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HOMER RAMSDELL TRANSPORTATION COMPANY v. LA COMPAGNIE GENERALE TRANSATLANTIQUE.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: May 27, 1901.

HOMER RAMSDELL TRANSPORTATION COMPANY
v.
LA COMPAGNIE GENERALE TRANSATLANTIQUE.

CERTIFICATE FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT.

Author: Gray

[ 182 U.S. Page 408]

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

The question whether the statutes of the State of New York impose compulsory pilotage on foreign vessels inward and outward bound to and from the port of New York by way of Sandy Hook depends, as both counsel admit, upon the true construction of the provisions which are copied in the margin.*fn1

[ 182 U.S. Page 409]

     The statute of 1857, c. 243, reenacted in the statute of 1882, c. 410, § 2119, after providing how the master of a vessel sailing under a coasting license to or from the port of New York by the way of Sandy Hook, "desirous of piloting his own vessel," may obtain a license for such purpose from the commissioners

[ 182 U.S. Page 410]

     of pilots, provides that every master of a foreign vessel bound to or from the port of New York by the way of Sandy Hook "shall taken a licensed pilot, or, in case of refusal to take such pilot, shall himself, owners or consignees, pay the said pilotage as if one had been employed, and such pilotage shall be paid to the pilot first speaking or offering his services as pilot to such vessel." It then goes on to provide that "any person not holding a license as pilot under this act," or under the laws of New Jersey, who shall pilot any vessel to or from the port of New York by the way of Sandy Hook, shall be punished by fine or imprisonment, and that "all persons employing a person to act as pilot, and not holding a license under this act," or under the laws of New Jersey, shall pay a fine.

By these provisions, not only is the master of a foreign vessel required to take a licensed pilot, or, in case of refusal to take such pilot, required to pay pilotage to the pilot first offering his services; but the subsequent provision as to any "person not holding a license under this act," construed in connection with the previous provision as to licensing the master of a coasting vessel as its pilot, evidently includes the master of a foreign vessel, and subjects him to fine or imprisonment if he pilots his own vessel.

The requirement to take a licensed pilot or pay pilotage, together with the penalty imposed on a master who pilots his own foreign vessel, clearly impose compulsory pilotage. And it was held by this court in The China, (1868) 7 Wall. 53, that the statute of 1857 imposed such pilotage.

The statute of 1867, c. 930, reenacted in the statute of 1882, c. 410, § 2100, enacts that a pilot bringing in a vessel from sea, may by himself or one of his boat's company, pilot her to sea when she next leaves the port; provided that if the owner shall desire to change the pilot, the commissioners of pilots may assign another one of the same pilot boat. But the right of the owner to object to one pilot does not make the selection of another by the commissioners a voluntary act of his.

The cases in the New York Court of Appeals, cited by the plaintiff, do not affect this question. In Brown v. Ellworth, (1875) 60 N.Y. 249, the only point decided was that a pilot

[ 182 U.S. Page 411]

     licensed by the law of New Jersey could not recover pilotage under the statute of New York. And in Gillespie v. Zittlosen, (1875) 60 N.Y. 449, the only point decided was that the pilot first offering his services could not recover pilotage if the master took another licensed pilot.

The answer to the first question certified must therefore be that the statutes of New York do impose compulsory pilotage on foreign vessels in ward and outward bound to and from the port of New York by the way of Sandy Hook.

This action is at common law. It is not, and, being for damages inflicted on land, could not be, in admiralty. The Plymouth, (1865) 3 Wall. 20.

At common law, no action can be maintained against the owner of a vessel for the fault of a compulsory pilot.

In Carruthers v. Sydebotham, (1815) 4 M. & S. 77, 85, Lord Ellenborough, in holding that the act of the pilot was not the act of the master or mariners or owner of the ship, said: "Now to make the pilot the representative of the master, and consequently to exempt the underwriter from liability for his acts, it must first be shown that there is a privity between the pilot and the master, so that the one may be considered as the representative or agent of the other. But does the master appoint the pilot? Certainly not. The regulations of the general pilot act impose a penalty upon the master of every ship which shall be piloted by any other person then a pilot duly licensed, within any limits for which pilots are lawfully appointed. And there is an exception of such places for which pilots are not appointed. But if the master cannot navigate without a pilot except under a penalty, is he not under the compulsion of law to take a pilot? And if so, is it just that he should be answerable for the misconduct of a person whose appointment the provisions of the law have taken out of his hands, placing the ship in the hands and under the conduct of the pilot? The consequence is, that there is no privity between them."

In Attorney General v. Case, (1816) 3 Price, 302, 322, in the Court of Exchequer, the master of the vessel whose owners were held liable, as the court said, "was not compellable, at that time, in any way, either under the penalty of double the wages,

[ 182 U.S. Page 412]

     or of paying even the single wages, to have any pilot on board. It was his own act to have him; and it can be only in the case of such an officer having been forced upon them, and without his own election, that the responsibility of the owner can possibly be discharged."

