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U.S. Supreme Court

Steamship Company v. Joliffe, 69 U.S. 2 Wall. 450 450 (1864)

Steamship Company v. Joliffe

69 U.S. (2 Wall.) 450


1. When a right has arisen upon a contract or a transaction in the nature of a contract authorized by statute and has been so far perfected that nothing remains to be done by the party asserting it, the repeal of the statute does not affect it or an action for its enforcement. It has become a vested right, which stands independent of the statute.

Ex. gr., where a pilot, licensed under a statute, had tendered his services to pilot a vessel out of port and such services were refused, his claim to the half-pilotage fees, allowed by the statute in such cases, became perfect, and the subsequent repeal of the statute does not affect a judgment rendered in an action brought to recover the claim, or the jurisdiction of this Court to view the judgment on writ of error.

2. The Act of Congress of August 30, 1852, "to amend an act entitled An act to provide for the better security of the lives of passengers on board of vessels propelled in whole or in part by steam," does not establish pilot regulations for polls; its object is to provide a system under which the masters and owners of vessels, propelled in whole or in part by steam, may be required to employ competent pilots to navigate such vessels on their voyage.

3. The Act of the State of California of May 20, 1861, entitled "An act to establish pilots and pilot regulations for the port of San Francisco," is not in conflict with it.

This was a suit involving the subject of the passage by a state and by the United States of laws regulating port pilots, and raised the question whether the United States had, by enactment, in A.D. 1852, regulated pilotage generally. The case, a decision of which, it was understood, would settle several cases like it, was thus:

In 1787, when the Constitution of the United States was adopted, the different states had each laws of their own for the regulation of pilots and pilotage. By the Constitution, power was given to Congress "to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states." In 1789, Congress passed a law enacting, that

"All pilots in the bays, inlets, rivers, harbors, and ports of the United States shall continue to be regulated in conformity with the existing laws of the states, respectively, wherein such pilots may be, or with such laws as the states may respectively hereafter enact for the purpose, until further legislative provision

Page 69 U. S. 451

shall be made by Congress. [Footnote 1]"

With the single exception of a law of 1837, [Footnote 2] by which it is made

"lawful for the master or any commander of a vessel, coming in or going out of any port situate upon the waters which are the boundary between two states, to employ any pilot licensed by the laws of either of the states,"

no other legislation on the subject was had until the 30th of August, 1852. An act was then passed entitled

"An act to amend an act entitled 'An act to provide for the better security of the lives of passengers on board of vessels, propelled in whole or in part by steam, and for other purposes.' [Footnote 3]"

It consists of forty-four sections. Its first declares that no license shall issue until the provisions of the act are complied with,

"and if any such vessel shall be navigated with passengers on board without complying with the terms of the act, the owner and vessel shall be subjected to penalties set forth."

Succeeding sections relate to precautions as to fire -- pumps, hose, life boats and life preservers, buckets, floats, axes, safety valves, plugs &c., the means of escape from the lower deck, the carrying of gunpowder, camphene, turpentine, and other dangerous articles, and the stowage thereof when carried, and then the act (§ 9) provides,

"That instead of the existing provisions of law for the inspection of steamers and their equipment, and instead of the present system of pilotage of such vessels and the present mode of employing engineers on board the same,"

certain regulations shall be observed, to-wit, the collectors, supervising inspector, and district judge of the several designated judicial districts, within which are important commercial ports, are to appoint inspectors, who are empowered and required to perform various duties, specified in the subdivisions following, the first six of which provide for the examination and testing the hull and the boilers and machinery, the certificate of approval, the license to carry gunpowder &c., and the keeping of a record of their certificates and licenses, and the

Page 69 U. S. 452

seventh subdivision provides, that the inspectors shall license and classify all engineers and pilots of steamers carrying passengers. San Francisco is included among the ports where inspectors are to be.

