United States v. Taylor (188 U.S. 283)/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion
Billings Brown

United States Supreme Court

188 U.S. 283

United States  v.  Taylor

 Argued: October 27, 28, 1902. --- Decided: February 23, 1903

After the engagement, the Teresa, as she lay shattered on the shore, was not in condition to be sent in for adjudication, and no survey and appraisement were thereupon had, nor was any sale directed by the commanding officer, as provided in § 4615, Revised Statutes (U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 3127); nor was the Teresa taken for, and appropriated to the use of the United States and the value deposited, under § 4624 (U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 3130); nor were proceedings for adjudication commenced under § 4625 (U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 3130), until by this libel. But the attention of the government and of the commanding officer was directed from the first to the question of salvage. The commanding officer was of opinion that the Colon and the Teresa could both be raised and reconstructed, and the government was desirous that this should be done if possible. The proceedings to that end were conducted in perfect good faith, and there was no suggestion that by the attempt to save these ships the government was appropriating them or either of them to its use, within the intent and meaning of the statute. The government argues, and with great force, that the Teresa having been sunk and destroyed to such an extent that the naval force was powerless to save her by its own resources, her legal status as sunk or destroyed became fixed immediately after the engagement, and that nothing but bounty could be recovered. In Dewey's Case ,[[[188 U.S. 254]], 23 Sup. Ct. Rep. 415], we ruled that this was applying too rigid a construction to the statute, and that, if an enemy's vessel of war, sunk in battle, was subsequently raised and reconstructed by the government, she might properly be adjudicated as prize, the result being to let in the captors for prize money after the expense and cost of reconstruction and refitting had been deducted.

But the facts in this case are wholly different. The Teresa was raised and floated, but she was lost before she reached the Norfolk Navy yard, which was the nearest practicable point at whcih she could be reconstructed.

We cannot concur in the view that the United States appropriated the Teresa to its own use within the meaning of the statute, by attempting, with the advice and concurrence of the captors, to save her, or by the mere act of raising, and as soon as she floated, for that was only a step in the effort at salvage, and until salvage was accomplished, she was not appropriated to use. And this is true of the Colon, though the effort to salve her was given up before she floated.

Libellant's counsel agree with counsel for the government that the question of prize or no prize must be determined as of the close of the engagement on July 3, 1898, but they contend that the Teresa was not sunk or destroyed as she lay stranded on the beach, and in her then condition could have been condemned as prize; that the Secretary of the Navy, in arranging to salve her, acted voluntarily, and 'without the knowledge of the captors;' and that the latter, at least, yielded to his superior authority.

The statute makes no provision for adjudicating wrecks as prize. By § 4625 (U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 3130) proceedings may be had in respect of proceeds of property appraised and sold, in respect of the value of property appropriated to use, and in respect of property entirely lost or destroyed.

In this case there was no appraisal and sale; there was no appropriation to the use of the government in the meaning of the statute; the vessel had not been in condition to be sent in, and then been 'entirely lost or destroyed.'

And it must be remembered that the Teresa could never have been raised and saved by the captors alone. Yet her salvability seems to have been generally conceded. The commanding officer took no measures to have the wreck appraised and sold, but concurred with the government in the effort at salvage. In doing so he represented all who would have been interested if the ship had been saved, and while the chance of obtaining considerable prize money was quite good, no risk was run of losing bounty by taking that chance.

The government acted with due prudence in employing persons whose business it was to do such work, to raise and deliver the vessel at the Norfolk Navy yard. If no attempt had been made, the vessel would finally have gone to pieces where she lay.

Salvors are not held responsible for a loss when attempting salvage in good faith, and with reasonable judgment and skill (The Laura, 14 Wall. 336, sub nom. Norcross v. The Laura, 20 L. ed. 814), and we know of no reason why the government should be held to a more rigorous accountability, even if it could, in any case, be regarded from the standpoint of a mere salvor of the property of another.

Where a hostile vessel of war has been so far destroyed that she cannot be brought in by the naval force which reduced her to that condition, but she is raised, reconstructed, and appropriated to use by the government, the statute may be so construed as to permit the application of the doctrine of relation; but this case does not come within that view, and the claim for prize money in respect of the wreck itself is not sanctioned by the act of Congress. But libellants did not waive their right to bounty be seeking to recover prize money, and to bounty they are still entitled.

As to the property taken from the Teresa and the other wrecks, its disposition must follow the rule laid down in United States v. Dewey.

In our opinion the words 'ship or vessel of war belonging to an enemy,' as employed in § 4635 (U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 3134), covered armament, outfit, and appurtenances, including provisions, money to pay the crew or for necessary expenditures, everything necessary to be used for the purposes of the vessel, and as a vessel of war.

The grant of prize money and the grant of bounty were distinct grants, and the applicable general rule ought not to be deprived of its force by particular exceptions.

The decree is reversed, without costs in this court, and the cause remanded, with a direction to dismiss the libel.

Mr. Justice Brown, with whom was Mr. Justice Brewer, dissenting:


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).