British Transport Commission v. United States the Haiti Victory

Citation354 U.S. 129,1957 A.M.C. 1151,77 S.Ct. 1103,1 L.Ed.2d 1234
Decision Date10 June 1957
Docket NumberNo. 247,247
PartiesThe BRITISH TRANSPORT COMMISSION, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES of America, as Owner of THE U.S.N.S. HAITI VICTORY, et al
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Mr. Dean Acheson, Washington, D.C. for petitioner.

Asst. Atty. Gen. George C. Doub, Washington, D.C., for respondent, the United States, as Owner, etc.

Mr. Wilbur E. Dow, Jr., New York City, for respondents W. G. Haslam, and others.

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The British Transport Commission, owner of the overnight ferry, Duke of York, questions the power of a District Court sitting in an admiralty limitation proceeding to permit the parties to cross-claim against each other for damages arising out of the same maritime collision. The United States, as owner of the U.S.N.S. Haiti Victory, had filed the original proceeding in which the Commission along with others filed claims. While the proceeding was pending some of the claimants against the Haiti filed cross-claims against the Duke and, in addition, the United States asserted a 'set-off' and 'cross-claim' against the Duke in answer to the latter's claim. The District Court dismissed all of the cross-claims on the ground that 'a limitation proceeding does not provide a forum for the adjudication of liability of co-claimants to each other.' The Court of Appeals reversed holding that 'As a practical matter as well as an equitable one, the claimants herein should be allowed to implead the Commission.' 4 Cir., 230 F.2d 139, 144. Because the question is an important one of admiralty jurisdiction we granted certiorari, limited to the limitation proceeding question. 352 U.S. 821, 77 S.Ct. 59, 1 L.Ed.2d 46. We agree with the Court of Appeals.

On May 6, 1953, in the North Sea, the Naval Transport, Haiti Victory, owned by the United States, rammed the overnight channel ferry, Duke of York, owned by petitioner. The bow of the Duke broke away from the vessel and sank as a result of a deep cut on her port side just forward of the bridge inflicted by the Haiti. While the Haiti suffered only minor damage the Duke's loss was claimed to be $1,500,000. In addition several of the 437 persons aboard the Duke were killed, many were injured, and many of them lost thier baggage. The Haiti returned to the United States and, thereafter, this proceeding was filed under §§ 183—186 of the Limited Liability Act, R.S. §§ 4281 4289, as amended, 46 U.S.C. §§ 181—196, 46 U.S.C.A. §§ 181—196, for exoneration from, or limitation of, liability for loss or damage resulting from the collision. The United States as petitioner further alleged that the collision was 'caused by the fault and neglect of the §§ Duke of York and the persons in charge of her * * * and occurred without fault on the part of the petitioner * * *.'

The Duke filed a claim in the proceeding for $1,500,000 and in addition an answer in which it claimed, inter alia, that the damages resulting from the collision were 'not caused or contributed to by any fault or negligence on the part of this claimant * * * but were done, occasioned or incurred with the privity or knowledge of and were caused by the Petitioner and its managing officers and supervising agents and the master of the Haiti Victory * * * which will be shown on the trial' The United States answered that the collision 'was occasioned by either the sole fault of the Duke of York or the joint fault of both the Duke of York and the Haiti Victory'; it alleged damage to the Haiti in the sum of $65,000, and that in addition it 'has also been subjected to claims by passengers and members of the crews of both vessels filed herein, which presently approximate $809,714 for personal injury and death, and $45,975 for property damage other than that claimed by the Duke of York; all of which damage it prays to set off and recoup against the claimant British Transport Commission, as owner of the Duke of York * * *.' Various of the claimants against the Haiti in the meanwhile filed impleading petitions against the Duke alleging the collision was 'caused or contributed to by the fault and negligence of the S.S. 'Duke of York' * * * ' setting out, as did the United States, the particular acts upon which the claim of negligence was based. The District Court dismissed all of these cross-claims holding that the Act offers 'a forum for the complete adjudication and recovery of all claims * * * against the petitioner only * * *. To permit one claimant to prosecute another claimant in the limitation litigation would be unfair. The latter has intervened under compulsion, the court enjoining his resort to any other tribunal. Therefore, his responsibility should not be enlarged beyond that incident to his claim. Obedience to the injunction should not expose him to an attack to which, in regular course, he would be subject only in the jurisdiction of his residence or other place of voluntary entrance.'

