these appeals because the matter in dispute in either case does not exceed the sum or value of $2,000, and the district judge has not certified that the adjudication involves a question of general importance.

        The suggestion is founded on § 695 of the Revised Statutes, which provides that

an appeal shall be allowed to the Supreme Court from all final decrees of any district court in prize causes, where the matter in dispute, exclusive of costs, exceeds the sum or value of two thousand dollars, and shall be allowed, without reference to the value of the matter in dispute, on the certificate of the district judge that the adjudication involves a question of general importance.

        The Judiciary Acts of the United States, for a century after the organization of the government under the Constitution, did impose pecuniary limits upon appellate jurisdiction.

        In actions at law and suits in equity the pecuniary limit of the appellate jurisdiction of this Court from the circuit courts of the United States was for a long time fixed at $2000. Acts of September 24, 1789, c. 20, § 22; 1 Stat. 84; March 3, 1803, c. 40; 2 Stat. 244; Gordon v. Ogden, 3 Pet. 33; Rev.Stat. §§ 691, 692. In 1875, it was raised to $5,000. Act of February 16, 1875, c. 77, § 3; 18 Stat. 316. And in 1889 this was modified by providing that, where the judgment or decree did not exceed the sum of $5,000, this Court should have appellate jurisdiction upon the question of the jurisdiction of the circuit court, and upon that question only. Act of February 25, 1889, c. 236, § 1; 25 Stat. 693; Parker v. Ormsby, 141 U.S. 81.

        As to cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, including prize causes, the Judiciary Act of 1789, in § 9, vested the original jurisdiction in the district courts, without regard to the sum or value in controversy, and in § 21 permitted an appeal from them to the circuit courts where the matter in dispute exceeded the sum or value of $300. 1 Stat. 77, 83, c. 20; The Betsey, 3 Dall. 6, 16; The Amiable Nancy, 3 Wheat. 546; Stratton v. Jarvis, 8 Pet. 4, 11. By the Act of March 3, 1803, c. 40, appeals to the circuit court were permitted from all final decrees of a district court where

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the matter in dispute exceeded the sum or value of $50, and from the circuit courts to this Court in all cases "of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, and of prize or no prize" in which the matter in dispute exceeded the sum or value of $2,000. 2 Stat. 244; Jenks v. Lewis, 3 Mason 503; Stratton v. Jarvis, above cited; The Admiral, 3 Wall. 603, 612. The acts of March 3, 1863, c. 86, § 7, and June 30, 1864, c. 174, § 13, provided that appeals from the district courts in prize causes should lie directly to this Court, where the amount in controversy exceeded $2,000, or "on the certificate of the district judge that the adjudication...

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