In The Maria, (1839) 1 W. Rob. 95, 106, Dr. Lushington, on a full review of those cases, held that upon general principles, and independently of the express provisions in the English statutes, the compulsory taking of a pilot relieved the owner from all responsibility for his acts.

In Lucey v. Ingram, (1840) 6 M. & W. 302, 315, Baron Parke, delivering the judgment of the Court of Exchequer, spoke of the exemption of the master who was compelled to take a pilot, from liability by the common law independent of statute, as follows: "It may, indeed, be admitted, that in many of the cases, the judges, in giving their judgments, refer to the obligation of the master to take a pilot, as the ground on which his irresponsibility is founded; and no doubt that is the foundation, and probably the only foundation, on which it can rest independently of the statutes; but the language of the exempting clause in the last pilot act certainly carries the doctrine further, and it may well be conceived that this extension of the common law doctrine was not accidental, but intentional. The object of the legislature, in establishing pilots, has been to secure, as far as possible, protection to life and property, by supplying a class of men better qualified than ordinary mariners to take charge of ships in places where, from local causes, navigation is attended with more than common difficulty. To effect this object, it has in general been made the duty of the master of every ship, on arriving at any of the places in question, to take a pilot on board, and to give up to him the navigation of the vessel. The master, however well qualified to conduct the ship himself, is bound under a penalty in a great measure to divest himself of its control, and to give up the charge to the pilot. As a necessary consequence, the master and owners are exempted from responsibility for acts resulting from the mismanagement of the pilot." He then proceeded to consider the extension of the exemption by statute, which has no bearing on this case.

[ 182 U.S. Page 413]

     In The Halley, (1868) L.R. 2 P.C. 193, 201, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council agreed with Sir Robert Phillimore in the same case in the Court of Admiralty, L.R. 2 Ad. & Ec. 3, "in his statement of the common law of England, with respect to the liability of the owner of a vessel for injuries occasioned by the unskillful navigation of his vessel, while under the control of a pilot, whom the owner was compelled to take on board, and in whose selection he had no voice; and that this law holds that the responsibility of the owner for the acts of his servant is founded upon the presumption that the owner chooses his servant and gives him orders which he is bound to obey, and that the acts of the servant, so far as the interests of third persons are concerned, must always be considered as the acts of the owner."

There is no occasion to refer further to the English cases in admiralty, because in England it is held that the ship is not responsible in admiralty, where the owner would not be at common law, differing in this respect from our own decisions. The China, 7 Wall. 53; Ralli v. Troop, (1894) 157 U.S. 386, 402, 420; The John G. Stevens, (1898) 170 U.S. 113, 120-122; The Barnstable, (1901) 181 U.S. 464.

In The China, affirming the decision of the Circuit Court in admiralty, the liability of a vessel in rem for a collision from the fault of a compulsory pilot was put upon the maritime law, the court saying: "The maritime law as to the position and powers of the master, and the responsibility of the vessel, is not derived from the civil law of master and servant, from the common law." "According to the admiralty law, the collision impresses upon the wrongdoing vessel a maritime lien. This the vessel carries with it into whosesoever hands it may come. It is inchoate at the moment of the wrong, and must be perfected by subsequent proceedings." "The proposition of the appellants would blot out this important feature of the maritime code, and greatly impair the efficacy of the system. The appellees are seeking the fruit of their lien." 7 Wall. 68.

Such was the view of that case taken by the whole court in Ralli v. Troop, in which the majority of the judges said of it: "That decision proceeded, not upon any authority or agency

[ 182 U.S. Page 414]

     of the pilot, derived from the civil law of master and servant, or from the common law, as the representative of the owners of the ship and cargo;" "but upon a distinct principle of the maritime law, namely, that the vessel in whosesoever hands she lawfully is, is herself considered as the wrongdoer liable for the tort, and subject to a maritime lien for the damages." 157 U.S. at 402. And the dissenting judges said that in The China "this court held, contrary to the English, but conformably to the continental authorities, that a vessel was liable for the consequences of a collision through the negligence of a pilot taken compulsorily on board, although it was admitted that, if the action had been at common law against the owner, and probably also in personam in admiralty, there could have been no recovery, as a compulsory pilot is in no sense the agent or servant of the owner." 157 U.S. at 423.

In none of the cases in which actions at law have been maintained against the owner of a ship for the fault of a pilot was the owner compelled to employ the pilot.