On a hearing 'restricted to the issues of the asserted liabilities of the two vessels, Duke of York and Haiti Victory, for the collision,' the court exonerated the Haiti from all liability, holding the Duke solely to blame for the collision. D.C., 131 F.Supp. 712. This finding was subseqnetly affirmed by the Court of Appeals and is not before us.1 In reversing the dismissal of the cross-claims the Court of Appeals reasoned that 'Modern codes of procedure have reflected two facets: (1) all rights, if this can fairly be done, should be decided in a single legal proceeding; (2) parties who submit themselves to the jurisdiction of a court in a legal proceeding should be bound by that court's decision on all questions, appropriate to and seasonably raised in, that proceeding. Those ideas, we think, can reasonably be deduced from the spirit, if not the letter, of the 56th Admiralty Rule (28 U.S.C.A.).' 230 F.2d at page 145.

The excellent coverage this Court's cases have given the historical incidents forming the background that went into the adoption of the Limited Liability Act relieves us of any minute recitation of that history. See Norwich & N.Y. Transp. Co. v. Wright, 1872, 13 Wall. 104, 20 L.Ed. 585; Providence & N.Y.S.S. Co. v. Hill Mfg. Co., 1883, 109 U.S. 578, 3 S.Ct. 379, 617, 27 L.Ed. 1038; The Main v. Williams, 1894, 152 U.S. 122, 14 S.Ct. 486, 38 L.Ed. 381; Just v. Chambers, 1941, 312 U.S. 383, 668, 61 S.Ct. 687, 85 L.Ed. 903. The history shows that although the Act was patterned on earlier English statutes its foundations sprang from the roots of the general maritime law of medieval Europe. 'The real object of the act * * * was to limit the liability of vessel owners to their interest in the adventure,' The Main v. Williams, supra, 152 U.S. at page 131, 14 S.Ct. at page 488, and thus 'to encourage shipbuildig and to induce capitalists to invest money in this branch of industry,' Norwich & N.Y. Transp. Co. v. Wright, supra, 13 Wall. at page 121.

The Congress by the provisions of the Act left the form and modes of procedure to the judiciary. Twenty years after passage of the Act this Court adopted some general rules with respect to admiralty practice. See 13 Wall. xii and xiii. Rule 56 first came into the General Admiralty Rules as Rule 59.2 As will be noted, it was originally fashioned to accommodate cross-libels in marine collision cases, but acting upon the same inherent power to bring into the proceeding other parties whose presence would enable the court to do substantial justice in regard to the entire matter, the courts soon began to extend the practice by analogy to cases other than collision. See, e.g., The Alert, D.C.188., 40 F. 836; 3 Moore, Federal Practice (2d ed. 1948), 450—456. As it is expressed in 2 Benedict, Admiralty (6th ed. 1940), § 349, at 534, 'the 'equity of the rule' was given wide extension and the principle * * * was applied by analogy to require the appearance of any additional respondent who might be responsible for the claim or a part thereof.' In the 1920 revision the 59th Rule became the 56th General Admiralty Rule and, as amended by this Court, authorized either a claimant or respondent to bring in any other vessel or person 'partly or wholly liable * * * by way of remedy over, contribution or otherwise, growing out of the same matter.' 254 U.S. 707.3 The present-day limitation proceeding therefore, springs from the 1851 Act and this Court's rules. Neither source indicates that admiralty limitation precluded other ordinary admiralty procedures. In fact, as Mr. Justice Bradley put it in The Scotland, 1881, 105 U.S. 24, 33, 26 L.Ed. 1001, 'we may say, once for all, that (the rules) were not intended to restrict parties claiming the benefit of the law, but to aid them. * * * The rules referred to were adopted for the purpose of formulating a proceeding that would give full protection to the ship-owners in such a case. They were not intended to prevent them from availing themselves of any other remedy or process which the law itself might entitle them to adopt.' Accord, Ex parte Slayton, 1882, 105 U.S. 451, 26 L.Ed. 1066.

It is the Commission's contention that Rule 56 is wholly inapplicable to the adjudication of a claim of one co-claimant against another in a limitation proceeding. The rule, it says, refers to libels and the use of the word 'claimant' includes only the claimant of the vessel in- volved and not to those making claims against the vessel. But we have seen that Rule 56 has long been held to encompass cross-claims between parties in libel actions. This Court has held that limitation of liability petitions may also be determined by appropriate pleading in libel actions. See The North Star, 1882, 106 U.S. 17, 1 S.Ct. 41, 27 L.Ed. 91, and the discussion infra. It may therefore be said that a limitation proceeding not only provides concourse but serves the function of a cross-libel to determine the rights between petitioner and claimants as well; and equitable rights between the limitation petitio...

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