182 U.S. 406 (1901), 166, Homer Ramsdell Transportation Company v. La Compagnie Generale Transatlantique

Docket Nº:No. 166
Citation:182 U.S. 406, 21 S.Ct. 831, 45 L.Ed. 1155
Party Name:Homer Ramsdell Transportation Company v. La Compagnie Generale Transatlantique
Case Date:May 27, 1901
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 406

182 U.S. 406 (1901)

21 S.Ct. 831, 45 L.Ed. 1155

Homer Ramsdell Transportation Company

v.

La Compagnie Generale Transatlantique

No. 166

United States Supreme Court

May 27, 1901

Argued March 6, 1901

CERTIFICATE FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT

OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

The statutes of New York impose compulsory pilotage on foreign vessels inward and outward bound to and from the port of New York by way of Sandy Hook. In an action at common law, the shipowner is not liable for injuries inflicted exclusively by negligence of a pilot accepted by a vessel compulsorily.

This was an action at law, brought by the Homer Ramsdell Transportation Company, a corporation of New York, against the Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, a corporation of the Republic of France, to recover damages caused by the defendant's steamship, The Bretagne, striking and injuring the plaintiff's pier in New York harbor.

The answer alleged, among other things,

that at the time of the said collision, the said steamship La Bretagne was in the command, and her movements and navigation [21 S.Ct. 832] entirely under the orders and direction, of a pilot duly licensed under, and compulsorily imposed upon the defendant by, the authority of the State of New York, and that the regular officers and crew of the said steamship in the service of the defendant had no part in the navigation of the said steamer except to carry out or execute the orders of the said pilot, which they did promptly and efficiently in every particular.

The case was referred by the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York to Hon. William G. Choate, who reported in favor of the defendant and filed an opinion published in 63 F. 848. That court gave judgment on his report for the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which certified to this Court, together with the pleadings, the judgment

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of the circuit, court, and the report and opinion of the referee, the following statement of facts and questions of law:

The defendant in error is a foreign corporation owning and plying a regular line of steamers between Havre and New York. On the morning of December 10, 1892, one of the defendant's steamers, La Bretagne, while outward bound from the port of New York to Havre by way of Sandy Hook, with cargo and passengers, struck the plaintiff's pier, damaging it to the amount of upwards of $13,000. The said vessel, at the time she left her pier, was in all respects seaworthy and properly manned, equipped, and supplied, and her owner exercised due diligence to make her so. She had on board a Sandy Hook pilot, duly licensed under and pursuant to the laws of the State of New York, and was navigated under his direction up to the time of said collision, and all his orders were promptly and efficiently obeyed and carried out by the master, officers, and crew of said steamship. The said collision and the damage resulting therefrom were caused solely by the negligence and want of skill and care on the part of the said pilot, and not by any want of skill or negligence on the part of the master, other officers, or crew of the said steamship.

Certain questions of law arise in the cause concerning which the court desires the instructions of the Supreme Court for its proper decision, and which are as follows:

First. Whether the provisions of chapter 467 of the Laws of New York passed June 28, 1853, as amended by chapter 196 of the laws of said state passed April 11, 1854; chapter 243 of the laws of the said state passed April 3, 1857; chapter 930 of the laws of the said state passed May 16, 1867, and chapter 548 of the laws of said state passed May 2, 1870, and consolidated into sections 2093 to 2133, inclusive, of chapter 410 of the laws of said state passed July 1, 1882, impose compulsory pilotage on foreign vessels inward and outward bound to and from the port of New York by way of Sandy Hook, in view of the decisions of the New York Court of Appeals.

Second. Whether, in an action at common law ,the shipowner is liable for injuries inflicted exclusively by negligence of a pilot accepted by a vessel compulsorily.

