The Keokuk/Opinion of the Court
|The Keokuk by
Opinion of the Court
It is a principle of maritime law that the owner of the cargo has a lien on the vessel for any injury he may sustain by the fault of the vessel or the master; but the law creates no lien on a vessel as a security for the performance of a contract to transport a cargo until some lawful contract of affreightment is made, and the cargo to which it relates has been delivered to the custody of the master or some one authorized to receive it.  The inquiry then arises whether there was any contract to carry the wheat in question, and, if so, was the barge containing it delivered to the custody of the steamer? It is very clear, had the steamer taken the barge in tow, the lien would have attached, although the bills of lading were not executed, because the act of towing the barge would be evidence that the grain was received, and that there was a contract to carry it safely. And the steamer would be equally liable if the barge had been left at the landing by the fault of the officers of the boat. But the evidence not only fails to prove this, but establishes the contrary conclusion. The only witness on the part of the libellant, whose testimony has any bearing on the subject, is his bookkeeper. He says, that on the night in question he gave to the second clerk of the steamer, who was on the levee checking freight, two bills of lading, with the statement (of this he is not positive), 'These are the bills of that barge,' to which the clerk made some assenting remark. But the clerk denies that he knew the contents of the papers when handed to him, or that anything was said at the time from which he could infer their contents. And his subsequent conduct shows that the observation of the bookkeeper, if any was made, failed to arrest his attention; for he put the papers in his pocket and remained on the levee until he had completed his work, and afterwards, without examining them, placed them in the condition in which they were received by him on the desk of the first clerk.
If he is not mistaken in his recollection, that the first clerk was present on the occasion, and that he told him 'here are the bills' (which is very doubtful from the evidence), yet it is manifest the first clerk attached no importance to the bills, for he did not notice them until after daylight, when the Keokuk was far on her way to La Crosse. Each clerk, doubtless, acted on the supposition that the other knew to what particular freight the bills related, but it seems both were equally uninformed concerning them. It is not pretended that in any other way than this, was any information conveyed to any one connected with the boat of the intended shipment of grain by the libellant. Neither the master, nor any person on the steamer, or in the employment of the company, had notice that he had taken the barge and loaded it with grain, or that he contemplated doing so. If it be conceded the course of business between the two parties justified him in taking possession of the barge and loading it, without the direct permission of the master, yet it falls far short of showing that the barge, when loaded, was considered in the custody of the steamer without notice to any of her officers. Indeed, it would be unreasonable to suppose the parties dealt with each other on any such understanding, for it would place the advantage altogether on the side of the shipper, who would be relieved of care and risk as soon as the barge was filled with grain, and the master could exercise no discretion about receiving it.
As there was, then, no agreement in this case which changed the legal rights of the parties, it is clear the steamer is not subject to a maritime lien. The wheat and barge were, at the time of the accident, in the control of the libellant, and their custody was not changed by handing unsigned bills of lading to the second clerk of the steamer, who did not know their contents, nor had any reason to suppose they related to the barge Farley. It was the misfortune of the libellant that he transacted his business so loosely, and if it be the corporation is somewhat to blams for this, the steamer has not on that account committed any fault for which she is chargeable in admiralty. As no one in her behalf contracted with the libellant to transport the barge to La Crosse, and as he did nothing to transfer the possession to the steamer, the libel cannot be sustained.
The case of Bulkley v. Naumkeag Cotton Company is cited in opposition to the views we have presented, but it is not applicable. There the goods were delivered to a lighter in the control of the ship; here the shipper took control of the barge, and did not deliver either barge or cargo to the steamer.
The decree of the Circuit Court is REVERSED, and this cause is remanded to that court with directions to
DISMISS THE LIBEL.
^3 Schooner Freeman v. Buckingham, 18 Howard, 188.
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