J. RIBAS Y HIJO V. UNITED STATES, 194 U. S. 315 (1904)

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U.S. Supreme Court

J. Ribas y Hijo v. United States, 194 U.S. 315 (1904)

J. Ribas y Hijo v. United States

No. 151

Submitted April 28, 1904

Decided May 16, 1904

194 U.S. 315


Under § 35 of the Act of April 12, 1900, this Court can review on writ of error a final judgment of the District Court of the United States for Porto Rico, where the amount in dispute exceeds $5,000, and a final judgment in a like case in the Supreme Court of one of the territories of the United States could be reviewed by this Court.

An action which could be brought under the Tucker Act against the United States in either a district or a circuit court of the United States is within the cognizance of the District Court of the United States of Porto Rico. Quaere, and not decided, whether a foreign corporation can maintain any

Page 194 U. S. 316

action under the Tucker Act in any court in view of the provisions of the act that the petition must be filed in the district where the plaintiff resides.

The seizure and detention by the military and naval forces of the United States during the war with Spain of a vessel owned by Spanish subjects was a seizure of enemy's property, and an act of war within the limits of military operations, although the owners were not directly connected with military operations, and a claim for damages for such seizure and detention is not founded on the Constitution of the United States or on any act of Congress or regulation of an Executive Department, or on any contract, express or implied, and an action based thereon is not sanctioned by the Tucker Act, and cannot be maintained thereunder.

This action was brought against the United States by J. Ribas y Hijo, a Spanish corporation, to recover the sum of ten thousand dollars as the value of the use of a certain merchant vessel taken by the United States in the Port of Ponce, Porto Rico, when that city was captured by the United States Army and Navy on July 28, 1898.

The vessel was kept and used by the Quartermaster's Department of the Army until sometime in April, 1899, when the War Department ordered its return to the owner if all claim for use or damage for detention should be waived. Such conditional return was refused by the captain, who claimed to be a part owner, and, with his crew, he left the vessel.

Subsequently the consignees of the vessel were notified that it was at their disposal; that the government was about to discharge those having it in care, and they were requested to put someone in control of it. This they declined to do, and the vessel was abandoned, and in August, 1899, was wrecked in a hurricane.

The vessel was never in naval custody nor condemned as

Page 194 U. S. 317

prize. When seized, it was a Spanish vessel, carried the Spanish flag, and its owner, captain, and crew were all Spanish subjects. It did not come within any of the declared exemptions from seizure set forth in the Proclamation of the President of April 26, 1898. 30 Stat. 1770. A claim filed in the War Department in February, 1900, for its use was rejected.

Such being the facts found, the court below, upon final hearing, dismissed the action upon the general ground that the vessel was properly seized as enemy's property, and its use was by the war power for war purposes.

A rehearing was asked and was denied, the court saying:

"A rehearing is asked upon the ground that the court has found as a matter of fact that the use continued until in April, 1899, and, as the protocol, followed by the President's proclamation, was dated August 12 1898, the complainants should recover on a quantum meruit the value of the use of the vessel between those dates. This was a seizure in time of war, and not in time of peace. It was, as has been said, a special case arising from the necessary operation of war, and the war power of the government concluded it was necessary to take and use the property. Even conceding that the seizure did not terminate all right of the Spanish owner in the property, or to any use of it, yet the protocol and proclamation did not end the war. The protocol worked a mere truce. The President had not the power to terminate the war by treaty without the advice or consent of the Senate of the United States. If a treaty be silent as to when it is to become effective, the weight of authority is that it does not become so until ratified, and this was not done until in April, 1899, and the war did not end by treaty until then, and all the use made by the government of the vessel was justified by the rules of law and international law, without compensation. "

Page 194 U. S. 320

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