Lord v. Steamship Company

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

102 U.S. 541

Lord  v.  Steamship Company

ERROR to the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of California.

Sects. 4283 and 4289 of the Revised Statutes are as follows:

'SECT. 4283. The liability of the owner of any vessel, for any embezzlement, loss, or destruction, by any person, of any property, goods, or merchandise, shipped or put on board of such vessel, or for any loss, damage, or injury by collision, or for any act, matter, or thing lost, damage or forfeiture done, occasioned, or incurred, without the privity or knowledge of such owner or owners, shall in no case exceed the amount of the value of the interest of such owner in such vessel, and her freight then pending.'

'SECT. 4289. The provision of the seven preceding sections relating to the limitation of the liability of the owners of vessels shall not apply to the owners of any canal-boat, barge, or lighter, or to any vessel of any description whatsoever used in rivers or inland navigation.'

Sect. 4283 was one of the seven sections referred to in sect. 4289.

The steamship 'Ventura,' owned by the defendant in error, the Goodall, Nelson, and Perkins Steamship Company, was employed in navigation between San Francisco and San Diego, in the State of California, touching at the intermediate ports on the coast. In making her voyages she ran a distance of four hundred and eighty miles on the Pacific Ocean. She formed part of a transportation line which was largely engaged in foreign and inter-state commerce, but was herself only employed on her own route, and neither took on nor put off goods outside of the State of California. While on one of her regular voyages from San Francisco to San Diego she was totally lost, with all her pending freight and cargo, on the coast of California, without the privity or knowledge of her owner. This suit was brought against her owner as a common carrier to recover the value of the goods lost. The cargo was mostly owned by retail merchants in San Diego and other places in California who had made purchases for their business from wholesale merchants in San Francisco and was in transit from there. The steamship company pleaded its exemption from liability as owner of the vessel under sect. 4283 of the Revised Statutes. On the trial the court instructed the jury 'that if the jury believed that the said losses occurred solely by reason of the negligence of the master of said ship and without the privity or knowledge or neglect of said defendant, that said sect. 4283 of the Revised Statutes fully exonerated the defendant from liability for any such losses, notwithstanding the goods when lost were being transported on a journey, the final termini of which were different points in the State of California.' To this charge an exception was duly taken. The jury found in favor of the defendant, and judgment was rendered accordingly. To reverse that judgment the present writ of error was sued out.

Mr. Samuel F. Leib and Mr. Charles A. Kent, for the plaintiff in error.

Sect. 4283 of the Revised Statutes has no application to the case at bar, for it has repeatedly been held that the clause of the Constitution conferring upon Congress the power to 'regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes,' does not authorize that body to exercise any control over the purely internal commerce of a State. Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1; License Cases, 5 How. 504; Passenger Cases, 7 id. 283; Allen v. Newberry, 21 id. 244; Maguire v. Card, id. 248; Sinnot v. Davenport, 22 id. 227; Moore v. American Transportation Co., 24 id. 1; United States v. Holliday, 3 Wall. 407; License Tax Cases, 5 id. 462; Steamship Company v. Port Wardens, 6 id. 31; Woodruff v. Parham, 8 id. 123; United States v. Dewitt, 9 id. 41; The Daniel Ball, 10 id. 557; State Tonnage Tax Cases, 12 id. 204; Case of the State Freight Tax, 15 id. 232; Peet v. Morgan, 19 id. 581; The Seneca, 1 Biss. 371; The Tug Oconto, 5 id. 463, and cases cited; The Mary Washington, 1 Abb. (U.S.) 1; The James Morrison, 1 Newb. Adm. 241; Sears v. The Board, &c., 36 Ind. 270; Navigation Company v. Dwyer, 29 Tex. 382; Story, Const., sect. 1061.

Congress did not, in passing sect. 4283 of the Revised Statute, attempt or intend to exercise any power over the internal commerce of a State. Its object was to regulate an instrument of commerce over which it had undoubted control.


Mr. John E. Ward, contra.


MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WAITE, after stating the facts, delivered the opinion of the court.

Notes[edit]

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).