Republic of Mexico v. Hoffman the Baja California, No. 455

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTONE
Citation89 L.Ed. 729,65 S.Ct. 530,324 U.S. 30
Decision Date05 February 1945
Docket NumberNo. 455
PartiesREPUBLIC OF MEXICO v. HOFFMAN. THE BAJA CALIFORNIA

324 U.S. 30
65 S.Ct. 530
89 L.Ed. 729
REPUBLIC OF MEXICO

v.

HOFFMAN. THE BAJA CALIFORNIA.

No. 455.
Argued Jan. 11, 12, 1945.
Decided Feb. 5, 1945.

Mr. Morris Lavine, of Los Angeles, Cal., for petitioner.

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Mr. Harold A. Black, of Los Angeles, Cal., for respondent.

Mr. Chief Justice STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question is whether, in the absence of the adoption of any guiding policy by the Executive branch of the government the federal courts should recognize the immunity from a suit in rem in admiralty of a merchant vessel solely because it is owned though not possessed by a friendly foreign government.

Respondent, owner and master of the Lottie Carson, an American fishing vessel, filed a libel in rem in the district court for southern California against the Baja California, her engines, machinery, tackle and furniture, for damage alleged to have been caused when the Baja California negligently caused her two to collide with the Lottie Carson in Mexican waters. The Mexican Ambassador to the United States, acting in behalf of his government, thereupon filed in the district court a suggestion that the Baja California at all the times mentioned in the libel and at the time of her seizure was owned by the Republic of Mexico and in its possession, and engaged in the transportation of cargoes between the ports of the Republic of Mexico and elsewhere. Libellant put in issue the allegations of the suggestion that title to the Baja California was at any time in the Mexican government and denied that she was in that government's possession, public service or use. Trial of these issues proceeded upon stipulated evidence.

In the meantime the United States Attorney for the District, acting under direction of the Attorney General, filed in the district court a communication from the Secretary of State to the Attorney General, in which the State Department called attention to the claim of the Mexican government, already detailed. The Department

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took no position with respect to the asserted immunity of the vessel from suit other than to cite Ervin v. Quintanilla, 5 Cir., 99 F.2d 935, and Compania Espanola De Navegacion Maritima, S.A. v. The Navemar, 303 U.S. 68, 58 S.Ct. 432, 82 L.Ed. 667. In Ervin v. Quintanilla, supra, the asserted immunity from suit of The San Ricardo, a vessel of the Mexican government, was allowed by the court on the ground that at the time of her seizure upon a libel in rem she was in the possession and service of that government. And in Compania Espanola v. The Navemar, supra, the State Department having failed to recognize the claimed immunity of the Spanish vessel Navemar, alleged to have been expropriated by and in the possession of the friendly Republic of Spain at the time of her seizure upon a libel in rem, this Court denied the claimed immunity on the ground that the libelled vessel was not shown to have been in the possession and public service of the foreign government.

The district court was unable to find, under the rule of The Navemar, supra, any ground for relinquishing the jurisdiction over the vessel, and accordingly denied the claim of immunity. The Mexican government then filed an answer to the libel by which it put in issue the material allegations of the libel on the merits and renewed its claim of sovereign immunity from the suit. The court then proceeded with the trial on the merits.

A second suggestion was then filed by the United States Attorney at the direction of the Attorney General, transmitting a communication from the State Department, stating that it accepted as true the contention that the Baja California was the property of the Mexican government and that it recognized a statement by the Mexican Ambassador that his government would meet any liability decreed against the vessel as a binding international undertaking. The district court denied the claim of immunity, finding that the ship was in 'the possession, opera-

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tion, and control' of the Compania Mexicana de Navigaction del Pacifico, S. de R.L. This was a privately owned and operated Mexican corporation engaged in the commercial carriage of cargoes for hire for private shippers. On the merits the district court gave judgment for the libellant.

The Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed, 143 F.2d 854, holding on the authority of The Navemar, supra, and the Katingo Hadjipatera, 2 Cir., 119 F.2d 1022, that the Baja California, although owned by the Mexican government, was not immune from suit because not in its possession and service. We granted certiorari, 323 U.S. 697, 65 S.Ct. 118, on a petition which presented the question whether title of the vessel without possession in the Mexican government is sufficient to call for judicial recognition of the asserted immunity.

The decisions of the two courts below that the vessel was not in the possession or service of the Mexican government are supported by evidence and call for no extended review here. It is sufficient that it appears that before the injury to the Lottie Carson the Baja California was delivered by the Mexican government to the privately owned and operated Mexican corporation under a contract for a term of five years. As provided by the contract the corporation was to operate the vessel at its own expense in a private freighting venture on the high seas between Mexican ports and between them and foreign ports, and did so operate the vessel until her seizure upon the libel. The officers and crew were selected, controlled and paid by the corporation. For the use of the vessel the corporation agreed to pay to the Mexican government fifty per cent of the net profits of operations but undertook to bear all net losses.

The principal contention of petitioner is that our courts should recognize the title of the Mexican government as

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a ground for immunity from suit even though the vessel was not in the possession and public service of that government. Ever since The Exchange, 7 Cranch. 116, 3 L.Ed. 287, this Government has recognized such immunity from suit, of a vessel in the possession and service of a friendly foreign government, The L'Invincible, 1 Wheat. 238, 252, 4 L.Ed. 80; The Divina Pastora, 4 Wheat. 52, 64, 4 L.Ed. 512; United States v. Cornell Steamboat Co., 202 U.S. 184, 190, 26 S.Ct. 648, 649, 50 L.Ed. 987; Ex parte Muir, 254 U.S. 522, 531-533, 41 S.Ct. 185, 186, 187, 65 L.Ed. 383; The Pesaro, 255 U.S. 216, 219, 41 S.Ct. 308, 309, 65 L.Ed. 592; Ex parte State of New York, 256 U.S. 503, 510, 41 S.Ct. 592, 593, 65 L.Ed. 1063; Compania Espanola v. The Navemar, supra, 303 U.S. 74, 58 S.Ct. 434, 82 L.Ed. 667; Ex parte Republic of Peru, 318 U.S. 578, 588, 63 S.Ct. 793, 799, 87 L.Ed. 1014, a practice which seems to have been followed without serious difficulties to the courts or embarrassment to the executive branch of the government. And in The Exchange, Chief Justice Marshall introduced the practice, since followed in the federal courts, that their jurisdiction in rem acquired by the judicial seizure of the vessel of a friendly foreign government, will be surrendered on recognition, allowance and certification of the asserted immunity by the political branch of the government charged with the conduct of foreign affairs when its certificate to that effect is presented to the court by the Attorney General. United States v. Lee, 106 U.S. 196, 209, 1 S.Ct. 240, 251, 27 L.Ed. 171; Ex parte Muir, supra, 254 U.S. 533, 41 S.Ct. 187, 65 L.Ed. 383; The Pesaro, supra, 255 U.S. 217, 41 S.Ct. 308, 65 L.Ed. 592; Compania Espanola v. The Navemar, supra, 303 U.S. 74, 58 S.Ct. 434, 82 L.Ed. 667; Ex parte Peru, supra, 318 U.S. 588, 63 S.Ct. 799, 87 L.Ed. 1014. This practice is founded upon the policy recognized both by the Department of State and the courts that the national interests will be best served when controversies growing out of the judicial seizure of vessels of friendly foreign governments are adjusted through diplomatic channels rather than by the compulsion of judicial proceedings. Compania Espanola v. The Navemar, supra; Ex parte Peru, supra.

In the absence of recognition of the claimed immunity by the political branch of the government, the courts may decide for themselves whether all the requisites of immu-

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nity exist. That is to say, it is for them to decide whether the vessel when seized was that of a foreign government and was of a character and operated under conditions entitling it to the immunity in conformity to the...

