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brought. (The case, as decided by the supreme judicial court of Massachusetts, is reported in 113 Mass. 495, and 125 Mass. 292.)
The principal question in this case is whether the institution of proceedings in the district court of the United States, under the act of 1851, for procuring a decree of limited liability of the owners of the Oceanus (the defendants in the present action) for the losses and injuries to goods on board of the vessel, superseded the prosecution of claims for the same losses and injuries in other courts.
It seems to us that this must be the necessary effect of such proceedings, and that this results as well from the language of the law as from its object and purpose. The first section of the act exempts shipowners from liability for losses on board of their ship by fire "unless such fire is caused by the design or neglect of such owner or owners.”
The second section relates to the shipping of precious metals and other valuables without giving notice of their character and value, and exempts the master and owners of the vessel, in such case, from liability as carriers. The third section declares that the liability of ship-owners for embezzlement, loss, or destruction of goods on board of their ship by the master, crew, passengers, or others, or for loss or damage by collision, or for any act, matter, or thing, loss, damage, or forfeiture, done, occasioned, or incurred without the priv. ity or knowledge of such owner or owners, shall in no case exceed the amount or value of the interest of such owner or owners respectively in such ship or vessel and her freight then pending. The fourth Bection of the law declares:
"That if any such embezzlement, logs, or destruction shall be suffered by several freighters or owners of goods, wares, or merchandise, or any property whatever, on the same voyage, and the whole value of the ship or vessel and her freight for the voyage shall not be sufficient to make compensation to each of them, they shall receive compensation from the owner or owners of the ship or vessel in proportion to their respective losses; and for that purpose the said freighters and owners of the property, and the owner or owners of the ship or vessel, or any of them, may take the appropriate proceedings in any court for the purpose of apportioning the sum for which the owner or owners of the ship or vessel may be liable among the parties entitled thereto. And it shall be deemed a sufficient compliance with the requirements of this act, on the part of such owner or owners, if he or they shall transfer his or their 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 or persons who may prove to be legally entitled thereto, from and after which transfer all claims and proceedings against the owner or owners shall cease." 9 St. 635, 636.
By the last section of the act it is declared that it shall not apply to the owner or owners of any canal-boat, barge, or lighter, or to any vessel of any description whatever, used in rivers or inland naviga. tion.
In these provisions of the statute we have, sketched in outline, a scheme of laws and regulations for the benefit of the shipping inter
est, the value and importance of which to our maritime commerce can hardly be estimated. Nevertheless, the practical value of the law will largely depend on the manner in which it is administered. If the courts having the execution of it administer it in a spirit of fairness, with the view of giving to ship-owners the full benefit of the immuni ties intended to be secured by it, the encouragement it will afford to commercial operations (as before stated) will be of the last importance; but if it is administered with a tight and grudging hand, construing every clause most unfavorably against the ship-owner, and allowing as little as possible to operate in his favor, the law will hardly be worth the trouble of its enactment. Its value and efficiency will also be greatly diminished, if not entirely destroyed, by allowing its administration to be hampered and interfered with by various and conflicting jurisdictions.
As the present case raises a question of great importance to the practical and successful working of the law, the decision of which, indeed, will determine whether it is to be of any real value, it will be proper to examine a little the grounds on which, as well the law itself as the proceedings adopted for carrying it into execution, rest for their support. We have no doubt that congress had power to pass the law. It is not only a maritime regulation in its character, but it is clearly within the scope of the power given to congress “to reg. ulate commerce." In the case of The Lottawana, 21 Wall. 558, speaking of the power to make changes in the maritime law of the country, we said:
“Congress undoubtedly has authority under the commercial power, if no other, to introduce such changes as are likely to be needed. The scope of the maritime law and that of commercial regulation are not coterminous, it is true; but the latter embraces much the largest portion of ground covered by the former. Under it congress has regulated the registry, enrollment, license, and nationality of ships and vessels; the method of recording bills of sale and mortgages thereon; the rights and duties of seamen; the limitations of the responsibility of ship-owners for the negligence and misconduct of their cap tains and crews; and many other things of a character truly maritime.