In Bussy v. Donaldson, (1800) 4 Dall. 194, in the Supreme Court op Pennsylvania, an action on the case was brought against the owner of a ship for damages by collision; and the defence that the ship "was in the charge of a public pilot of the port (a person not the choice, nor the voluntary agent, of the owner) when the injury was committed," was overruled. But the statute of Pennsylvania, cited in that case, simply provided that the pilot first offering himself to any inward bound ship should be entitled to take charge of her; and that, if the master of any ship should refuse or neglect to take a pilot, the master, owner or consignee, should forfeit and pay a sum equal to half pilotage, to the use of the society for the relief of distressed and decayed pilots, their widows and children. Penn. Stat. April 11, 1793, §§ 8, 10; 3 Dall. Laws, 424, 426. The subsequent pilot laws of Pennsylvania have made similar provisions. Cooley v. Board of Wardens, (1851) 12 How. 299. And the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has held that they did not make the employment of a pilot compulsory, saying: "The legislature have wisely decided not to compel the owners to supply one, but have permitted them, if they please, to compound by

[ 182 U.S. Page 415]

     paying half pilotage, for the benevolent and beneficial purpose or relieving distressed and decayed pilots, their widows and children. The act sets out an inducement to avail themselves of their services, but does not compel them to do so." Flanigen v. Washington Ins. Co., (1847) 7 Penn. St. 306, 312. And see The Creole, (1853) 2 Wall. Jr. 485, 516, 517.

So in Williamson v. Price, (1826) 4 Martin (N.S.) 399, the Supreme Court of Louisiana maintained an action for a collision by a vessel "at the time under the care and consequently the control of a licensed pilot." But the statutes of Louisiana, likewise, only provided that "if the master of any ship or vessel coming to the port of New Orleans shall refuse to receive on board and employ a pilot, the master or owner of such ship or vessel shall pay to such pilot, who shall have offered to go on board and take charge of the pilotage of the vessel, half pilotage." Law of Territory of Orleans of March 31, 1805, § 17, p. 140; Louisiana Rev Stat. 1853, p. 457, § 17; Rev. Stat. 1856, pp. 403, 404, §§ 9, 19. And this court has held that those statutes are not compulsory. The Merrimac, (1871) 14 Wall. 199, 203.

In Yates v. Brown, (1829) 8 Pick. 22, in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, in which the owners of a vessel were held liable for a collision by the fault of a pilot, it is only stated that he was duly authorized to pilot the ship, that he held his commission under the executive authority of the Commonwealth, and that the owners had selected him for this service. And in Massachusetts, as has been observed by its court, "the statute does not make it incumbent on the master of a vessel, subject to pilotage, to receive a pilot, if he chooses to navigate her himself," although it makes him and the owner liable to pay full pilotage fees if a pilot offers his services and they are refused. Martin v. Hilton, (1845) 9 Met. 371, 373.

In Denison v. Seymour, (1832) 9 Wend. 1, in the Supreme Court of New York, the taking of a pilot was not compulsory, and the court said: "The officer here called the pilot is not the same as the pilot recognized in the laws regulating foreign commerce."

In Atlee v. Packet Co., (1874) 21 Wall. 389, which was a suit

[ 182 U.S. Page 416]

     in personam in the admiralty, where the owners of a vessel were held liable for the fault of a pilot, it does not appear that they acted under compulsion in appointing him, and the question of their liability for his acts was not discussed.

In Sherlock v. Alling, (1876) 93 U.S. 99, the case came to this court on writ of error from the Supreme Court of the State of Indiana, and therefore none but Federal questions were within the jurisdiction of this court; and the only questions decided, or which could have been decided, were that an act of Indiana making any person liable for the death of another caused by his wrongful act or omission was not, as applied to a tort committed on navigable waters within the State, an encroachment on the commercial powers of Congress; and that an act of Congress making the master and owners of a vessel liable for injuries to passengers under certain circumstances afforded no defence to the action.

The liability of the owner at common law for the act of a pilot on his vessel is well stated by Mr. Justice Story in his Treatise on Agency, (2d ed.) § 456a: "The master of a ship, and the owner also, is liable for any injury done by the negligence of the crew employed in the ship. The same doctrine will apply to the case of a pilot, employed by the master or owner, by whose negligence any injury happens to a third person or his property; as, for example, by a collision with another ship, occasioned by his negligence. And it will make no difference in the case, that the pilot, if any is employed, is required to be a licensed pilot; provided the master is at liberty to take a pilot, or not, at his pleasure; for, in such a case, the master acts voluntary, although he is necessarily required to select from a particular class. On the other hand, if it is compulsive upon the master to take a pilot, and, a fortiori, if he is bound to do so under a penalty, then, and in such case, neither he, nor the owner, will be liable for injuries occasioned by the negligence of a pilot; for, in such a case, the pilot cannot be deemed properly the servant of the master or the owner, but is forced upon them, and the maxim, Qui facit per aliam facit per se, does not apply."

The answer to the second question must therefore be that in

[ 182 U.S. Page 417]

     an action at common law the shipowner is not liable for injuries inflicted exclusively by negligence of a pilot accepted by a vessel compulsorily.

Answer to the first question in the affirmative; to the second in the negative.


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