La Amistad De Rues

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La Amistad De Rues by Joseph Story
Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

18 U.S. 385

La Amistad De Rues

APPEAL from the District Court of Louisiana.

This was the case of a Spanish ship captured by the Venezuelan privateer La Guerriere, on the high seas, in November, 1817, and afterwards forcibly taken possession of near the mouth of the Mississippi, by a detachment from the United States ketch Surprise, and brought into the port of New-Orleans. A libel was there filed in the District Court, in behalf of the original Spanish owners, claiming restitution of the property, upon the ground, (among other things,) that the privateer had augmented her crew in the United States, during the cruise, and before the capture. A claim was given in by the original captors, denying the allegations in the libel, and praying restitution of the property as lawfully captured. At the hearing in the District Court, the cause turned almost entirely upon the question of the augmentation of the crew, and the Court decreed restitution of the property to the original Spanish owners with damages, which were ordered to be ascertained by assessors. The assessors reported damages as follows:

To the owners of the ship, for loss by plunder, $625 00

And to the owners of the cargo, for loss of market

by the capture, 4000 00

and loss by plunder, 575 00


In the whole, $5200 00

The report was confirmed by the Court, and damages decreed accordingly. From this decree, the captors appealed to this Court.

     March 8th.

Mr. C. J. Ingersoll, for the appellants, argued upon the facts, to show that there was no sufficient evidence to prove that the privateer had augmented her force in the ports of the United States. He insisted, that the burthen of proof to establish this fact rested with the original Spanish owners, who claimed restitution upon it; and that they had not shown, beyond all reasonable doubt, to the satisfaction of the Court, that the captors had increased their armament in violation of our neutrality. He also argued, that supposing the misconduct on the part of the captors ever so clearly established by the evidence, the jurisdiction of our Courts does not extend to the infliction of vindictive damages for their offence, but is limited by the law of nations to restitution of the specific property illegally captured. To carry it further, would be to assume the entire prize jurisdiction with all its incidents, which is exclusively vested in the Courts of the captor's country. At all events, it is well established, that the probable profits of a voyage is not a fit rule for the assessment of damages in cases of marine torts, and even upon that ground alone the decree must be reversed.

The Attorney-General, contra, insisted, that the evidence of an illegal augmentation of the force of the privateer in our ports, was sufficiently established by the evidence. He argued, that where the neutrality of our ports is violated in this manner, and the property captured is brought within our territory, the Courts of this country, proceeding in rem, are bound not merely to restore the specific property to the original owners, but to restore it with costs and damages, as in an ordinary case of illegal seizure. Being possessed of the principal question of prize or no prize, that necessarily draws after it all incidental questions; and the one is no more an invasion of the exclusive jurisdiction of the belligerent Prize Courts than the other. The neutral tribunal having taken jurisdiction for the purpose of vindicating the neutrality of its own country, by placing things in the same state they would have been in, had not that neutrality been violated,-can only do complete justice between the parties, by inflicting upon the captors such damages as will afford the original owners an indemnity for the loss they have sustained.

     March 14th.

Mr. Justice STORY delivered the opinion of the Court, and, after stating the facts, proceeded as follows.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).