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U.S. Supreme Court

Insurance Company v. Dunham, 78 U.S. 11 Wall. 1 1 (1870)

Insurance Company v. Dunham

78 U.S. (11 Wall.) 1


1. The admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States is not limited by the statutes or judicial prohibitions of England.

First. The locus, or territory, of maritime jurisdiction where torts must be committed and where business must be transacted in order to be maritime in their character extends not only to the main sea, but to all the navigable waters of the United States or bordering on the same, whether land-locked or open, salt or fresh, tide or no tide.

Secondly. As to contracts, the true criterion whether they are within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction is their nature and subject matter, as whether they are maritime contracts, having reference to maritime service, maritime transactions, or maritime casualties, without regard to the place where they were made.

In view of these principles, it was held that the contract of marine insurance is a maritime contract within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, though not within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States courts.

2. The case of De Lovio v. Boit, 2 Gallison 398, affirmed.

3. This Court has jurisdiction, under the act of 1801, of a certificate of division of opinion between the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and the circuit judge, together holding the circuit court, under the act of 1869, as well as between either of the said judges and the district judge.

Page 78 U. S. 2

The act of Congress of April 29, 1802, [Footnote 1] provides that

"Whenever any question shall occur before a circuit court upon which the opinions of the judges shall be opposed, the point upon which the disagreement shall happen shall, during the same term, upon the request of either party or their counsel, be stated under the direction of the judges and certified under the seal of the court to the Supreme Court at their next session to be held thereafter, and shall by the said Court be finally decided."

At the time when this statute was passed, the circuit court, when consisting of more than a single judge, was composed of a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States and the District judge of the district sitting together, and this organization remained until April 10, 1869.

By Act of that day [Footnote 2] "to amend the judicial system of the United States," it was enacted:

"That for each of the nine existing judicial circuits there shall be appointed a circuit judge, who shall reside in his circuit and shall possess the same power and jurisdiction therein as the Justice of the Supreme Court allotted to the circuit. The circuit courts in each circuit shall be held by the Justice of the Supreme Court allotted to the circuit, or by the circuit judge of the circuit; or by the district judge, or by the Justice of the Supreme Court and circuit judge sitting together, . . . or, in the absence of either of them, by the other . . . and the district judge."

In this state of enactment, a libel in personam had been filed in the District Court for the District of Massachusetts by one Dunham against the New England Mutual Marine Insurance Company, on a policy of insurance dated at Boston on the 2d day of March, 1863, whereby the insurance company, a corporation of Massachusetts, agreed to insure Dunham, the libellant, a citizen of New York, in the sum of $10,000, for whom it might concern, on a vessel called

Page 78 U. S. 3

the Albina for one year against the perils of the seas and other perils in the policy mentioned, and the libellant alleged that within the year the said vessel was run into by another vessel on the high seas through the negligence of those navigating the said other vessel and sustained much damage, and that the libellant had expended large sums of money in repairing the same of which he claimed payment of the insurance company.

The question was whether the district court, sitting in admiralty, had jurisdiction to entertain a libel in personam on a policy of marine insurance to recover for a loss.

The Constitution ordains, it will be remembered, that

"The judicial power shall extend . . . to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction."

And the Judiciary Act of 1789, which established the district courts, declares that they shall have

"exclusive original cognizance of all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction . . . saving to suitors in all cases the right of a common law remedy where the common law is competent to give it."

The district court decreed in favor of the libellant, and the insurance company appealed to the circuit court. The judges of that court were opposed in opinion on the point raised, and it was accordingly certified to this Court. Two questions were thus before this Court:

1. Whether since the reorganization of the circuit courts under the act of 1869, a difference of opinion between a judge of the Supreme Court and "the circuit judge," created by that act, sitting as the circuit court, could be certified to this Court under the act of 1802.

2. If it could, what was the proper answer to be returned to the question certified? Had the district court, sitting in admiralty, jurisdiction to entertain the libel in this case, the same being a libel in personam on a policy of marine insurance to recover for a loss?

The latter question was the one to which the briefs of counsel were directed.

Page 78 U. S. 21

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