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JENNINGS V. CARSON, 8 U. S. 2 (1807)

U.S. Supreme Court

Jennings v. Carson, 8 U.S. 4 Cranch 2 2 (1807)

Jennings v. Carson

8 U.S. (4 Cranch) 2


The owner of a privateer capturing neutral property is not liable to a decree of restitution unless the property or its proceeds came to his hands.

The district courts of the United States are courts of prize, and have power to carry into effect the sentences of the old continental courts of appeals in prize causes.

In all proceedings in rem, the court has a right to order the thing to be taken into custody of the law, and it is to be presumed to be in custody of the law unless the contrary appears.

The thing does not follow the appeal into the superior court, but remains in the court below, which has a right to order it to be sold, if perishable, notwithstanding the appeal.

By the Judicial Act, the district courts of the United States are also courts of admiralty, and no law has regulated their practice. Yet they proceed according to the general rules of the admiralty.

It must be supposed that a court of admiralty having prize jurisdiction, and consequently proceeding in rem, and not having its practice precisely regulated by law, would conform to those principles which especially govern those courts proceeding in rem and which seem necessarily to belong to the proper exercise of their functions.

A sentence of reversal and restoration, by which property captured on the high seas is again restored to the owners, is not conclusive evidence that the captors were wrongdoers.

A belligerent cruiser which, with probable cause, seizes a neutral and takes her into port for adjudication and proceeds regularly is not a wrongdoer -- the act is not tortious. The order of restoration proves that the property was neutral, not that it was taken without probable cause.

This was an appeal from the sentence of the Circuit Court for the District of Pennsylvania in a cause civil and maritime in which Jennings was the libellant and Carson the respondent, the former claiming to be owner of the sloop George and cargo, captured in the year 1778 by the American privateer Addition, commanded by Moses Griffin, of which the respondent Carson was part owner and which was libeled and condemned on 31 October, 1778, as lawful prize by the Court of admiralty for the State of New Jersey, from which sentence of condemnation there was an appeal to the continental court of appeals, established under authority of the old Congress, where the sentence of condemnation was, on 23 December, 1780, reversed and restitution ordered, but never obtained. In the meantime, however, the vessel and cargo had been sold by the marshal of the state court of admiralty for paper money under an order of the court contained in the sentence of condemnation, and it did not appear what had been done with that money. No measures were taken to enforce the decree of restitution during the old confederation.

On 19 May, 1790, after the adoption of the present Constitution of the United States, Jennings filed his libel in the district court for the District of Pennsylvania alleging that he was a subject of the States

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General of the United Provinces, an inhabitant and domiciled at the island of St. Eustatius, and owner of the sloop George and her cargo, at the time of capture bound to the port of Egg Harbor in the United States, and consigned to A. and G. Caldwell, in the prosecution of which voyage she was illegally captured by the privateer Addition, owned in part by the respondent, Carson, and praying process for arresting Carson to answer, &c. A supplemental libel was filed setting forth the proceedings against the vessel in the Court of Admiralty of New Jersey; the sentence of condemnation, the appeal, the reversal of that sentence, and the order of restitution.

Neither the original nor supplemental libel prayed any specific or general relief other than process for arresting Carson, so that he should appear to answer the libellant

"in his said complaint of the wrongs and injuries aforesaid according to the resolutions of the continental Congress, the laws of the United States, and of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the laws and usages of nations in this behalf practiced, used, and established."

Carson, being taken upon the writ of arrest, appeared and filed his plea and answer, averring the sloop George to have been the property of a subject of the King of Great Britain at the time of capture and employed in carrying goods to the British army and navy; that the goods were imported directly or indirectly from Great Britain or Ireland, contrary to the regulations of Congress and the law of nations, the King of Great Britain then being at war with the United States.

It admits that Carson was the owner of one-third of the privateer. It admits the capture, the condemnation, and sale, the appeal and reversal, and the order of restitution, but denies that any part of the proceeds of the sale ever came to the hands of the owners of the privateer or either of them, but remained in the hands of the marshal of the Court of Admiralty of New Jersey, who alone is answerable for the same. It avers that Griffin, the commander of the privateer, had probable cause for

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making the capture, and therefore the owners are not liable.

It denies the jurisdiction of the district Court of Pennsylvania to take cognizance of the question, the same belonging exclusively to the Court of Admiralty of the State of New Jersey and to the court of appeals established by the continental Congress. It denies the jurisdiction of the court as a prize court in any case, and especially in cases of capture made during the British war, and avers that it has no authority to carry into effect a decree of either of those courts established under the old government.

After filing his plea and answer, Carson died and Jennings filed a petition suggesting the death of Carson and charging his executors with assets, and praying that the suit may stand revived against them, upon which a citation issued and the executors appeared and answered generally by a reference to the answer and plea of their testator, and further pleaded that by the law maritime, the law of the land, and the laws and ordinances of the United States, they, as executors, are not liable to be proceeded against in that court for the several matters set forth in the libel, for that they are not answerable for the wrongs and offenses, or the pretended wrongs and offenses of their testator, and also for that courts maritime have not authority to intermeddle with the estates and effects, real or personal, of deceased persons, or to give relief against the same, or to seize or take the same effects or estates in execution, or to imprison the bodies of executors for the default of the testator.

To these pleas and answers there were general replications.

On 30 March, 1792, the judge of the district court gave an opinion in favor of its jurisdiction in general cases as a prize court; but on 21 September, 1793, he dismissed the libel on the ground that the district court was not competent to compel the execution of a decree of the late continental court of

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appeals. This sentence was affirmed in the circuit court on 11f April, 1798, but was reversed by this Court at February term, 1799, so far as the same

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decreed that the district court had not jurisdiction to carry into effect the decree of the court of appeals, and the cause was remanded to the district court for further

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proceedings, the respondent being at liberty to contend before that court, as matter of defense to the merits or to the form of proceedings, that the libel should first

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have been filed in the District Court of New Jersey, but not to make the decision of the judge on that point a ground of excepting to the jurisdiction of the District Court of Pennsylvania, and that costs should await the event of the cause.

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Upon the second hearing of the cause, on 2 April, 1802, the judge decreed in favor of the libellant for the amount of sales of the sloop and cargo, reduced by the scale of depreciation with interest until two months after the order of restitution by the court of appeals and from the time of the institution of the present suit until the day of final decree, which decree was, on 10 May, 1804, reversed by the circuit court, and the libel dismissed with costs. From which sentence, the libellant appealed to this Court.

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