P., W. & B. R. CO. V. P. & H. S. T. CO., 64 U. S. 209 (1859)

Subscribe to Cases that cite 64 U. S. 209

U.S. Supreme Court

P., W. & B. R. Co. v. P. & H. S. T. Co., 64 U.S. 23 How. 209 209 (1859)

cg:64 U.S. 209*admiralty*bridges*jurisdiction*maritime law*negligence*nuisance*railroads*sunday closing laws*waters and watercourses*

nv:23 How. 209

ct:Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore R. Co. v. Philadelphia & Havre de Grace Steam Towboat Co., 64 U.S. (23 How.) 209 (1859)

�Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad Company

�v. Philadelphia and Havre de Grace Steam Towboat Company

�64 U.S. (23 How.) 209




The jurisdiction of courts of admiralty in torts depends entirely on locality, and this Court have heretofore decided that it extends to places within the body of a county. The term "torts" includes wrongs suffered in consequence of the negligence or malfeasance of others where the remedy at common law is by an action on the case.

Hence, where a railroad company employed contractors to build a bridge, and for that purpose to drive piles in a river, and, owing to the abandonment of the contract, the piles were left in the river in such a condition as to injure a vessel when sailing on her course, the railroad company were responsible for the injury.

That the vessel so injured was prosecuting her voyage on Sunday is no defense for the railroad company. The statute of Maryland and the cases upon this point examined.

Where there was conflicting testimony in the court below upon the amount of damages sustained, and there was evidence to sustain the decree, this Court will not reverse the decree merely upon a doubt created by conflicting testimony.

This was a libel filed by one corporation against another corporation in the District Court of Maryland, under the circumstances stated in the opinion of the Court. The district court decreed in favor of the libellants, the appellees, and awarded damages to the amount of $7,000.36. The circuit court, on appeal, affirmed the decree, and the railroad company appealed to this Court.

Page 64 U. S. 214

MR. JUSTICE GRIER delivered the opinion of the Court.

A brief statement of the facts of this case will be sufficient to show the relevancy of the questions to be decided.

The appellants were authorized by a statute of Maryland to construct a railway bridge over the mouth of the Susquehanna River at Havre de Grace. They entered into an agreement with certain contractors to prepare the foundations and erect the piers. In pursuance of their contract, these persons drove

Page 64 U. S. 215

piles into the channel of the river under the direction of the engineers employed by the appellants. Before the completion of the contract, the appellants abandoned their purpose of building the bridge and discharged the contractors. During the progress of the work, the contractors had driven certain piles, called sight piles, into the channel of the river, which were not removed or cut off level with the bottom, but were cut a few feet under the surface of the water, so that they became a hidden and dangerous nuisance. The steamboat Superior, engaged in towing boats between Philadelphia and Havre de Grace, left a port in Maryland on Sunday morning, and soon after came into forcible collision with one or more of these piles. in consequence whereof she suffered great damage, and for which this libel was filed.

The appellants have in this Court insisted chiefly on three points of defense to the charges of the libel:

I. It is contended that the "marine torts" over which courts of admiralty have jurisdiction are trespasses done and committed with force on the sea and navigable waters, such as collision of vessels, assaults &c., and that the placing and leaving the piles in the bed of the river and within the body of a county is a nuisance at common law, and the remedy of the appellees should have been by an action on the case.

The jurisdiction of courts of admiralty in matters of contract depends upon the nature and character of the contract, but in torts it depends entirely on locality. If the wrongs be committed on the high seas or within the ebb and flow of the tide, it has never been disputed that they come within the jurisdiction of that court. Even Lord Coke, 4 Inst. 134 declares "that of contracts, pleas, and querels, made upon the sea or any part thereof, which is not within any county, the admiral hath and ought to have jurisdiction."

Since the case of Waring v. Clark, 5 How. 464, the exception of "infra corpus comitatus" is no longer allowed to prevail. In such cases, the party may have his remedy either in the common law courts or in the admiralty. Nor is the definition of the term "torts," when used in reference to admiralty jurisdiction, confined to wrongs or injuries committed

Page 64 U. S. 216

by direct force. It includes also wrongs suffered in consequence of the negligence or malfeasance of others, where the remedy at common law is by an action on the case. It is a rule of maritime law from the earliest times "that if a ship run foul of an anchor left without a buoy, the person who placed it there shall respond in damages." See Emerigon, vol. 1, p. 417; Consulat de la Mer., chap. 243; and Cleirac 70

In the resolution of the twelve judges in 1632 it was determined in England

"That the courts of admiralty may inquire of and redress all annoyances and obstructions that are or may be any impediment to navigation &c., and injuries done there which concern navigation on the sea."

Hence, "the impinging on an anchor or other injurious impediment negligently left in the way" has always been considered as coming within the category of maritime torts, having their remedy in the courts of admiralty. See 2 Brown Civ. & Adm., 203

The objection to the jurisdiction of the court is therefore not sustained.

II. The testimony showed that the injury to the steamer was caused by her coming in contact with one of the sight piles driven into the channel by the contractors and left in the situation already stated.

This contract is set forth at length. It showed that the contractors were bound to "provide all necessary machinery &c., and to furnish and remove, when done with all scaffolding and piles that may be used while building."

It is contended by the appellants that they are not liable for the negligence which caused this injury, because the piles were not placed in the channel by their servants, but by those of the contractors, and that the case was not altered by the fact that the contractors were directed to do so by the engineers, who were the servants of appellants.

