It is provided by § 688 of the Revised Statutes, that this court "shall have power to issue writs of prohibition to the District Courts, when proceeding as courts of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction." This provision is taken from § 13 of the Act of September 24, 1789, 1 Stat. 80. The question to be determined is, therefore, whether the District Court has jurisdiction to entertain the proceeding in this case for the limitation of liability.
Sections 4283, 4284, and 4285 of the Revised Statutes provide as follows:
"Sec. 4283. The liability of the owner of any vessel, for any embezzlement, loss, or destruction, by any person, of any property, goods, or merchandise, shipped or put on board of such vessel; or for any loss, damage, or injury by collision, or for any act, matter, or thing, loss, damage, or forfeiture, done, occasioned,
Sec. 4284. Whenever any such embezzlement, loss, or destruction is suffered by several freighters or owners of goods, wares, merchandise, or any property whatever, on the same voyage, and the whole value of the vessel, and her freight for the voyage, is not sufficient to make compensation to each of them, they shall receive compensation from the owner of the vessel in proportion to their respective losses; and for that purpose the freighters and owners of the property, and the owner of the vessel, or any of them, may take the appropriate proceedings in any court, for the purpose of apportioning the sum for which the owner of the vessel may be liable among the parties entitled thereto.
Sec. 4285. It shall be deemed a sufficient compliance on the part of such owner with the requirements of this Title relating to his liability for any embezzlement, loss, or destruction of any property, goods, or merchandise, if he shall transfer his interest in such vessel and freight, for the benefit of such claimants, to a trustee, to be appointed by any court of competent jurisdiction, to act as such trustee for the person who may prove to be legally entitled thereto; from and after which transfer all claims and proceedings against the owner shall cease."
The claim to a limitation of liability in the present case is made under that clause of § 4283 which provides that "the liability of the owner of any vessel" "for any act, matter, or thing, loss, damage or forfeiture, done, occasioned, or incurred, without the privity or knowledge of such owner or owners, shall in no case exceed the amount or value of the interest of such owner in such vessel, and her freight then pending." That section does not purport to confer any jurisdiction upon a District Court. Section 4285, in providing for the transfer to a trustee of the interest of the owner in the vessel and freight, provides only that the trustee may "be appointed by any court of competent jurisdiction," leaving the question of such competency to depend on other provisions of law.
As there is no foundation in the general admiralty jurisdiction of the District Court, for its assumption of jurisdiction in this case, and none in the special provisions of the statute for the limitation of liability, it is sought to uphold the jurisdiction under the Rules in Admiralty promulgated by this court in reference to the limitation of liability. The provisions of the Revised Statutes on the subject of the limitation of liability were taken from the Act of March 3, 1851, 9 Stat. 635. There is nothing in that act, nor in the corresponding enactments in the Revised Statutes, in regard to the promulgation of any rules by this court for procedure in the matter. The rules it has made, Rules 54, 55, 56, and 57, are Rules in Admiralty, promulgated May 6, 1872, 13 Wall. xii. They were announced as "Supplementary Rules of Practice in Admiralty, under the Act of March 3, 1851, entitled `An Act to limit the liability of shipowners, and for other purposes.'" They are authoritatively embodied in, and numbered as part of, the "Rules of Practice for the Courts of the United States in Admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, on the instance side of the court, in pursuance of the Act of the 23d of August, 1842, chapter 188." The authority given to this court by the Act of 1842, was in § 6, 5 Stat. 518, and was in these words: "The Supreme Court shall have full power and authority, from time to time, to prescribe, and regulate, and alter, the forms of writs and other process to be used and issued in the District and Circuit Courts of the United States, and the forms and modes of framing
In view of the decision made by this court at December Term, 1865, in the case of The Plymouth, it is not to be presumed that the six of the judges upon the bench when it was made who were also upon the bench when the Rules of May 6th, 1872, were promulgated, intended that those rules should contain anything in conflict with the decision in the case of The Plymouth. Nor are those rules capable of any such construction. They are in these words:
"Supplementary Rules of Practice in Admiralty, under the Act of March 3d, 1851, entitled `An Act to limit the liability of shipowners, and for other purposes.'
54. When any ship or vessel shall be libelled, or the owner or owners thereof shall be sued, for any embezzlement, loss, or destruction by the master, officers, mariners, passengers, or any other person or persons, of any property, goods, or merchandise, shipped or put on board of such ship or vessel, or for any loss, damage or injury by collision, or for any act, matter, or thing, loss, damage, or forfeiture done, occasioned, or incurred, without the privity or knowledge of such owner or owners, and he or they shall desire to claim the benefit of limitation of liability provided for in the third and fourth sections of the said act above recited, the said owner or owners shall and may file a libel or petition in the proper District Court of the United States, as hereinafter specified, setting forth the facts and circumstances on which such limitation of liability is claimed, and praying proper relief in that behalf; and thereupon said court, having caused due appraisement to be
55. Proof of all claims which shall be presented in pursuance of said monition shall be made before a commissioner to be designated by the court, subject to the right of any person interested, to question or controvert the same; and, upon the completion of said proofs, the commissioners shall make report of the claims so proven, and upon confirmation of said report, after hearing any exceptions thereto, the moneys paid or secured to be paid into court as aforesaid, or the proceeds of said ship or vessel and freight (after payment of costs and expenses), shall be divided pro rata amongst the several claimants, in proportion to the amount of their respective claims, duly proved and confirmed as aforesaid, saving, however, to all parties any priority to which they may be legally entitled.
