262 U.S. 100 (2005), Cunard Steamship Co., Ltd. v. Mellon

Citation:262 U.S. 100, 43 S.Ct. 504, 67 L.Ed. 894
Party Name:Cunard Steamship Co., Ltd. v. Mellon
Case Date:April 30, 1923
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 100

262 U.S. 100 (2005)

43 S.Ct. 504, 67 L.Ed. 894

Cunard Steamship Co., Ltd.



United States Supreme Court

April 30, 1923



1. The words "transportation" and "importation," in the Eighteenth Amendment, are to be taken in their ordinary sense, the former comprehending any real carrying about or from one place to another, and the latter any actual bringing into the country from the outside. P. 121.

2. The word "territory," in the Amendment (in the phrase "the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof") means the regional areas, of land and adjacent waters, over which the United States claims and exercises dominion and control as a sovereign power, the term being used in a physical, not a metaphorical, sense, and referring to areas and districts having fixity of location and recognized boundaries. P. 122.

3. The territory subject to the jurisdiction of the United States includes the land areas under its dominion and control, the ports, harbors, bays, and other enclosed arms of the sea along its coast, and a marginal belt of the sea extending from the coast line outward a marine league, or three geographic miles, and this territory, and all of it, is that which the Amendment designates as its field of operation. P. 122.

4. Domestic merchant ships outside the waters of the United States, whether on the high seas or in foreign waters, are part of the "territory" of the United States in a metaphorical sense only, and are not covered bye the Amendment. P. 123.

5. The jurisdiction arising out of the nationality of a merchant ship, as established by her domicile, registry, and use of the flag, partakes more of the characteristics of personal than of territorial sovereignty, is chiefly applicable to ships on the high seas where there is no territorial sovereign; and, as respects ships in foreign

Page 102

territorial waters, it has little application beyond what is affirmatively or tacitly permitted by the local sovereign. P. 123.

6. The Amendment covers foreign merchant ships when within the territorial waters of the United States. P. 124.

7. A merchant ship of one country, voluntarily entering the territorial limits of another, subjects herself to the jurisdiction of the latter. The jurisdiction attaches in virtue of her presence, just as with other objects within those limits. During her stay, she is entitled to the protection of the laws of that place, and correlatively is bound to yield obedience to them. The local sovereign may, out of considerations of public policy, choose to forego the exertion of its jurisdiction, or to exert it in a limited way only, but this is a matter resting solely in its discretion. P. 124.

8. The Eighteenth Amendment does not prescribe any penalties, forfeitures, or mode of enforcement, but, by its second section, leaves these to legislative action. P. 126.

9. The only instance in which the National Prohibition Act recognizes the possession of intoxicating liquor for beverage purposes as lawful is where the liquor was obtained before the act went into effect and is kept in the owner's dwelling for use therein by him, his family, and his bona fide guests. P. 127.

10. Examination of the National Prohibition Act, as supplemented November 23, 1921, c. 134, 42 Stat. 222, shows

(a) That it is intended to be operative throughout the territorial limits of the United States, with the single exception of liquor in transit through the Panama Canal or on the Panama Railroad,

(b) That it is not intended to apply to domestic vessels when outside the territorial waters of the United States,

(c) That it is intended to apply to all merchant vessels, whether foreign or domestic, when within those waters, save as the Panama Canal Zone exception provides otherwise. Pp. 127-129.

11. Congress, however, has power to regulate the conduct of domestic merchant ships when on the high seas, or to exert such control over them when in foreign waters as may be affirmatively or tacitly permitted by the territorial sovereign. P. 129.

12. The antiquity of the practice of carrying intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes as part of a ship's sea stores, the wide extent of the practice, and its recognition in a congressional enactment, do not go to prove that the Eighteenth Amendment and the Prohibition Act could not have been intended to disturb that practice, since their avowed and obvious purpose was to put an end to prior practices respecting such liquors. P. 129.