Page 408

GRAY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE GRAY, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question whether the statutes of the State of New York impose compulsory pilotage on foreign vessels inward and outward bound to and from the port of New York by way of Sandy Hook depends, as both counsel admit, upon the true construction of the provisions which are copied in the margin. *

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The statute of 1857, chap 243, reenacted in the statute of 1882, c. 410, § 2119, after providing how the master of a vessel sailing under a coasting license to or from the port of New York by the way of Sandy Hook, "desirous of piloting his own vessel," may obtain a license for such purpose from the commissioners

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of pilots, provides that every master of a foreign vessel bound to or from the port of New York by the way of Sandy Hook

shall take a licensed pilot, or, in case of refusal to take such pilot, shall himself, owners or consignees, pay the said pilotage, as if one had been employed, and such pilotage shall be paid to the pilot first speaking or offering his services as pilot to such vessel.

It then goes on to provide that "any person not holding a license as pilot under this act" or under the laws of New Jersey, who shall pilot any vessel to or from the port of New York by the way of Sandy Hook, shall be punished by fine or imprisonment, and that "all persons employing a person to act as pilot, and not holding a license [21 S.Ct. 833] under this act" or under the laws of New Jersey, shall pay a fine.

By these provisions, not only is the master of a foreign vessel required to take a licensed pilot, or, in case of refusal to take such pilot, required to pay pilotage to the pilot first offering his services; but the subsequent provision as to any "person not holding a license under this act," construed in connection with the previous provision as to licensing the master of a coasting vessel as its pilot, evidently includes the master of a foreign vessel, and subjects him to fine or imprisonment if he pilots his own vessel.

The requirement to take a licensed pilot or pay pilotage, together with the penalty imposed on a master who pilots his own foreign vessel, clearly imposes compulsory pilotage. And it was held by this Court in The China, (1868) 7 Wall. 53, that the statute of 1857 imposed such pilotage.

The statute of 1867, c. 930, reenacted in the statute of 1882, c. 410, § 2100, enacts that a pilot bringing in a vessel from sea may by himself or one of his boat's company pilot her to sea when she next leaves the port; provided that, if the owner shall desire to change the pilot, the commissioners of pilots may assign another one of the same pilot boat. But the right of the owner to object to one pilot does not make the selection of another by the commissioners a voluntary act of his.

The cases in the New York Court of Appeals cited by the plaintiff do not affect this question. In Brown v. Elwell, (1875) 60 N.Y. 249, the only point decided was that a pilot

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licensed by the law of New Jersey could not recover pilotage under the statute of New York. And in Gillespie v. Zittlosen, (1875) 60 N.Y. 449, the only point decided was that the pilot first offering his services could not recover pilotage if the master took another licensed pilot.

The answer to the first question certified must therefore be that the statutes of New York do impose compulsory pilotage on foreign vessels inward and out ward bound to and from the port of New York by the way of Sandy Hook.

This action is at common law. It is not, and, being for damages inflicted on land, could not be, in admiralty. The Plymouth, (1865) 3 Wall. 20.

At common law, no action can be maintained against the owner of a vessel for the fault of a compulsory pilot.

In Carruthers v. Sydebotham, (1815) 4 M. & S. 77, 85, Lord Ellenborough, in holding that the act of the pilot was not the act of the master or mariners or owner of the ship, said:

Now, to make the pilot the representative of the master, and consequently to exempt the underwriter from liability for his acts, it must first be shown that there is a privity between the pilot and the master, so that the one may be considered as the representative or agent of the other. But does the master appoint the pilot? Certainly not. The regulations of the general pilot act impose a penalty upon the master of every ship which shall be piloted by any other person than a pilot duly licensed, within any limits for which pilots are lawfully appointed. And there is an exception of such places for which pilots are not appointed. But if the master cannot navigate without a pilot except under a penalty, is he not under [21 S.Ct. 834] the compulsion of law to take a pilot? And if so, is it just that he should be answerable for the misconduct of a person whose appointment the provisions of the law have taken out of his hands, placing the ship in the hands and under the conduct of the pilot? The consequence is that there is no privity between them.

In Attorney General v. Case, (1816) 3 Price, 302, 322, in the Court of Exchequer, the...

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