If the contractors had proceeded to complete their contract and left the piles in the condition complained of, this defense to the action might have availed the appellants. But as the driving the piles for the legitimate purpose of the erection was

Page 64 U. S. 217

by authority of the law and in pursuance of the contract, the contractors had done no wrong in placing them there. The nuisance was the result of the negligence in cutting off the piles not at the bottom of the river, but a few feet under the surface of the water. This the contractors were bound to do, after the piles had served their legitimate purpose in the construction of the bridge and after they had completed their contract. But before this, the railroad company determined to discontinue the erection of the bridge. They dismissed the contractors from the further fulfillment of their contract. Under such circumstances, it became the duty of the appellants to take care that all the obstructions to the navigation, which had been placed in the channel by their orders, and for the purpose of their intended erection, should be removed. The nuisance which resulted from leaving the piles in this dangerous condition was the consequence of their own negligence or that of their servants, and not of the contractors.

III. The appellants urge as a further ground of defense that this collision took place on Sunday, shortly after the steamboat had commenced her voyage from a wharf,

"parcel of the territory of Harford County, in the State of Maryland, that the boat was used and employed by her owners in towing canal boats, and that when entering on her voyage, those who had her control and management were engaged in their usual and ordinary work and labor -- the same not being a work of necessity or charity -- contrary to the laws of the State of Maryland."

A statute of Maryland forbids persons

"to work or do any bodily labor, or to willingly suffer any of their servants to do any manner of work or labor on the Lord's day -- works of necessity and charity excepted,"

and a penalty is prescribed for a breach of the law.

It has been urged that there was nothing in this provision inconsistent with any of the laws regulating commerce and that the federal courts should therefore take notice of and conform to the laws of the state.

But assuming this proposition to be true, the inference from it will not follow as a legitimate conclusion, for if we admit

Page 64 U. S. 218

that the master and mariner of a ship or steamboat are liable to the penalty of the act for commencing their voyage from a port in Maryland on Sunday, it by no means follows that the appellants can protect themselves from responding to the owners of the vessel for the damages suffered in consequence of the nuisance.

The law relating to the observance of Sunday defines a duty of a citizen to the state, and to the state only. For a breach of this duty he is liable to the fine or penalty imposed by the statute, and nothing more. Courts of justice have no power to add to this penalty the loss of a ship by the tortious conduct of another, against whom the owner has committed no offense. It is true that in England, after the statute of 29, ch. 2d, forbidding labor on the Lord's day, they have, by a course of decision perhaps too obsequiously followed in this country, undertaken to add to the penalty by declaring void contracts made on that day; but this was only in case of executory contracts, which the courts were invoked to execute. It is true that cases may be found in the State of Massachusetts, see 10 Metcalf 363 and 4 Cushing 322, which, on a superficial view, might seem to favor this doctrine of setoff in cases of tort. But those decisions depend on the peculiar legislation and customs of that state more than on any general principles of justice or law. See the case of Woodman v. Hubbard, 5 Foster 67.

We would refer also to a case very similar in its circumstances to the present in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in which this subject is very fully examined by the learned chief justice of that court, and we concur in his conclusion:

"That we should work a confusion of relations and lend a very doubtful assistance to morality if we should allow one offender against the law to the injury of another to set off against the plaintiff that he too is a public offender."

See Mohney v. Cook, 26 Pa. 342

We do not feel justified, therefore, on any principles of justice, equity, or of public policy, in inflicting an additional penalty of seven thousand dollars on the libellants by way of setoff because their servants may have been subject

Page 64 U. S. 219

to a penalty of twenty shillings each for breach of the statute.

Moreover, the steamboat in this case was sailing on a public river within the ebb and flow of the tide; she had a coasting license and was proceeding from a port in one state to a port in another. Has it ever been decided that a vessel leaving a port on Sunday infringes the state laws with regard to the observance of that day?

We have shown, in an opinion delivered at this term, that in other Christian countries, where the observance of Sundays and other holidays is enforced by both Church and state, the sailing of vessels engaged in commerce, and even their lading and unlading, were classed among the works of necessity, which are excepted from the operation of such laws. This may be said to be confirmed by the usage of all nations, so far, at least, as it concerns commencing a voyage on that day. Vessels engaged in commerce on the sea must take the advantage of favorable winds and weather, and it is well known that sailors for peculiar reasons of their own give a preference to that day of the week over all others for commencing a voyage.

In the case of Ulary v. Washington, Crabbe 208, where a sailor justified his departure from a ship in port because he was compelled to work on Sunday, judge Hopkinson decided "that by the maritime law, sailors could not refuse to work on Sunday -- the nature of the service requires that they should do so."

We have thus disposed of the questions of law raised in this case, and concur with the district and circuit court in their decision of them.

Some objections have been urged to the assessment of damages and their amount.

On this subject there was much contradictory testimony, as usually happens when experts are examined as to matters of professional opinion. The judges of the courts where this question was tried can better judge of the relative value of such conflicting testimony, from their knowledge of places and persons, and they may examine witnesses ore tenus, if they see fit.

Page 64 U. S. 220

There was evidence to support the decree, and we can see no manifest error into which the court below has fallen. Appellants ought not to expect that this Court will reverse a decree merely upon a doubt created by conflicting testimony.

The judgment of the circuit court is affirmed, with costs.

ChanRobles Legal Resources:

ChanRobles On-Line Bar Review

ChanRobles Internet Bar Review :

ChanRobles MCLE On-line

ChanRobles Lawnet Inc. - ChanRobles MCLE On-line :