Page 103

13. After the adoption of the Amendment and the enactment of the National Prohibition Act, Congress withdrew the prior statutory recognition of liquors as legitimate sea stores. Rev.Stats., § 2775; Act of September 21, 1922, c. 356, Tit. IV, and § 642, 42 Stat. 858, 948, 989. P. 130.

14. The carrying of intoxicating liquors, as sea stores, for beverage purposes, through the territorial waters or into the ports and harbors of the United States by foreign or domestic merchant ships is forbidden by the Amendment and the act. P. 130.

284 F. 890 affirmed.

285 F. 79 reversed.

Appeals from decrees of the district court dismissing, on the merits, as many suits brought by the appellant steamship companies for the purpose of enjoining officials of the United States from seizing liquors carried by appellants' passenger ships as sea stores and from taking other proceedings against the companies and their vessels, under the National Prohibition Act.

Page 119

VANDEVANTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

These are suits by steamship companies operating passenger ships between United States ports and foreign ports to enjoin threatened application to them and their ships of certain provisions of the National Prohibition Act. The defendants are officers of the United States [43 S.Ct. 506] charged with the act's enforcement. In the first ten cases, the plaintiffs are foreign corporations and their ships are of foreign registry, while in the remaining two the plaintiff's are domestic corporations, and their ships are of United States registry. All the ships have long carried and now carry, as part of their sea stores, intoxicating liquors intended to be sold or dispensed to their passengers and crews at meals and otherwise for beverage purposes. Many of the passengers and crews are accustomed to using such beverages and insist that the ships carry and supply liquors for such purposes. By the laws of all the foreign ports at which the ships touch, this is permitted, and by the laws of some it is required. The liquors are purchased for the ships and taken on board in the foreign ports and are sold or dispensed in the course of all voyages, whether from or to those ports.

The administrative instructions dealing with the subject have varied since the National Prohibition Act went into effect. December 11, 1919, the following instructions were issued (T.D. 38218):

All liquors which are prohibited importation, but which are properly listed as sea stores on vessels arriving in ports of the United States, should be placed under seal by the boarding officer and kept sealed during the entire time of the vessel's stay in port, no part thereof to be removed from under seal for use by the crew at meals or for any other purpose.

Excessive or surplus liquor stores are no longer dutiable, being prohibited importation, but are subject to seizure and forfeiture.

Page 120

Liquors properly carried as sea stores may be returned to a foreign port on the vessel's changing from the foreign to the coasting trade, or may be transferred under supervision of the customs officers from a vessel in foreign trade, delayed in port for any cause, to another vessel belonging to the same line or owner.

January 27, 1920, the first paragraph of those instructions was changed (T.D. 38248) so as to read:

All liquors which are prohibited importation, but which are properly listed as sea stores on American vessels arriving in ports of the United States, should be placed under seal by the boarding officer and kept sealed during the entire time of the vessel's stay in port, no part thereof to be removed from under seal for use by the crew at meals or for any other purpose. All such liquors on foreign vessels should be sealed on arrival of the vessels in port, and such portions thereof released from seal as may be required from time to time for use by the officers and crew.

October 6, 1922, the Attorney General, in answer to an inquiry by the Secretary of the Treasury, gave an opinion to the effect that the National Prohibition Act, construed in connection with the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, makes it unlawful (a) for any ship, whether domestic or foreign, to bring into territorial waters of the United States, or to carry while within such waters, intoxicating liquors intended for beverage purposes, whether as sea stores or cargo, and (b) for any domestic ship, even when without those, waters to carry such liquors for such purposes either as cargo or sea stores. The President thereupon directed the preparation, promulgation, and application of new instructions conforming to that construction of the act. Being advised of this and that, under the new instructions, the defendants would seize all liquors carried in contravention of the act as so construed and would proceed to subject

Page 121

the plaintiffs and their ships to penalties provided in the act, the plaintiffs brought these suits.

The hearings in the district court were on the bills or amended bills, motions to dismiss, and answers, and there was a decree of dismissal on the merits in each suit. 284 F. 890; International Mercantile Marine v. Stuart, 285 F. 79. Direct appeals under Judicial Code § 238 bring the cases here.

While the construction and application of the National...

To continue reading