Search Supreme Court Cases

HOBART V. DROGAN, 35 U. S. 108 (1836)

U.S. Supreme Court

Hobart v. Drogan, 35 U.S. 10 Pet. 108 108 (1836)

Hobart v. Drogan

35 U.S. (10 Pet.) 108


Salvage. The brig Hope, with a valuable cargo, had been conducted in the evening by a pilot inside of Mobile Point, where pilots of the outer harbor usually leave vessels which they pilot inside of that bar. The pilot was discharged, and the Hope proceeded up the Bay of Mobile. The wind soon after changed, blew a violent gale from the northwest, both anchors parted, and the Hope was driven on a shoal outside of the point among the east breakers. The gale increased to a hurricane and forced the vessel on her beam-ends, and her masts and bowsprit were cut away. The master and crew deserted her to save their lives. After various fruitless efforts to save her, the libellants, all pilots of the outer harbor of Mobile, two days after she was stranded and while yet in great peril, succeeded, and she was brought up to the City of Mobile by them, towed by their pilot boat, assisted by a steamboat employed by them. On a libel for salvage, the District Court of the United States for the District of Alabama allowed as salvage one-third of $15,299 58, the appraised value of the brig and cargo. The owners of the brig and cargo appealed to this Court.

The amount of salvage allowed by the district court is certainly not, under the circumstances of the case, unreasonable. This Court is not in the habit of revising such decrees as to the amount of salvage unless upon some clear and palpable mistake, or gross overallowance of the court below. It is equally against sound policy and public convenience to encourage appeals of this sort in matters of discretion unless there has been some violation of the just principles which ought to regulate the subject.

Suits for pilotage on the high seas and on waters navigable from the sea as far as the tide ebbs and flows are within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States. The service is strictly maritime, and falls within the principles already established by this Court in the case of Thomas Jefferson, 10 Wheat. 428, and Peyroux v. Howard, 6 Pet. 682.

The jurisdiction of the district courts of the United States in cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction is not ousted by the adoption of the state laws by the act of Congress. The only effect is to leave the jurisdiction concurrent in the state courts, and, if the party should sue in the admiralty, to limit his recovery to the same precise sum to which he would be entitled under the state laws, adopted by Congress, if he should sue in the state courts.

A pilot, while acting within the strict line of his duty, however he may entitle himself to extraordinary pilotage compensation for extraordinary services, as contradistinguished from ordinary pilotage for ordinary services, cannot be entitled to claim salvage. In this respect he is not distinguished from any other officer, public or private, acting within the appropriate sphere of his duty. But a pilot, as such, is not disabled, in virtue of his office, from becoming a salvor. On the contrary, whenever he performs salvage services beyond the line of his appropriate duties or under circumstances to which those duties do not justly attach, he stands in the same

Page 35 U. S. 109

relation to the property as any other salvor -- that is, with a title to compensation to the extent of the merit of his services viewed in the light of a liberal public policy.

Seamen, in the ordinary course of things in the performance of their duties, are not allowed to become salvors, whatever may have been the perils or hardships or gallantry of their services in saving the ship and cargo. Extraordinary events may occur in which their connection with the ship may be dissolved de facto or by operation of law, or they may exceed their proper duty, in which cases they may be permitted to claim as salvors.

It is not within the scope of the positive duties of a pilot to go to the rescue of a wrecked vessel and employ himself in saving her or her cargo when she was wholly unnavigable. That is a duty entirely distinct in its nature, and no more belonging to a pilot than it would be to supply such a vessel with masts or sails, or to employ lighters to discharge her cargo in order to float her. It is properly a salvage service, involving duties and responsibilities for which his employment may peculiarly fit him, but yet in no sense included in the duty of navigating the ship.

This was a case where the libellants acted as salvors, and not as pilots. They had at the time no particular relation to the distressed ship. They proffered useful services as volunteers, without any preexisting covenant that connected them with the duty of employing themselves for her preservation. The duties they undertook were far beyond any belonging to pilots and precisely those belonging to salvors.

The ship Hope was bound to Mobile from Havana in January, 1832, with a cargo of fruit, sugar, coffee, segars, and tobacco. She arrived off the port of Mobile on 24 January, 1832, took a pilot, and was carried safely within Mobile Point to a place at which the pilots are usually discharged; the pilot then left her, and she proceeded some distance up the bay and came to anchor about six miles within Mobile Point.

In the night, the wind rose to a powerful gale, in the course of which the brig parted her cables and was driven by the force of the winds and waves below Mobile Point, where she grounded. The master and crew, in order to save their lives, took to the boat and left the brig and cargo.

The vessel remained grounded for some time in great peril, having bilged, and having four feet water in her hold. The libellants, who were pilots of the outer harbor of Mobile, after having, without success, made previous efforts to board her, at length succeeded, and less than half an hour afterwards, the wind having changed, the vessel and cargo floated off and the libellants took her in charge. Had not the libellants been on board

Page 35 U. S. 110

the Hope at the time the wind changed, she would have been driven on the opposite shore and would, with her cargo, in the opinion of the witnesses examined in the district court, have been totally lost. She was towed by the boats of the libellants into the port of Mobile.

The libellants proceeded for salvage against the Hope and cargo, and the district court awarded to them, as salvage, one-third of the value of the ship and cargo. The total value of the property saved was $15,299.58.

The owners appealed to this Court.

Page 35 U. S. 117

Powered by Justia US Supreme Court Center: HOBART V. DROGAN, 35 U. S. 108 (1836)

Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.