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138 practice notes
  • Samantar v. Yousuf, No. 08-1555.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 3, 2010
    ...a foreign state's claim of sovereign immunity, typically asserted on behalf of seized vessels. See, e.g., Republic of Mexico v. Hoffman, 324 U.S. 30, 34-36, 65 S.Ct. 530, 89 L.Ed. 729 (1945); Ex parte Peru, 318 U.S. 578, 587-589, 63 S.Ct. 793, 87 L.Ed. 1014 (1943); Compania Espanola de Nave......
  • Ashton v. Al Qaeda Islamic Army (In re Terrorist Attacks On Sept. 11, 2001), 03–MDL–1570(GBD)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • March 28, 2018
    ...fit to allow, or to allow an immunity on new grounds which the government has not seen fit to recognize." Republic of Mexico v. Hoffman, 324 U.S. 30, 35, 65 S.Ct. 530, 89 L.Ed. 729 (1945). When Congress enacted the FSIA, it transferred that power from the Executive to the Judiciary and vest......
  • National City Bank of New York v. Republic of China, No. 30
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 7, 1955
    ...Espanola de Navegacion Maritima, S.A. v. The Navemar, Page 361 303 U.S. 68, 58 S.Ct. 432, 82 L.Ed. 667; Republic of Mexico v. Hoffman, 324 U.S. 30, 65 S.Ct. 530, 89 L.Ed. 729. And this for the reason that a major consideration for the rule enunciated in The Schooner Exchange is the embarras......
  • Alfred Dunhill of London, Inc v. Republic of Cuba, No. 73-1288
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • December 10, 1974
    ...been severely diminished by later cases such as Ex parte Peru, 318 U.S. 578, 63 S.Ct. 793, 87 L.Ed. 1014 (1943), and Mexico v. Hoffman, 324 U.S. 30, 65 S.Ct. 530, 89 L.Ed. 729 (1945). In the latter case the Court unanimously denied immunity to a commercial ship owned but not possessed by th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
144 cases
  • Samantar v. Yousuf, No. 08-1555.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 3, 2010
    ...a foreign state's claim of sovereign immunity, typically asserted on behalf of seized vessels. See, e.g., Republic of Mexico v. Hoffman, 324 U.S. 30, 34-36, 65 S.Ct. 530, 89 L.Ed. 729 (1945); Ex parte Peru, 318 U.S. 578, 587-589, 63 S.Ct. 793, 87 L.Ed. 1014 (1943); Compania Espanola de Nave......
  • Ashton v. Al Qaeda Islamic Army (In re Terrorist Attacks On Sept. 11, 2001), 03–MDL–1570(GBD)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • March 28, 2018
    ...fit to allow, or to allow an immunity on new grounds which the government has not seen fit to recognize." Republic of Mexico v. Hoffman, 324 U.S. 30, 35, 65 S.Ct. 530, 89 L.Ed. 729 (1945). When Congress enacted the FSIA, it transferred that power from the Executive to the Judiciary and vest......
  • National City Bank of New York v. Republic of China, No. 30
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 7, 1955
    ...Espanola de Navegacion Maritima, S.A. v. The Navemar, Page 361 303 U.S. 68, 58 S.Ct. 432, 82 L.Ed. 667; Republic of Mexico v. Hoffman, 324 U.S. 30, 65 S.Ct. 530, 89 L.Ed. 729. And this for the reason that a major consideration for the rule enunciated in The Schooner Exchange is the embarras......
  • Alfred Dunhill of London, Inc v. Republic of Cuba, No. 73-1288
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • December 10, 1974
    ...been severely diminished by later cases such as Ex parte Peru, 318 U.S. 578, 63 S.Ct. 793, 87 L.Ed. 1014 (1943), and Mexico v. Hoffman, 324 U.S. 30, 65 S.Ct. 530, 89 L.Ed. 729 (1945). In the latter case the Court unanimously denied immunity to a commercial ship owned but not possessed by th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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