The ninth enacts that

"When any person claiming to be a skillful pilot for any such vessel shall offer himself for a license, the said board shall make diligent inquiry as to his character and merits, and if satisfied that he possesses the requisite skill and is trustworthy and faithful, they shall give him a certificate to that effect, licensing him for one year, to be a pilot of any such vessel within the limit prescribed in the certificate."

Subdivision ten enacts that it shall be unlawful for any person to employ or any person to serve as engineer or pilot on any such vessel who is not licensed by the inspectors. It nevertheless provides

"That if a vessel leaves her port with a complement of engineers and pilots, and on her voyage is deprived of their services &c., the deficiency may be supplied without penalty."

Section twenty speaks of the "master, engineer, pilot, or owner."

Section thirty-eight provides that all engineers and pilots of any such vessel shall, before entering upon their duties, make solemn oath that they will faithfully perform all the duties required of them by the act.

The act is full. Reports of pilots' names from port to port, except as to San Francisco, and signals are provided for. Parts of laws inconsistent with the act are repealed.

With this statute of the United States in force, the State of California, in 1861, [Footnote 4] passed "An act to establish pilots and pilot regulations for the port of San Francisco." This statute created a Board of Pilot Commissioners and authorized the board to license such number of pilots for the port as it might deem necessary, and prescribed their qualifications, duties, and compensation. It made it a misdemeanor, punishable by fine or imprisonment, for any person not having a license from the board, to pilot any vessel in or out of the port by the way (called the Heads) which leads to

Page 69 U. S. 453

and from the ocean. It enacted that

"All vessels, their tackle, apparel, and furniture, and the masters and the owners thereof shall be jointly and severally liable for pilotage fees, to be recovered in any court of competent jurisdiction."

And it declared that when a vessel was spoken by a pilot and his services declined, he should be entitled to one-half pilotage fees except when the vessel was in tow of a steam tug outward bound, in which case no charge should be made unless a pilot should be actually employed.

In this condition of statutes, national and state, one Joliffe, a pilot commissioned under the statute of California spoke the steamship Golden Gate, an American registered steamer (owned by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company) and exclusively employed in navigating the ocean and carrying passengers and treasure between San Francisco and Panama, then being in the port of San Francisco and about to proceed to sea, and offered his services (he being the first pilot that did so) to pilot her out. The vessel had upon her no pilot licensed under the act of Congress. The master declined to receive his services, and the pilot brought a suit in the Justices' Court of California, against the Steamship Company for half-pilotage.

The claim was opposed on two grounds:

1. That the statute of California was in conflict with the already mentioned Act of Congress of 30th of August, 1852.

2. That it was therefore, and for other reasons, repugnant to the provisions of the federal Constitution giving to Congress the power to regulate commerce.

The court below thought otherwise, and accordingly gave judgment for $52 against the Company, a judgment subsequently affirmed in the County Court of the City and County of San Francisco, "the highest court" of law in which a judgment or review could be had in the case in the State of California. The correctness of this judgment was the point brought up in error from below. [Footnote 5]

Page 69 U. S. 454

A new point, however, arose in this Court. The case had been called at the last term, when, it being suggested that the constitutionality of the statute of the State of California would be involved in the consideration, a decision was suspended until the State of California could be represented. The attorney general of the state now accordingly appeared and filed a brief. After the action of the court as just stated, the Legislature of California passed a new statute on the subject of pilots and pilot regulations for the port of San Francisco, reenacting in substance the provisions of the original act, but at the same time in terms repealing that act.

The new act was more extensive, however, in its operation than the old one, for it embraced within its provisions the ports of Mare Island and Benicia as well as the port of San Francisco. It created a Board of Pilot Examiners for the three ports in place of the Board of Commissioners for the port of San Francisco, and it prohibited the issue of licenses to anyone disloyal to the government of the United States. The new point now accordingly made in this Court -- one by the Attorney General of California -- was that, by reason of the repeal, the present action could not be maintained, his position being that as the claim to half-pilotage fees was given by the statute, the right to recover it fell with its repeal; that this Court accordingly would be obliged on that ground to dismiss the writ of error.

Page 69 U. S. 455

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