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IN RE GARNETT, 141 U. S. 1 (1891)

U.S. Supreme Court

In re Garnett, 141 U.S. 1 (1891)

In re Garnett

No. 10, Original

Argued March 9-10, 1891

Decided May 25, 1891

141 U.S. 1


The law of limited liability is part of the maritime law of the United States, and is in force upon navigable rivers above tide water, and applies to enrolled and licensed vessels exclusively engaged in commerce on such a river.

On the second of February, 1891, leave was granted to Mr. Walter Van Rensselaer Berry to file the petition of Garnett, Stubbs & Co. and several others for a writ of prohibition to prohibit the Judge of the District Court of the United States for the Eastern Division of the Southern District of Georgia from proceeding with a suit in admiralty in that court, in which John Lawton, owner of the steamer Katie, had libelled that vessel and summoned the petitioners as defendants. Leave was granted, and the petition was filed, to which was attached a copy of the libel.

It appeared that the Katie was a steamer engaged in the carrying trade between Augusta on the Savannah River and Savannah, on the same river, both in the Georgia; that in October, 1887, she received from the various petitioners,

Page 141 U. S. 2

and from various points along the river, cotton to be transported for each petitioner, and that while making the voyage, she took fire and some of the cotton was burned, and other bales were thrown overboard. The owners or consignees of the cotton which had been damaged or lost brought suits against Lawton, as a common carrier, to recover in each case its value. There were ten actions in all, and their aggregate claims were about sixteen thousand dollars.

Thereupon Lawton filed the libel in question, alleging, as st forth in the petition,

"that the amount sued for in said cases, and the loss and damage happening by means of or by reason of said fire exceeded the value of said steamboat and her freight on said voyage, and that said fire was not caused by any negligence of said libellant or of the master and crew of said steamboat, and that, under the Act of Congress approved March 3, 1851, as amended by the Act of Congress approved June 19, 1886, said libellant was not in any wise liable for said loss or damage; and claiming further, in the event of any liability, the benefit of the limitation provided in the third and fourth sections of said Act of March 3, 1851, a copy of said libel and its 'Exhibits' being hereunto annexed."

The petition further alleged

"That afterwards, to-wit, on the 8th day of March, 1888, an appraisement of said steamboat and freight was had, said steamboat being appraised at $3,300 and the freight at $196.75, making a total of $3,496.75, for which said sum the said John Lawton entered into the usual stipulation on May 4, 1889."

From the answer of the district judge, it appeared that the defendants in the admiralty suit had demurred to the libel and had moved to dismiss the same "because the fourth section of the Act of Congress approved June 19, 1886, is alleged to be unconstitutional," and that the court had overruled the demurrer and dismissed the motion, and ordered the cause to proceed.

This fourth section is as follows:

"Section 4. That section 4289 of the Revised Statutes be amended so as to read as follows:"

" Section 4289. The provisions of the seven preceding sections and of section eighteen of an act entitled 'An act to remove

Page 141 U. S. 3

certain burdens on the American merchant marine and to encourage the American foreign carrying trade, and other purposes,' approved June twenty-sixth, eighteen hundred and eighty-four, relating to the limitations of the liability of the owners of vessels, shall apply to all sea-going vessels, and also to all vessels used on lakes or rivers or in inland navigation, including canal boats, barges, and lighters."

24 Stat. 80, 81.

Page 141 U. S. 8

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