No. 943.

158 U.S. 303 (1895)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided May 20, 1895.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. J. Parker Kirlin for appellants.

Mr. William G. Choate and Mr. Sidney Chubb for appellee.

MR. JUSTICE BROWN, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

Stripped of its complication of libels and cross libels, this case is by no means difficult to understand. The Beaconsfield having been sunk in a collision with the Britannia, her master and owner, as bailees of her cargo, proceeded against the Britannia for damages done to such cargo. This they had a right to do. It is perfectly well settled that the carrier is so far the representative of the owner that he may sue in his own name, either at common law or in admiralty, for a trespass upon or injury to the property carried. If a cargo be damaged by collision between two vessels, the owner may pursue both vessels, or either, or the owner of both or either; and in case he proceed against one only, and both are held in fault, he may recover his entire damages of the one sued. A person, who has suffered injury by the joint action of two or more wrongdoers, may have his remedy against all or either, subject, however, to the condition that satisfaction once obtained is a bar to any further proceeding. The Atlas, 93 U.S. 302, 315; Lovejoy v. Murray, 3 Wall. 1. Did the case rest here, there could be no doubt of the right of the libellant to recover the whole damage to the cargo of the Britannia, although, as owner of the Beaconsfield herself, Cleugh could recover only a moiety of his damage to the vessel, in case the collision were adjudged to be the mutual fault of both vessels.

By general admiralty rule 59, however, it is provided that "in a suit for damage by collision, if the claimant of any vessel proceeded against . . . shall, by petition, on oath, . . . showing fault or negligence in any other vessel contributing to the same collision, and the particulars thereof, and that such other vessel, or any other party, ought to be proceeded against in the same suit for such damage, pray that process be issued against such vessel or party to that end, such process may be issued, and, if duly served, such suit shall proceed as if such vessel or party had been originally proceeded against."

Pursuant to this rule, the French company, owner of the Britannia, filed its petition, alleging fault on the part of the Beaconsfield, and praying that she might be proceeded against in the same suit for such damage. This was done, and the litigation resulted in a decree of the District Court dividing the damages. A moiety of the decree was really against the libellants, as owner and master of the Beaconsfield, or rather against Libbey and Magoun, sureties, upon their stipulation.

Both parties appealed to the Circuit Court, which reversed the decree of the District Court, and adjudged the Britannia to be solely in fault. The owner of the Britannia appealed, but Cotton, master of the Beaconsfield, who in the meantime had become sole libellant, did not appeal from the decree dismissing his libel against his own vessel, for the obvious reason that his position as libellant of his own vessel for damage to her cargo was forced upon him by the act of the French company, and conflicted with his interest as representing the owner of the Beaconsfield. In this court, the decree of the Circuit Court was reversed, and the case remanded for further proceedings in conformity with the opinion. This opinion stated that the conclusion reached in this court was the same as that arrived at in the District Court, "and accordingly, we reverse the three decrees, and remand the causes to the Circuit Court, with directions to enter decrees in accordance with this opinion, that both vessels were in fault, and that the damages should be divided." 153 U.S. 144. The result of this was virtually a restoration of the decree of the District Court dividing the damages and awarding to Cotton, master of the Beaconsfield, and bailee of her cargo, a decree against the Beaconsfield for one-half the damages.

In this juncture, the proctors for Elizabeth Cleugh, administratrix, (who in the meantime had become owner of the Beaconsfield,) and Cotton, were instructed by their clients not to consent to any decree against the Beaconsfield, upon the ground that they, Cotton and Cleugh, had only consented to be libellants, as bailees of the cargo, against the Britannia, and they (the proctors) were forbidden to use their names for any decree against the Beaconsfield. Upon libellant's motion, Sanbern, the owner of the cargo, was then substituted as libellant in the place of Cotton, and a final decree entered against the Beaconsfield in the Circuit Court for a moiety of the damages, and the sureties ordered to show cause why execution should not issue against them.

We know of no reason why this decree should not have been granted. Sanbern had a right to suppose that his interests as owner of the cargo would be protected by Cotton, who was suing as his bailee. Had he sued in person, he could, and probably would, have libelled both vessels, and ought not to be prejudiced by the fact that Cotton, assuming to act for him, libelled but one. When the Beaconsfield was drawn into the litigation by the petition of the French company, and his own vessel thus made to respond to his libel, Cotton should have either withdrawn from the suit, and asked that Sanbern be substituted, or in his answer to the petition of the French company should at least have set up any defence he might have had against the owner of the cargo, arising under the bill of lading or from any other cause. If the attention of the court had then been drawn to the fact that Cotton was occupying inconsistent positions, it would doubtless have ordered the owner of the cargo to be substituted for him as libellant. Had no petition been filed against the Beaconsfield by the French company, the case would have stood quite differently, as there would have been no suit against the Beaconsfield upon which a decree could have been rendered. The failure of Cotton to call the attention of the court to the inconsistent positions occupied by him, or in answering the petition of the French company, to claim any defence arising upon the bill of lading or otherwise, was ample authority for the court to enter a decree for a moiety of damages against the Beaconsfield.

