250 U.S. 246 (1919), 30, The Lake Monroe

Docket Nº:No. 30, Original
Citation:250 U.S. 246, 39 S.Ct. 460, 63 L.Ed. 962
Party Name:The Lake Monroe *
Case Date:June 02, 1919
Court:United States Supreme Court


Page 246

250 U.S. 246 (1919)

39 S.Ct. 460, 63 L.Ed. 962

The Lake Monroe *

No. 30, Original

United States Supreme Court

June 2, 1919

Argued April 21, 22, 1919




Under the Act of June 15, 1917, c. 29, 40 Stat. 182, empowering the President, inter alia, to requisition private shipping for use and operation by the United States, permitting the exercise of the power through such agencies as he may determine, and providing that ships so requisitioned shall be managed, operated, and disposed of as he may direct, and under the President's order of July 11, 1917, delegating those powers for exercise by the Shipping Board and Emergency Fleet Corporation, a ship in course of construction was requisitioned and completed by the Corporation, documented in the name of the United States, and operated by the Board through the Corporation and a private firm, who, as managing and operating agents of the Board, chartered her to a private company for the coastwise carriage of a private cargo of coal. While so engaged, a collision occurred, and the vessel was libeled in the district court. Held that the district court had jurisdiction to arrest the vessel under § 9 of the Shipping Board Act of September 7, 1916, c. 451, 39 Stat. 728, providing that vessels purchased, chartered, or leased by the Board,

while employed

Page 247

solely as merchant vessels, shall be subject to all laws, regulations, and liabilities governing merchant vessels, whether the United States be interested therein as owner in whole or in part or hold any mortgage, lien, or other interest therein,

which provision was reenacted by the Act of July 15, 1918, c. 152, 40 Stat. 900, amending the Shipping Board Act. P. 253.

It is not to be assumed that Congress intended that the power given by the Act of June 15, 1917, supra, should be exercised by the President arbitrarily, or that the President, by his order, intended to vest absolute powers in the Shipping Board and Fleet Corporation, subject only to such regulations as he might from time to time prescribe. Id.

On the contrary, in view of the establishment of the Board and the Corporation as government agencies, broadly empowered and definitely restricted under the Shipping Act, and of the mention of that act in the Act of June 15, 1917, supra, it is to be presumed that Congress at least expected that those agencies would be used under the latter act, and that the President, in employing them thereunder, did so because of those powers and restrictions, already provided. Id.

This view is confirmed by the Act of July 15, 1918, supra, and the companion measure of July 18, 1918, c. 157, 40 Stat. 913, read with the House and Senate reports accompanying the bills. P. 255.

The words "purchased, chartered, or leased" in § 9, supra, of the Shipping Act cover a contract for the temporary use of a vessel or its services not amounting to a demise, "charter" being employed here in a sense as broad as the definition in the Act of July 18, 1918, supra, defining it as

any agreement, contract, lease, or commitment by which the possession or services of a vessel are secured for a period of time, or for one or more voyages, whether or not a demise of the vessel. Id.

Construing § 9 of the Shipping Act as a whole, the vessel in this case was employed "solely as a merchant vessel," though assigned to the New England coal trade when the government was rationing the coal supply of the country as a war measure. P. 256.

Order to show cause discharged.

The case is stated in the opinion.

Page 248

PITNEY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE PITNEY delivered the opinion of the Court.

Upon petition of the United States, this Court granted an order to show cause why a writ of prohibition or mandamus should not be issued in order to prevent the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, sitting in admiralty, from directing the seizure, attachment, or arrest of a steam vessel known as the Lake Monroe, owned and operated by the government of the United States, to satisfy a claim of the master and part owner of the American auxiliary fishing schooner Helena for damages arising out of a collision between the two vessels which occurred on October 8, 1918, off the coast of Cape Cod.

A libel having been filed in the district court in behalf of the Helena against the Lake Monroe to recover damages, and praying that process issue for the seizure and attachment of the steamship, the United States appearing specially, filed suggestions to the effect that, as the steamer was the property of the United States and in its possession and control, the court was without jurisdiction to enforce claims against her by process.


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