276 U.S. 202 (1927), United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation v. Rosenberg Brothers & Company

Citation:276 U.S. 202, 48 S.Ct. 256, 72 L.Ed. 531
Party Name:United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation v. Rosenberg Brothers & Company
Case Date:February 20, 1928
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 202

276 U.S. 202 (1927)

48 S.Ct. 256, 72 L.Ed. 531

United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation

v.

Rosenberg Brothers & Company

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 20, 1928

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

1. The Suits in Admiralty Act was intended to furnish the exclusive remedy in admiralty against the United States and corporations, such as the Fleet Corporation, of which the United States or its representatives own the entire outstanding capital stock, on all maritime causes of action arising (since April 6, 1917) out of the possession or operation of merchant vessels. And nothing in its legislative history indicates a different purpose. P. 212.

2. As the libels in these cases were not brought against the Fleet Corporation within the period prescribed by § 5, they were barred. P. 214.

3. The statute of limitations having been sufficiently pleaded in exceptions to the libels, it was not necessary to plead it in the answers. P. 214.

4. Whether, in addition to furnishing an exclusive remedy in admiralty, the Act also prevents resort to any concurrent remedies against the United States or the corporation on like causes of action in the Court of Claims or in courts of law is a question not presented by these cases, and upon which no opinion is expressed. P. 214.

12 F.2d 721 reversed.

Certiorari, 273 U.S. 682-683, to decrees in admiralty rendered by the circuit court of appeals reversing decrees of the district court, 295 F. 372; 7 F.2d 893, in three consolidated cases in admiralty by libels in personam, brought against the Fleet Corporation by the present respondents to recover the value of goods shipped

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by them on a vessel owned by the United States and operated by the Corporation, which was wrecked and lost after a alleged deviation from the agreed voyage.

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SANFORD, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE SANFORD delivered the opinion of the Court.

These are consolidated libels in personam, brought in admiralty by the respondents against the Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation in the Federal District Court for Northern California in October, 1922, and November, 1923, to recover the value of goods shipped by them in December, 1919, and January, 1920, from San Francisco to ports in Wales and Holland, on the West Aleta. a merchant vessel owned by the United States and operated by the Fleet Corporation.1 The libels alleged that the vessel deviated from the agreed voyage, passing the destined ports without entering and proceeding on a voyage to a port in Germany, and that, in the course and by reason of such deviation, the vessel stranded upon an island in the North Sea and became a total loss, with all

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her cargo. The Fleet Corporation filed exceptions to the libels on the ground, among others, that they were filed more than one year after the Suits in Admiralty Act2 had gone into effect, and that, by and under the provisions of that Act, and particularly § 5 thereof, the alleged causes of action were barred. These exceptions were overruled. 295 F. 372. The Fleet Corporation then answered, relying on the liberties clause in the bills of lading, denying that there had been any deviation, and alleging that the loss was caused by risks and perils for which it was not liable under the bills of lading and the Harter Act.3 The district court, on the hearing, finding that there had been an unauthorized deviation and and that the suits were not barred or affected by the Suits in Admiralty Act, entered decrees in favor of the libelants for the value of the goods, with interest at the rate of 7 percent. 7 F.2d 893. These were affirmed by the circuit court of appeals, which held that there had been an unwarranted deviation and that the Suits in Admiralty Act was not applicable, since its purpose was to substitute an action in personam for one in rem, and no suit in rem could have been brought, as the vessel had been wrecked off the coast of a foreign country, and was a total loss. 12 F.2d 721.

The first contention of the Fleet Corporation is that these suits were barred by the limitation contained in § 5 of the Suits in Admiralty Act.

[48 S.Ct. 257] That Act, whose main provisions are set forth in the margin,4 was approved and went into effect on March 9,

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1920 -- several months after the alleged causes of action had arisen and more than a year before the libels were brought. It provided that no vessel owned by the United States or any corporation in which the United States or its representatives own the entire outstanding capital stock, or in the possession of or operated by or for the United States or such corporation, should be subject to arrest or seizure by judicial process, § 1; that, where such vessel was employed as a merchant vessel and a proceeding

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in admiralty could be maintained if it were privately owned or operated, a libel in personam might be brought against the United States or such corporation, as the case might be, § 2, and that suits based on causes of action arising prior to the Act should be brought within one year after it went into effect, § 5.

It is unquestioned that the Fleet Corporation is one which may be sued by a libel in personam under the provisions of the Act.5

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In Eastern Transp. Co. v. United States, 272 U.S. 675, 689-692, we held that, while the main purpose of the Act was to exempt from seizure and arrest merchant vessels of the United States operated by it and its subordinate shipping corporations and to substitute for a suit in rem one in personam attended with the incidents of a proceeding in rem in...

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