The failure of Cotton, acting as bailee of the cargo, to appeal from the decree of the Circuit Court dismissing his libel as against his own vessel, is a technical defence which ought not to prejudice the owner of the cargo. If Sanbern had then been the libellant, and had failed to appeal from the decree dismissing his libel as against the Beaconsfield, possibly he might be held to be estopped; but he cannot be estopped by the failure of Cotton, who was acting in his own interest in not appealing. In this particular the case is much like that of The Umbria, 11 U.S. App. 612, in which a decree was entered in the court below in favor of the owners of the cargo of a vessel sunk in a collision with another vessel, which was there found to be solely in fault; but on appeal by the owner of such vessel, the owners of the cargo not appealing, both vessels were found in fault, and a decree was entered dividing the damages. The owners of the cargo, though not appealing, were held to be entitled to a decree against the owner of the sunken vessel to the same extent as though they had appealed. This case goes to the extent of holding that, even if Sanbern himself had been the libellant, his failure to appeal from the decree of the Circuit Court, dismissing his libel as against the Beaconsfield, would not estop him from recovering against her, if such decree were reversed by this court, and both vessels adjudged to be in fault.

It is insisted, however, that the sureties on the stipulation were released by the amendments to the libel, first, continuing it in the name of Cotton alone after the death of Cleugh, instead of in the name of Cotton and Cleugh, as administratrix; and again, in substituting Sanbern as owner of the cargo instead of the original libellants. Stipulations in admiralty are not subject to the rigid rules of the common law with respect to the liability of the surety, and so long as the cause of action remains practically the same, a mere change in the name of the libellant, as by substituting the real party in interest for a nominal party, will not avoid the stipulation as against the sureties; or, as it is stated in some cases, stipulations are to be interpreted as to the extent and limitation of responsibility created by them by the intention of the court which required them, and not by the intention of the parties who are bound by them. It was said by Judge Ware in Lane v. Townsend, 1 Ware, 286, 293: "If, therefore, there is an ambiguity in the terms of the stipulation, or the construction of them is doubtful, it is not the intention of the party for which we are to inquire, for the will of the party had nothing to do in determining its conditions; the doubt must be removed by consulting the intention of the court, or the law which required the stipulation and dictated its terms." The introduction, however, of a new cause of action is something which the sureties are not bound to contemplate, and it necessarily follows that they cannot be held. This was the ruling of this court in the recent case of The Oregon, ante, 186, in which, after a libel had been filed for a collision, and the usual stipulation to answer judgment given, other libels for damages arising from the same collision were filed without a rearrest of the vessel, and it was held that this was a new cause of action, and the court acquired no jurisdiction to render a judgment against the sureties. See also The North Carolina, 15 Pet. 40.

The law upon this subject is nowhere better stated than in The Nied Elwin, 1 Dodson, 50, cited and abstracted in The Oregon, in which Sir William Scott held that, in a case of prize, the substitution of the Crown for the captors did not release the sureties, but that they could not be held for a new cause of action, viz., the intervention of hostilities between Great Britain and Denmark, after the stipulation was given. In respect to the first question he says: "I cannot entirely accede to the position which has been laid down on behalf of the claimant, that these bonds are mere personal securities given to the individual captors; because, I think, they are given to the court as securities to abide the adjudication of all events at the time impending before it. This court is not in the habit of considering the effect of bonds precisely in the same limited way as they are viewed by the courts of common law. In those courts they are very properly construed as mere personal securities for the benefit of those parties to whom they are given. In this place they are subject to more enlarged considerations; they are here regarded as pledges or substitutes for the thing itself, in all points fairly in the adjudication before the court."

Even if this action had been at common law, it is not altogether certain that the amendment, substituting the name of the real party in interest for a nominal party, would not be good. Chapman v. Barney, 129 U.S. 677. The obligation of the sureties to respond for the damage done by the Beaconsfield to her cargo was neither increased nor diminished by a mere change in name of the party libellant.

All the questions certified are, therefore, answered in the affirmative.


1. The docket title of this case is Elizabeth Cleugh, Claimant of the Steamship Beaconsfield, and William Libbey, Surety, v. Albert W. Sanbern.


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