On this subject the remarks of Mr. Justice NELSON, in delivering the opinion of the court in White's Bank v. Smith, 7 Wall. 655, (which established the validity and effect of the act respecting the recording of mortgages on vessels in the custom-house,) are pertinent. He says: •Ships or vessels of the United States are creatures of the legislation of congress. None can oe denominated such, or be entitled to the benefits or privileges thereof, except those registered or enrolled according to the act of September 1, 1789; and those which, after the last day of March, 1793, shall be registered or enrolled in pursuance of the act of thirty-first December, 1792, and must be wholly owned by a citizen or citizens of the United States, and to be commanded by a citizen of the same. * Congress having created, as it were, this species of property, and conferred upon it its chief value, under the power given in the constitution to regulate commerce, we perceive no reason for entertaining any serious doubt but that this power may be extended to the securing and protection of the rights and title of all persons dealing therein.'"
It need not be added that if congress had power to pass the act of 1851, it is binding on all courts and jurisdictions throughout the United States. We have said that, by the provisions of the act, the scheme was sketched in outline. A reference to its provisions shows that it was only in outline; and that the regulation of details as to the form and modes of proceeding was left to be prescribed by judi. cial authority. The law was evidently drawn in view of similar laws adopted and in operation in England and in some of the states. It laid down a few general principles and propositions, and left it to the courts to enforce them and carry them into practical effect. Al. though the act was passed in 1851, it stood on the statute-book for 20 years before a careful scrutiny of its provisions was demanded of this court. In the case of Norwich Transp. Co. v. Wright, decided in December term, 1871, and reported in 13 Wall. 104, we were called upon to interpret the act, and to adopt some general rules for the better carrying of it into effect. On that occasion a history of similar acts, both in England and this country, an examination of the gen. eral maritime law on the same subject, and the circumstances under which the act of 1851 was passed, were reviewed, and the general effect and construction of the act were examined and discussed. The consideration given to the whole subject in the opinion delivered in that case, and in subsequent opinions of this court when the matter has been brought up for examination, notably in the cases of The Benefactor, 103 U. S. 239, and The North Star, 106 U. S. 17, [1 Sup. Ct. REP. 41,] supersedes the necessity of any minute examination of the law at this time. We will make one extract from the opinion in the case first referred to. It is there said:
“The proper course of proceeding for obtaining the benefit of the act would seem to be this : When a libel for damages is filed, either against the ship in rem or the owners in personam, the latter (whether with or without an an. swer to the merits) should file proper petition for an apportionment of the damages according to the statute, and should pay into court (if the vessel or its proceeds is not already there) or give due stipulation for such sum as the court may, by proper inquiry, find to be the amount of the limited liability, or else surrender the ship and freight by assigning them to a trustee in the manner pointer out in the fourth section. Having done this, the ship-owner will be entitled to a monition against all persons to appear and intervene pro interesse suo, and to an order restraining the prosecution of other suits. If an action should be brought in a state court, the ship-owners should file a libel in admiralty, with a like surrender or deposit of the fund, and either plead the fact in bar in the state court, or procure an order from the district court to restrain the further prosecution of the suit. The court having jurisdiction of the case, under and by virtue of the act of congress, would have the right to enforce its jurisdiction, and to ascertain and determine the rights of the parties. For aiding parties in this behalf, and facilitating proceedings in the district courts, we have prepared some rules which will be announced at an early day.”
These rules were announced at a subsequent day of the same term, and will be found at the commencement of 13 Wall. xii., xiii.
