190 U.S. 169 (1903), 278, Patterson v. Bark Eudora

Docket Nº:No. 278
Citation:190 U.S. 169, 23 S.Ct. 821, 47 L.Ed. 1002
Party Name:Patterson v. Bark Eudora
Case Date:June 01, 1903
Court:United States Supreme Court

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190 U.S. 169 (1903)

23 S.Ct. 821, 47 L.Ed. 1002



Bark Eudora

No. 278

United States Supreme Court

June 1, 1903

Argued May 1, 1903




The title is no part of a statute. Where a statute declares that it shall apply to foreign vessels as well as vessels of the United States, the fact that its title states that it relates to American seamen cannot be used to set at naught the obvious meaning of the statute itself.

Contracts for seamen's wages are exceptional in character, and may be subjected to special restrictions, and whenever they relate to commerce not

wholly within a state, legislation enforcing such restrictions comes

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within the domain of Congress under the commerce clause of the Constitution, and such legislation is not contrary to the Fourteenth or Thirteenth Amendment.

When Congress prescribes such restrictions, no one within the jurisdiction of the United States can escape liability for a violation thereof on a plea that he is a foreign citizen or an officer of a foreign merchant vessel. The implied consent of this government to leave jurisdiction over the internal affairs of foreign merchant vessels in our harbors to the nations to which such vessels belong respectively may be withdrawn, and it is within the power of Congress to protect all sailors shipping within our ports on vessels engaged in foreign or interstate commerce, whether foreign or belonging to citizens of this country.

Under the Act of Congress of December 21, 1898, prohibiting the payment of seamen's wages in advance, seamen shipped on a foreign vessel from an American port to a foreign port and return to an American port who have received a part of their wages in advance may, after the completion of the voyage, recover by libel filed against the vessel the full amount of their wages, including the advance payments, although such payments are not due either under the terms of the contract or under the law of the country to which the vessel belongs.

On December 21, 1898, 30 Stat. 755, 763, Congress passed an act entitled "An Act to Amend the Laws Relating to American Seamen, for the Protection of Such Seamen, and to Promote Commerce." The material portion thereof is found in section 24, which amends section 10 of chapter 121 of the Laws of 1884 so as to read:

SEC. 10. (a) That it shall be, and is hereby, made unlawful in any case to pay any seaman wages in advance of the time when he has actually earned the same, or to pay such advance wages to any other person. Any person paying such advance wages shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be punished by a fine not less than four times the amount of the wages so advanced, and may also be imprisoned for a period not exceeding six months at the discretion of the court. The payment of such advance wages shall in no case, excepting as herein provided, absolve the vessel or the master or owner thereof from full payment of wages after the same shall have been actually earned, and shall be no defense to a libel, suit, or action for the recovery of such wages. If any person shall demand or receive, either directly

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or indirectly, from any seaman or other person seeking employment as seaman, or from any person on his behalf, any remuneration whatever for providing him with employment, he shall, for every such offense, be liable to a penalty of not more than one hundred dollars.

(f) That this section shall apply as well to foreign vessels as to vessels of the United States, and any master, owner, consignee, or agent of any foreign vessel who has violated its provisions shall be liable to the same penalty that the master, owner, or agent of a vessel of the United States would be for a similar violation: Provided that treaties in force between the United States and foreign nations do not conflict.

The appellants were seamen on board the British bark Eudora, and filed this libel for wages in the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. By an agreed statement of facts, it appears that, on January 22, 1900, they shipped on board such bark to serve as seamen for and during a voyage from Portland, Maine, to Rio and other points, not to exceed twelve months, the final port of discharge to be in the United States or Canada, with pay at the rate of one shilling for forty-five days and twenty dollars per month thereafter. At the time of shipment, twenty dollars was paid on account of each of them, and with their consent, to the shipping agent through whom they were employed. On the completion of the voyage, they, having performed their duties as seamen, demanded wages for the full term of service, ignoring the payment made at their instance to the shipping agent. The advanced payment and contract of shipment were not contrary [23 S.Ct. 822] to, or prohibited by, the laws of Great Britain. It was contended, however, that they were prohibited by the act of Congress above quoted, and that such act was applicable. The district court entered a decree dismissing the libel. 110 F. 430. On appeal to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, that court certified the following questions to this Court:

First. Is the act of Congress of December 21, 1898, properly applicable to the contract in this case?

Second. Under the agreed statement of facts above set

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forth, upon a libel filed by said seamen, after the completion of the voyage, against the British vessel, to recover wages which were not due to them under the terms of their contract or under the law of Great Britain, were the libellants entitled to a decree against the vessel?

BREWER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BREWER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Applying the ordinary rules of construction, it does not seem to us doubtful that the act of Congress, if within its power, is applicable in this case. The act makes it unlawful to pay any seaman wages in advance, makes such payment a misdemeanor, and in terms provides that such payment shall not absolve the vessel or its master or owner for full payment of wages after the same shall have been actually earned. And further, it declares that the section making these provisions shall apply as well to foreign vessels as to vessels of the United States, provided that treaties in force between the United States and foreign nations do not conflict. It is true that the title of the act of 1898 is "An Act to Amend the Laws Relating to American Seamen," but it has been held that the title is no part of a statute, and cannot be used to set at naught its obvious meaning. The extent to which it can be used is thus stated by Chief Justice Marshall in United States v. Fisher, 2 Cranch 358, 386:

Neither party contends that the title of an act can control plain words in the body of the statute, and neither denies that, taken with other parts, it may assist in removing ambiguities. Where the intent is plain, nothing is left to construction.

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Where the mind labors to discover the design of the legislature, it seizes everything from which aid can be derived, and, in such case, the title claims a degree of notice and will have its due share of consideration.

See also Yazoo Railroad v. Thomas, 132 U.S. 174, 188; United States v. Oregon &c. Railroad, 164 U.S. 526, 541; Price v. Forrest, 173 U.S. 410, 427; Endlich, Interpretation of Statutes, secs. 58, 59. When, as here, the statute declares, in plain words, its intent in reference to a prepayment of seamen's wages, and follows that declaration with a further statement that the rule thus announced shall apply to foreign vessels as well as to vessels of the United States, it would do violence to language to say that it was not applicable to a foreign vessel.


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