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EXCELSIOR.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: October 24, 1887.

THE EXCELSIOR.

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA.

Author: Blatchford

[ 123 U.S. Page 49]

 MR. JUSTICE BLATCHFORD, after stating the case as above reported, delivered the opinion of the court.

(1) It is contended, on the facts found, that the question of salvage was fairly raised and settled between the parties before any work was done on the vessel; that what passed amounted to an announcement by Capitain Stoddard, the master of the libellant's wrecking steamer, that he must be paid for his services at all events; that this proposal was assented to by the master of the Excelsior; that the work proceeded under that arrangement; and that, therefore, there could be no claim for salvage.

It is very clear that the services rendered by the libellant to the Excelsior constituted a salvage service of a meritorious character. The telegrams sent to the libellant, by virtue of which it entered upon the service, summoned it as a salvor; and the services detailed in the finding of facts constituted salvage services. No agreement was made for a fixed sum to be paid, nor any binding engagement to pay at all events, although there was an agreement to submit to arbitration the amount to be received by the libellant for the service, in case the two companies could not agree upon a sum. It was, however, held by this court, in the case of The Camanche, 8 Wall. 448, 477, that "nothing short of a contract to pay a given sum for the services to be rendered, or a binding engagement to pay at all events, whether successful or unsuccessful in the enterprise, will operate as a bar to a meritorious claim for salvage."

Nor was there in this case any agreement for a quantun meruit for the work and labor to be done by the libellant. In the case of The Independence, 2 Curtis, 350, 357, the proper

[ 123 U.S. Page 50]

     rule on the subject was laid down by Mr. Justice Curtis, in these words: "To bar a claim for salvage, where property in distress on the sea has been saved, it is necessary to plead and prove a binding contract to be paid at all events for the work, labor, and service, in attempting to save the property, whether the same should be lost or saved." A binding contract of that character is not proved by such a conversation as took place between the respective parties in the present case. In The Salacia, 2 Hagg. Adm. 262, 265, it was shown that the master of the salvor vessel declared at first "that he should not demand any salvage, but that his crew would not work unless paid for their labor, and that they declined taking a dollar a day, but would take two." As to this, Cir Christopher Robinson said: "It is probable that some such conversation may have passed at the beginning of this service, but it might not be known what would be the extent of it; and the court is not in the habit of considering such loose conversations as conclusive of the merits of any case, when brought regularly before it." In the present case, these was no assent by Captain Stoddard to the statement of Captain Baldwin that the service was not a salvage service, and the assertion by Captain Stoddard that the name of the service was immaterial, so long as he should get his pay, was fairly a statement that he should insist on his pay for the services according to their actual character.

The answer sets up an agreement between the masters of the respective vessels, after the Resolute had arrived at the place where the Excelsior was, that no salvage would be claimed by the libellant. Not only is it not found by the Circuit Court that any such agreement was made, but, on the facts found, the question was left open as to whether the services were to be paid for as salvage services, in case of success. Moreover, at the time of the conversation between the masters, the salvage service had been partly rendered, because the expedition had been fitted out, and the Resolute and her accompanying schooner, and the steam pumps and other appliances, and the diver, had been taken to where the Excelsior was, in compliance with the summons of her master.

[ 123 U.S. Page 51]

     Nor can the agreement for arbitration affect the question of a salvage service. In the case of The Raisby, 10 P.D. 114, there was an agreement to tow a ship in distress, "the matter of compensation to be left to arbitrators at home, to be appointed by the respective owners." As to this, Sir James Hannen said: "This, however, was valueless as an agreement. It could not have been pleaded as any answer to an action for salvage brought in the ordinary way in the Admiralty Division, and if effect could have been given to it at all, it would only have been by bringing an action upon it for not submitting to arbitration."

(2) As to the amount awarded, the case is not one where, as a question of law, this court can say that the allowance was excessive. On the contrary, it seems to have been reasonable and fair, at least as respects the claimant of the Excelsior and her cargo.

In the recent case in this court of The Connemara, 108 U.S. 352, the question involved was so fully considered that it is only necessary to refer to that case, as establishing the principle, that, "since the Act of 1875, in cases of salvage, as in other admiralty cases, this court may revise the decree appealed from for matter of law, but for matter of law only; and should not alter the decree for the reason that the amount awarded appears to be too large, unless the excess is so great that, upon any reasonable view of the facts found, the award cannot be justified by the rules of law applicable to the case." See, also The Tornado, 109 U.S. 110, and The Hesper, 122 U.S. 256.

The decree of the Circuit Court is

Affirmed.

18871024

© 1998 VersusLaw Inc.



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