191 U.S. 17 (1903), 16, The Robert W. Parsons

Docket Nº:No. 16
Citation:191 U.S. 17, 24 S.Ct. 8, 48 L.Ed. 73
Party Name:The Robert W. Parsons
Case Date:October 26, 1903
Court:United States Supreme Court

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191 U.S. 17 (1903)

24 S.Ct. 8, 48 L.Ed. 73

The Robert W. Parsons

No. 16

United States Supreme Court

October 26, 1903

Argued March 11-12




1. Although the Erie Canal is wholly within the State of New York, it connects navigable waters and is a great highway of commerce between ports in different states and foreign countries, and is therefore a navigable water of the United States within the legitimate scope of the admiralty jurisdiction of the courts of the United States.

2. The enforcement of a lien in rem for repairs made in a port of the state to which it belongs to a canal boat engaged in traffic on the Erie Canal and the Hudson River is.wholly within the jurisdiction of the admiralty courts, and such lien cannot be enforced by any proceeding in rem in the courts of the New York.

3. The contract for making such repairs is a maritime contract, and its nature as such is not affected by the fact that the repairs were made in a dry dock or by the fact

4. That the canal boat was engaged in traffic wholly within the New York. The Belfast, 7 Wall. 824.

This was a writ of error to review a judgment of the Supreme Court of the State of New York sustaining the jurisdiction of that court to enforce a lien for repairs made by Haines to the canal boat Robert W. Parsons, which was engaged at the time in navigating the Erie Canal and Hudson River.

Defense, that the statute of the State of New York giving a lien for such repairs and providing a remedy for enforcing the same in rem is unconstitutional so far as concerns the remedy, and an infringement upon the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of the United States in admiralty and maritime causes.

A motion to vacate the attachment, issued upon the petition of Haines, upon the ground that the court had no jurisdiction, was denied, an appeal taken to the appellate division of the supreme court, where the case was argued and the order of the court below affirmed by a majority of the justices. In re Haines, 52 A.D. 550. From the final order of the court, subsequently entered, the owner, Clara Perry, again appealed to the appellate division, where the order was affirmed, Matter of Haines, 57 N.Y.App.Div. 636, and again by the Court of Appeals. In re Haines, 168 N.Y. 586. Whereupon a writ of error was sued out from this Court.

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BROWN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BROWN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case raises the question of the construction and constitutionality of the statutes of the State of New York giving a lien for repairs upon vessels and providing for the enforcement of such lien by proceedings in rem. The statutes conferring

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the lien, so far as it is material, is given in the margin. * It will be noticed that it expressly excludes liens founded upon maritime contracts.

That a state may provide for liens in favor of materialmen for necessaries furnished to a vessel in her home port, or in a port of the state to which she belongs, though the contract to furnish the same is a maritime contract, and that such liens can be enforced by proceedings in rem in the district courts of the United States is so well settled by a series of cases in this Court as to be no longer open to question. The General Smith, 4 Wheat. 438; The Planter (Peyroux v. Howard), 7 Pet. 324; The St.Lawrence, 1 Black 522. The remedy thus administered by the admiralty court is exclusive. The Moses Taylor, 4 Wall. 411;The Hine v. Trevor, 4 Wall. 555;The Belfast, 7 Wall. 624;The Lottawanna, 21 Wall. 559;Johnson v. Chicago &c. Elevator Co.Court of Appeals 119 U.S. 388, 397; The J. E. Rumbell, 148 U.S. 1, 12; Bird v. The Josephine, 39 N.Y. 19; Brookman v. Hamill, 43 N.Y. 554; Poole v. Kermit, 59 N.Y. 554. If there were any doubts regarding this question, they were completely put to rest by the ease of The Glide, 167 U.S. 606, in which it was distinctly held, in an exhaustive [24 S.Ct. 10] opinion by Mr. Justice Gray, that the enforcement in rem of a lien upon a vessel for

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repairs and supplies furnished in her home port was exclusively within the admiralty jurisdiction of the courts of the United States.

It is equally well established that, for causes of action not cognizable in admiralty either in rem or in personam, the states may not only grant liens, but may provide remedies for their enforcement. Contracts for the building of a ship are the most prominent examples of such as are not maritime in their character, and hence within this rule. The Jefferson, 20 How. 393; Roach v. Chapman, 22 How. 129; Edwards v. Elliott, 21 Wall. 532; Johnson v. Chicago &c. Elevator Co., 119 U.S. 388; Sheppard v. Steele, 43 N.Y. 52.