56. In the proceedings aforesaid, the said owner or owners shall be at liberty to contest his or their liability, or the liability
57. The said libel or petition shall be filed and the said proceedings had in any District Court of the United States in which said ship or vessel may be libelled to answer for any such embezzlement, loss, destruction, damage, or injury; or, if the said ship or vessel be not libelled, then in the District Court for any district in which the said owner or owners may be sued in that behalf. If the ship have already been libelled and sold, the proceeds shall represent the same for the purposes of these rules."
There is nothing in any of these rules which purports to enlarge the jurisdiction of the District Courts of the United States as to subject matter. On the contrary, they exclude any such construction, and leave that jurisdiction in admiralty, within the bounds set for it by the Constitution and statutes and the judicial decisions under them. Rule 54 provides that when a vessel is libelled, or her owner is sued, he may file a libel or petition for a limitation of liability "in the proper District Court of the United States, as hereinafter specified." Rule 56 provides that in the proceeding the owner may contest his liability or that of the vessel, independently of the limitation of liability claimed, and that the opposing party may contest the right of the owner either to an exemption from liability or to a limitation of liability. What is the "proper District Court" referred to in Rule 54 and contemplated by Rule 56? It is the court, and only the court, mentioned in Rule 57, namely, the District Court in which the vessel is libelled, or, if she is not libelled, then the District Court for
Nor do we find anything in any of the decisions of this court on the subject of the limitation of liability, which supports the view that a District Court can take jurisdiction in admiralty of a petition for a limitation of liability where it would not have had cognizance in admiralty originally of the cause of action involved. In Norwich Co. v. Wright, 13 Wall. 104, the case which furnished the occasion for the making of the rules, and which came before this court again in The City of Norwich, 118 U.S. 468, the damage was occasioned by a collision on navigable water between two vessels, and a fire resulting from it on board of one of them. In all the other cases in which this court has upheld proceedings for limitation in a District Court, there was original admiralty jurisdiction of the cause of action. In The Benefactor, 103 U.S. 239, the cause of damage was a collision on the high seas, and the petition for limitation was filed in the same District Court in which the offending vessel was libelled. In The Scotland, 105 U.S. 25, and 118 U.S. 507, there was a like cause of action, and the limitation was claimed by an answer to a libel in personam in a District Court. In Ex parte Slayton, 105 U.S. 451, the petition for limitation was filed in a District Court, by the owner of a vessel which had foundered, to limit his liability for the loss of goods carried, and for damage to another vessel by a prior collision, he not having been first sued. He transferred to a trustee appointed by the court his interest in the vessel and in the freight pending. See The Alpena, 10 Bissell, 436. This court, being applied to for a writ of prohibition, refused to grant it. It held that the owner of a vessel may, before he is sued, institute appropriate proceedings in a court of competent jurisdiction, to obtain a limitation of liability; that the words "any court," in § 4284, mean, "any court of competent jurisdiction;" and that, as the transfer had been made
We are brought, therefore, to the conclusion that there is nothing in the Admiralty Rules prescribed by this court which warrants the jurisdiction of the District Court in the present case.
Our decision against the jurisdiction of the District Court is made, without deciding whether or not the statutory limitation of liability extends to the damages sustained by the fire in question, so as to be enforceable in an appropriate court of competent jurisdiction. The decision of that question is unnecessary for the disposition of this case.
It is contended that the mistake of the District Court must be corrected by appeal, and that the case is not one for a writ of prohibition. Where the case is within admiralty cognizance, the District Court may decide whether the party is entitled to the benefit of the statute, and a writ of prohibition will not lie. But where, as here, the tort is not a maritime tort, there can be no jurisdiction in the admiralty to determine the issue of liability or that of limitation of liability. This court refused a writ of prohibition where a suit in rem was brought against a vessel, in admiralty, in a District Court, to enforce an alleged lien for wharfage, on the ground that a contract for the use of a wharf by a vessel was a maritime contract, and cognizable in the admiralty, and that, as a lien arose in certain cases, the Admiralty Court was competent to decide in the given case whether there was a lien. Ex parte Easton,
The case is clearly one for a writ of prohibition, as the want of jurisdiction appears on the face of the proceedings. United States v. Peters, 3 Dall. 121.
A writ of prohibition will issue.