215 U.S. 130 (1909), 243, The Steamship Jefferson

Docket Nº:No. 243
Citation:215 U.S. 130, 30 S.Ct. 54, 54 L.Ed. 125
Party Name:The Steamship Jefferson
Case Date:November 29, 1909
Court:United States Supreme Court

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215 U.S. 130 (1909)

30 S.Ct. 54, 54 L.Ed. 125

The Steamship Jefferson

No. 243

United States Supreme Court

November 29, 1909

Submitted May 17, 1909




Where the district court has allowed an appeal, but has not certified that the question of jurisdiction alone was involved, as required by § 5 of the Act of March 3, 1891, c. 517, 26 Stat. 826, if it appears from the face of the record, irrespective of recitals in the order, that the

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cause was dismissed for want of jurisdiction, the question of jurisdiction, if it is of such a character as to sustain the appeal, is sufficiently certified. United States v. Larkin, 208 U.S. 333.

Where the case is dismissed because the character of the action is one cognizable exclusively by a court of admiralty and the jurisdiction is challenged because the situation of the vessel and the character of the services rendered afforded no jurisdiction in admiralty, the jurisdiction of the court as a federal court is involved, and the case is one cognizable by this Court under § 5 of the act of 1891.

Salvage service, over which a court of admiralty has jurisdiction, may arise from all perils which may encompass a vessel when on waters within the admiralty jurisdiction of the United States, and this includes services rendered to a vessel undergoing repairs in dry dock and in danger of being destroyed by fire which originated on land.

A vessel used for navigation and commerce does not cease to be a subject of admiralty jurisdiction because temporarily in a dry dock without water actually flowing around her.

158 F. 255 reversed.

The facts, which involved the jurisdiction of the admiralty court of a case for salvage services rendered to a vessel in dry dock and in peril from a fire originating on land, are stated in the opinion.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

From a decree dismissing this suit for want of jurisdiction,

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the present direct appeal is prosecuted. Dismissal of the appeal is moved on the ground that the jurisdiction of the court below was not involved in the sense of the fifth section of the act of 1891, 26 Stat. 826, c. 517, and, in any event, because the question of jurisdiction was not certified as required by that act.

The libel by which the suit was commenced was filed on behalf of the master of the tug Helen, for himself and others entitled to participate in a salvage allowance if made. The cause of action was thus stated:

1. That, in the afternoon of the twenty-fifth day of December, 1906, the tug Helen, whereof said E. W. Simmons was master and having a crew of six men besides said master, [30 S.Ct. 55] was, together with the tug Alice, towing a certain barge from Norfolk, in said district, to the piers of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company at Newport News, in said district; that about four or four-thirty o'clock on said day, when said tugs had arrived almost at their destination at Newport News, it was discovered that a fire was raging in the shipyard of the Newport News Shipyard & Dry Dock Company, and there-upon the libellant, with the said tug Helen, docked his tow at one of the said piers of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company and proceeded with all possible speed to the said fire.

2. That when libellant arrived at the said shipyard, it was found that a large and fierce fire was raging therein, and that said steamship Jefferson, which had been undergoing repairs at the said shipyard, was locked in one of the dry docks, out of which the water had been emptied, and was afire, her upper works being then in full blaze and her hull smoking throughout nearly its whole length; that there was no one on board at the time, and no one could have stayed aboard under the circumstances; that the water pipes intended for the use of the fire department were frozen up and there was no water available for their use, and that this, together with the fact that the Jefferson was in a peculiar and inaccessible situation, being

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in a dry dock, rendered the fire engines and fire department totally unable to render any assistance whatsoever, under which circumstances said steamer would have been completely destroyed but for the assistance rendered by libellant and other salvors hereinafter mentioned.

3. That thereupon libellant, with his said tug Helen and crew, lay at a bulkhead of one of the piers, as close to the said dry dock as possible, and together with the tugs Alice and James Smith, Jr., played streams of water from their fire house upon said steamship Jefferson, and continued so to do until the fire was completely extinguished; that libellant and other salvors were thus engaged from about 4:30 o'clock in the afternoon of said day until about 8:30 o'clock at night, during all of which time libellant and said salvors rendered every possible assistance to said steamship, and during all of which time libellant and others entitled as salvors as aforesaid underwent great suffering from smoke, flame, and sparks, and endured great hardship from exposure to the wind and water in the bitter coldness of the weather, and libellant and other salvors incurred great danger from said smoke, flames, and sparks, and from electric wires, falling poles, adjacent burning buildings, etc.

4. That the said steamship Jefferson is of great value; that the aforementioned efforts and services rendered by libellant and other salvors saved the said steamship from total and complete destruction; that libellant, by reason of the hardships necessarily incurred, and especially by reason of the nature and the great importance of the services rendered in saving said steamship, reasonably deserved to have and therefore claim a commensurate reward for salvage therefor.

By an intervening petition, the crew of the tug Helen and the masters and crews of two other tugs, the James Smith, Jr., and the Alice, asserted claims to salvage, on the ground that they had rendered services at the same time and under the same conditions as those which the libel alleged had been rendered by the Helen. The libel and intervening petition

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were excepted to by the owner and claimant of the Jefferson upon these grounds:

First. That the property proceeded against was not at sea or on the coast of the sea, or within public navigable waters, or on the shores thereof.

Second. That the property proceeded against was not a vessel engaged in maritime commerce.

Third. That the libellants did not render any service at sea or in saving property from any peril of the sea.

Fourth. That there is not shown any sea peril or such peril as may be the basis of a claim for salvage.

Fifth. That the Jefferson, while in a dry dock, from which all the water had been emptied, when threatened with fire from land, was not a subject of salvage services.

Sixth. That there is not shown any admiralty or maritime lien upon the Jefferson in favor of the libellants for salvage.

The court, on January 14, 1908, handed down an opinion stating its reasons for concluding that the exceptions were well taken, and hence that it had no jurisdiction over the cause. 158 F. 358. On the 29th of the same month, a final decree was entered dismissing the libel and intervening petitions. In this decree it was recited:

The court is of opinion, for the reasons stated in the opinion filed, on the fourteenth day of January, 1908, that it is without jurisdiction in the premises and that the exceptions should be sustained. . . .

In the following July, the present appeal was prayed on the ground that, as the court had dismissed the case for want of jurisdiction, its action was susceptible of review by direct appeal to this Court. In its order allowing the appeal, the court stated that "the claim of appeal is allowed as prayed for from the final order and decree dismissing said cause for want of jurisdiction. . . ." As upon the face of the record, irrespective [30 S.Ct. 56] of the recitals in the order made on the allowance of the appeal, it is apparent that the only question

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which was decided below was one of jurisdiction, and as the decree which was appealed from on its face shows that the cause was dismissed...

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