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OTIS V. WALTER, 15 U. S. 18 (1817)

U.S. Supreme Court

Otis v. Walter, 15 U.S. 2 Wheat. 18 18 (1817)

Otis v. Walter

15 U.S. (2 Wheat.) 18


In seizures under the embargo laws, the law itself is a sufficient justification to the seizing officer where the discharge of duty is the real motive, and not the pretext for detention, and it is not necessary to show probable cause.

But the Embargo Act of 25 April, 1808, related only to vessels ostensibly bound to some port in the United States, and a seizure after the termination of the voyage is unjustifiable, and no further detention of the cargo is lawful than what is necessarily dependent on the detention of the vessel.

It is not indispensable to the termination of a voyage that the vessel should arrive at the terminus of her original destination, but it may be produced by stranding, stress of weather, or any other cause inducing her to enter another port with a view to terminate her voyage bona fide.

But if a vessel not actually arriving at her port of original destination excites an honest suspicion in the mind of the collector that her demand of a permit to land the cargo was merely colorable, this is not a termination of the voyage so ss to preclude the right of detention.

Page 15 U. S. 19

This was an action of trover brought in the state court in which Walter, the plaintiff in that court, recovered of Otis, the defendant in that court, damages for the conversion of sundry articles constituting the cargo of a vessel called the Ten Sisters. The defendant in the court below, collector of the port of Barnstable in Massachusetts, had detained the vessel under suspicion of an intention to violate the embargo laws, particularly the Act of 25 April, 1808, sec. 6. and 11. The vessel sailed from Ipswich with a cargo of flour, tar, and rice in order to carry the same to Barnstable or to a place called Bass River in Yarmouth, and proceeded to Hyannis, in the Collection District of Barnstable. On her arrival there, the master applied to the collector for a permit to land the cargo, which was refused by the latter, who shortly afterwards seized and detained the vessel under the above-mentioned acts. This detention was given in evidence as a defense to the action under the general issue, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts instructed the jury

"that the said several matters and things so allowed and proved

Page 15 U. S. 20

were not sufficient to bar the plaintiff of his said action, nor did they constitute or amount to any defense whatever in the action,"

&c. Whereupon the jury found a verdict, and the court rendered a judgment for the plaintiff.

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