The substance of these rules, so far as relates to the purpose in hand, was as follows: That ship-owners desiring to claim the benefit of limitation of liability provided for in the third and fourth sections of the act, may file a libel or petition in the proper district court of the United States, setting forth the facts and circumstances on which such limitation of liability is claimed, and praying relief in that behalf; and thereupon the court, having caused due appraisement to be had of the amount or value of the interest of said owners respectively in the ship or vessel, and her freight for the voyage, shall make an order for the payment of the same into court, or for the giving of a stipulation with sureties for payment thereof into court whenever the same shall be ordered; or, if the owners shall so elect, the court shall, without such appraisement, make an order for the transfer by them of their interest in such vessel and freight, to a trustee to be appointed by the court under the fourth section of the act, and upon compliance with such order the court shall issue a monition against all persons claiming damages for loss or injury to goods, (respecting which the limited liability is sought,) citing them to appear before the court and make due proof of their respective claims, at or before a certain time not less than three months from issuing the same; and public notice of the monition shall be given as in other cases, and such further notice served through the post-office, or otherwise, as the court in its discretion may direct; and the court shall also, on the application of the owner or owners, make an order to restrain the further prosecution of all and any suit or suits against said owners in respect of any such claims. Provision is then made for proof of all claims before a commissioner to be appointed by the court; for a report thereon; and for a pro rata distribution of the money paid into court or the proceeds of the ship and freight among the several claimants. The rules further provide that the shipowners, making suitable allegations for the purpose, shall be at liberty to contest their liability, or the liability of the vessel, to pay any damages, as well as to show that if liable they are entitled to a limitation of liability under the act; and that any parties claiming damages may contest the right of the ship-owners to exemption from 2 liability, or to the benefit of a limited liability. Finally, the rules
provide that the libel or petition shall be-filed and the said proceedings had in any district court of the United States in which the ship or vessel may be libeled to answer for any such loss or damage; or, if the vessel be not libeled, then in the district court of any district in which the owners may be sued; and if the ship have already been libeled and sold, the proceeds shall represent it.
The court had no doubt then, and has no doubt now, of its power to make these rules under the acts of congress which authorized it to prescribe the forms of proceeding in equity and admiralty causes. The process acts of 1792 and 1828 had declared that the forms of writs and other process, and the forms and modes of proceeding in suits in equity and in those of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction,
should be according to the principles, rules, and usages which belong to courts equity and admiralty respectively, as contradistinguished from courts of common law, except as modified by the judiciary act of 1789; but subject to such alterations and additions as the respective courts should in their discretion deem expedient, or to such regulations as the supreme court of the United States should think proper from time to time by rule to prescribe to any circuit or district court concerning the same. 1 St. 276; 4 St. 280. And the process act of 1842 gave the supreme court full power and authority to prescribe and regulate the forms of process in the district and circuit courts, and the forms and modes of framing and filing libels, bills, answers, and other proceedings and pleadings, in suits at law, in admiralty, or in equity in said courts, and the forms and modes of taking evidence, and generally the forms and modes of proceeding to obtain relief, and of drawing up and enrolling decrees, and of proceeding before trustees appointed by the court, and generally to regulate the whole practice of said courts. 5 St. 518. We are clearly of opinion that the authority thus vested in this court was adequate and sufficient to enable it to make the rules before referred to. The subject is one preeminently of admiralty jurisdiction. The rule of limited liability prescribed by the act of 1851 is nothing more than the old maritime rule administered in courts of admiralty in all countries except England from time immemorial; and, if this were not so, the*subject matter itself is one that belongs to the department of maritime law. The adoption of forms and modes of proceeding requisite and proper for giving due effect to the maritime rule thus adopted by congress, and for securing to ship-owners its benefits, was therefore strictly within the powers conferred upon this court; and, where the general regulations adopted by this court do not cover the entire ground, it is undoubtedly within the power of the district and circuit courts, as courts of admiralty, to supplement them by additional rules of their own.
We have deemed it proper to examine thus fully the foundation on which the rules adopted in December term, 1871, were based, because, if those rules are valid and binding, (as we deem them to be,) it is hardly possible to read them in connection with the act of 1851 without perceiving that, after proceedings have been commenced in the proper district court in pursuance thereof, the prosecution pari passu of distinct suits in different courts, or even in the same court, by separate claimants against the ship-owners, is, and must necessarily be, utterly repugnant to such proceedings, and subversive of their object and purpose. In promulgating the rules referred to, this court expressed its deliberate judgment as to the proper mode of proceeding on the part of ship-owners for the purpose of having their rights under the act declared and settled by the definitive decree of a competent court, which should be binding on all parties interested, and protect the ship-owners from being harassed by litigation in other tribunals. Unless some proceeding of this kind were adopted which