THE SAN PEDRO(1912)
[223 U.S. 365, 366] Messrs. William Denman and Charles Page for appellant.
[223 U.S. 365, 368] Messrs. Aldis B. Browne, Alexander Britton, Evans Browne, J. N. Gillett, F. A. Cutler, and F. R. Sweasey for appellees.
Mr. Justice Lurton delivered the opinion of the court:
In an independent libel proceeding instituted in the [223 U.S. 365, 371] district court by the owner of the steamer George W. Elder, against the Metropolitan Lumber Company, the claimant of the steamer San Pedro, the libellant recovered a decree for services rendered in towing her to port after she had been injured in a collision with the steamer Columbia, off the coast of California. This decree was rendered at a time when there was pending in the same court a separate proceeding for limitation of liability, brought by the Metropolitan Lumber Company, as owner of the San Pedro.
Before coming to the substantial questions, we may notice certain objections to any judgment which shall operate to set aside the decree in favor of the appellees. It is said that the appellant does not assail the decree in respect to its merits or the amount of the allowance; that nothing but further delay, expense, and inconvenience will result if appellees are required to present and again prove the claim in the liability cause; and, finally, it is said that the pendency of the other suit was not pleaded until the case was about to be heard upon immaterial objections to the commissioner's report.
Conceding all that can be said about the expense, delay, and inconvenience which will result if the salvage claimants are to be required to present their claim in the limited-liability case, yet far greater confusion must result if such objections are enough to defeat the manifest object of the fifty-fourth rule. This court, in furtherance of the apparent purpose of Congress to limit the liability of vessel owners ( Revised Statutes, 4283-4285, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, pp. 2943, 2944), has, by that rule, prescribed how an owner may avail himself of the benefit of the statute. The very nature of the proceeding is such that it must be exclusive of any separate suit against an owner on account of the ship. The monition which issues when the vessel has been surrendered, and a stipulation entered into to pay the value into court, requires every person to assert his claim in that case. [223 U.S. 365, 372] The appellant, owner of the San Pedro, appears to have proceeded strictly in compliance with the fifty-fourth admiralty rule. There was a due appraisement of the San Pedro and her pending freight, and a stipulation entered into, with sureties, for the value so appraised, and a monition duly issued, requiring all persons to present their claims and make proof. In that situation, the jurisdiction of the court to hear and determine every claim in that proceeding became exclusive. It was then the duty of every other court, Federal or state, to stop all further proceedings in separate suits upon claims to which the limited-liability act applied.
Nor is the issuance of an injunction necessary to stop proceedings in separate or independent suits upon such claims. Power to grant an injunction exists under 4285, Revised Statutes, when necessary to maintain the exclusiveness of the jurisdiction; but when the procedure provided by rule 54 has been followed and a monition has issued 'against all persons claiming damages . . . citing them to appear before said court and make proof of their respective claims,' etc., it is the duty of every other court, when the pendency of such a liability petition is pleaded, to stop. The very nature of the proceeding and the monition has the effect of a statutory injunction. Indeed, that is the express declaration of the statute.
The view we take of the statutory injunction declared by 4285, Revised Statutes, and of its application to cases where the vessel has been surrendered and a stipulation entered into, as provided by admiralty rule 54, as a proceeding tantamount to a 'transfer' of the ship, as authorized by 4285, Revised Statutes, is fully supported by the leading case of Providence & N. Y. S. S. Co. v. Hill Mfg. Co. 109 U.S. 578, 594 , 599 S., 600 and 601, 27 L. ed. 1038, 1044, 1046, 1047, 3 Sup. Ct. Rep. 379, 617. That was a suit in a state court against the owner of a steamship to recover for goods lost by the burning of a steamer. While the suit was pending, the owner filed his petition [223 U.S. 365, 373] in the proper district court for the benefit of the limited-liability statute. The proceedings seem to have been conducted in accordance with admiralty rule 54, but, in addition, the petitioners made application, as permitted by that rule, for an order restraining the prosecution of 'all and any suits' against the owner in respect of claims subject to the provisions of the act. The owner and defendant in the suit pending in the state court thereupon, by plea, set up the limited-liability suit as a reason why the state court should proceed no further. This was overruled. Later the defendant therein pleaded the final decree in the liability suit as a bar to any decree in the state court against him, as owner. This, too, was disregarded, and a decree rendered against the owner for the claim for damages caused by the burning of the steamer and the plaintiff's goods. This was affirmed in the supreme judicial court of Massachusetts, and brought here upon writ of error. After a consideration of the meaning and purpose of the limited-liability act of 1851 [9 Stat. at L. 635, chap. 43, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, pp. 2943, 2944], 4283, 4284, and 4285, Revised Statutes, and of admiralty rule 54, the court said:
Later, the court added:
... * *
It was urged in that case that by virtue of 720, Revised Statutes ( U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 581), the district court had no authority to issue an injunction. But as to this, the court said:
But after an intimation that 720 did not apply, the court added:
But it is contended that a salvage claim, such as the one here involved, is not a claim for 'damages or injury by collision,' within the meaning of 4283, Revised Statutes, and therefore not one to which the limited-liability act applies; that the damages there referred to are damages by collision to other vessels and their cargo, and that the expense of being towed to port is a claim like one for repairs. It is also said that even if the vessel owners may be able to include what they must pay for such a service in the damages recoverable from the guilty vessel, it is, notwithstanding, not a damage arising from collision, within the meaning of that section.
But we need not consider whether the claim is one against the owner of the character described either in [223 U.S. 365, 376] 4283 or the succeeding section, 4284. Those sections have been amended by the 18th section of the act of June 26, 1884 [23 Stat. at L. 57, chap. 121 U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 2945], so as to include 'any or all debts and liabilities' of the owner, incurred on account of the ship, without his privity or fault. Richardson v. Harmon, 222 U.S. 96 , 56 L. ed. 110, 32 Sup. Ct. Rep. 27.
The service was rendered to the res, benefiting alike owner and creditors. The claim is therefore of a highly meritorious character. But the question of preference in payment out of the fund is one to be determined in the limited-liability case. We therefore express no opinion as to whether such a claim may be preferred or must share pro rata with others.
The court below erred in proceeding to render a decree after the pendency of the suit for a limitation of liability was pleaded.
Decree reversed and remanded, with directions to dismiss the libel.