38 U.S. 415 (1839), Williams v. Suffolk Ins. Co.

Citation:38 U.S. 415, 10 L.Ed. 226
Case Date:March 06, 1839
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 415

38 U.S. 415 (1839)

10 L.Ed. 226




United States Supreme Court.

March 06, 1839


ON a certificate of division from the Circuit Court of the United States for the district of Massachusetts.

This was an action brought by the plaintiff, a citizen of the state of Connecticut, against the Suffolk Insurance Company of Boston, Massachusetts, to recover a loss, on part of the schooner Harriet, and part of her cargo, they having been insured by the defendants. There was a similar action against the defendants to recover losses sustained on the schooner Breakwater and her cargo. Both the cases were brought from the Circuit Court of Massachusetts, on certificates of division of opinion of the judges of the Circuit Court.

The cases were stated in the record as follows:----

'These were actions of assumpsit on policies of insurance, dated the 19th of August, 1830, whereby the plaintiff caused to be insured by the defendants for nine per cent. per annum premium, warranting twelve per cent. 'lost or not lost,' forty-nine hundred and nineteen dollars on fifteen sixteenths of schooner Harriet, and eighteen hundred and seventy-five dollars on board said vessel, at and from Stonington, Connecticut, commencing the risk on the 12th day of August, instant at noon, to the southern hemisphere, with liberty to stop for salt at the Cape de Verd islands, and to go round Cape Horn, and to touch at all islands, ports, and places for the purpose of taking seals, and for information and refreshments, with liberty to put his skins on board of any other vessel or vessels until she returns to her port of discharge in the United States; it being understood that the value of the interest hereby insured, as it relates to this insurance, is not to be diminished thereby. It is understood and agreed, that if the Harriet should not proceed south-easterly of

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Cape Horn on a voyage towards the south Shetland islands, and there be no loss, then the premium is to be six per centum per annum, the assured warranting only nine per cent.: vessel valued at five thousand dollars; outfits valued at two thousand dollars.

'There was a similar policy underwritten by the defendants for the plaintiff on the same day, for the like voyage in all respects, of thirty-five hundred dollars, on the schooner Breakwater, and two thousand dollars on outfits on board, at the same premium; the vessel being valued at thirty-five hundred dollars, and the outfits at two thousand dollars, upon which, also, an acton was brought.

'The declaration upon each policy averred a total loss, by the seizure and detention of one Lewis Vernet and other persons, pretending to act by the authority of the government of Buenos Ayres, with force and arms.

'The causes came on to be heard together, by the Court, upon certain facts and statements agreed by the parties; the parties agreeing that the verdict should be rendered by the jury for the plaintiff, and for the defendants; according to the opinion of the Court upon the matters of law arising upon those facts and statements; and the cause was argued by C. G. Loring for the plaintiff, and by Theophilus Parsons for the defendants. It appeared from these facts and statements, that both of the vessels insured were bound on a sealing voyage, and proceeded to the Falkland islands in pursuance thereof; and were there both seized by one Lewis Vernet, acting as governor of those islands, under the appointment and authority of the government of Buenos Ayres. The Harriet was seized on the 30th of July, 1831, and was subsequently carried by the captors to Buenos Ayres; where certain proceedings were had against her in the tribunals, and under the sanction of the government of Buenos Ayres. She has never been restored to the defendants, but has been condemned for being engaged in the seal trade at the Falkland islands.

'The Breakwater was seized at the islands, on or about the 18th day of August, 1831, and was afterwards re-captured by the mate and crew, who remained on board; and was by them brought home to the United States; and after her arrival was libelled for salvage in the district Court of Connecticut district, and salvage was awarded of one-third part of the proceeds of vessel and property.

'Copies of the orders and decrees of the Courts of Buenos Ayres respecting the seal fisheries, of the appointment of Vernet as governor of the Falkland islands, of the proceedings against the Harriet, of the correspondence of the American government with the Buenos Ayrean government, relative to the jurisdiction of the Falkland islands; were produced and read, de bene esse, in the case.'

The following points and questions occurred in the case, on which the judges of the Circuit Court were divided in opinion; and they were stated and ordered to be certified to the Supreme Court to be finally decided:----

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1. Whether, inasmuch as the American government has insisted and does still insist, through its regular executive authority, that the Falkland islands do not constitute any part of the dominions within the sovereignty of the government of Buenos Ayres, and that the seal fishery at those islands is a trade free and lawful to the citizens of the United States, and beyond the competency of the Buenos Ayrean government to regulate, prohibit, or punish; it is competent for the Circuit Court in this cause, to inquire into and ascertain by other evidence, the title of said government of Buenos Ayres to the sovereignty of the said Falkland islands; and if such evidence satisfies the Court, to decide against the doctrines and claims set up and supported by the American government on this subject; or whether the action of the American government on this subject is binding and conclusive on this Court, as to whom the sovereignty of those islands belongs.

2. Whether, if the seizure of the Harriet, by the authority of the Buenos Ayrean government, for carrying on the seal fishery at the Falkland islands, was illegal and contrary to the law of nations, on account of the said islands not being within the territorial sovereignty of the said Buenos Ayrean government, and the master of the Harriet had warning from the government of the said islands under the government of Buenos Ayres, that he should seize the said Harriet if she should engage in the seal fishery, and after such warning, the master of the Harriet engaged in such seal fishery, and the Harriet was illegally seized and condemned therefor, the loss by such seizure and condemnation was a loss for which the plaintiff is entitled to recover in this case; if...

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