It remains to consider whether the contract in this case, which was for repairs furnished to a canal boat in a port of the state to which she belonged, was a maritime contract. If it were, the position of the state courts was wrong. The denial of exclusive jurisdiction on the part of the admiralty court to enforce this lien must rest upon one of two propositions: either because the cause of action arose upon an artificial canal or because a canal boat is not a ship or vessel contemplated by the maritime law, and within the jurisdiction of the admiralty court.

1. At an early day, and following English precedents, it was held by this Court in The Thomas Jefferson, 10 Wheat. 428, that the admiralty courts could not rightfully exercise jurisdiction, "except in cases where the service was substantially performed, or to be performed, upon the sea, or upon waters within the ebb and flow of the tide." The opinion is a brief one by Mr. Justice Story, and contains little more than the announcement of the general principle, and with no attempt to distinguish the English cases. It lacks wholly any display of the abundant learning which, ten years before, had characterized his celebrated opinion in De Lovio v. Boit, 2 Gall. 398. The case was a strong one for the adoption of English precedents, as it concerned a voyage from a port in Kentucky up the Missouri River and back again to

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the same port. It was, however, flatly overruled in The Genesee Chief v. Fitzhugh, 12 How. 443, and the modern doctrine established, to which this Court has consistently and invariably adhered, that not the ebb and flow of the tide, but the actual navigability of the waters, is the test of jurisdiction. It is true, that case arose upon the Great Lakes, but the rule was subsequently extended to cases arising upon the rivers above the tidal effect. Fretz v. Bull, 12 How. 466; The Magnolia, 20 How. 296. In The Daniel Ball, 10 Wall. 557, it was held that Grand River, a navigable water wholly within the State of Michigan, being a stream capable of bearing, for a distance of forty miles, a steamer of 123 tons burthen, and forming, by its junction with Lake Michigan, a continuous highway for commerce both with other states and with foreign countries, was a navigable water of the United States, and the rule was broadly announced that "those rivers must be regarded as public navigable rivers in law which are navigable in fact," and that

they constitute navigable waters of the United States within the meaning of the acts of Congress, in contradistinction from the navigable waters of the states, when they form, in their ordinary condition by themselves, or by uniting with other waters, a continued highway over which commerce is, or may be, carried on with other states or foreign countries in the customary modes in which such commerce is conducted by water.

The same principle was applied in The Montello, 20 Wall. 430, to the Fox River in Wisconsin, although its navigability was interrupted by rapids and falls over which portages were required to be made, and to Chicago River in Escanaba Co. v. Chicago, 107 U.S. 678. See also Miller v. New York, 109 U.S. 385; In re Garnett, 141 U.S. 1, 8.

The only distinction between canals and other navigable waters is that they are rendered navigable by artificial means, and sometimes, though by no means always, are wholly within the limits of a particular state. We fail to see, however, that this creates any distinction in principle. They are usually constructed to connect waters navigable by nature, and to

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avoid the portage of property from one navigable lake or river to another, or to improve or deepen a natural channel, and they are usually navigated by the same vessels which ply between the naturally navigable waters at either end of the canal. Examples of these are the St. Clair Ship Canal, connecting St. Clair River with the lake of the same name; the St. Mary's Canal, connecting the waters of Lake Superior with those of Lake Huron; the Illinois & Michigan Canal, connecting the waters of Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River; the Welland Canal, between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie; the Suez Canal, between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea; the Great North Holland Canal, connecting Amsterdam directly with the German [24 S.Ct. 11] Ocean, and the Erie Canal, connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson River. Indeed, most of the harbors upon the lakes and Atlantic coast are made accessible by canals wholly artificial, or by an artificial channel broadening and deepening their natural approaches. Can it be possible that a cause of action which would be maritime if occurring upon those connected waters would cease to be maritime if arising upon the connecting waters? Must a collision which would give rise to a suit in admiralty if occurring upon Lake Ontario or Lake Erie be prosecuted at common law if happening upon the Welland Canal? This question arose in this country in the case of The Avon, 1 Brown's Ad. 170, in which Judge Emmons, in a carefully considered opinion, took jurisdiction of...

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