U.S. Supreme Court
La Amistad de Rues, 18 U.S. 5 Wheat. 385 385 (1820)
La Amistad de Rues
18 U.S. (5 Wheat.) 385
Quaere whether, where a prize has been taken by a privateer fitted out in violation of our neutrality, the vessels of the United States has a right to recapture the prize and bring it into our ports for adjudication.
In cases of marine torts, the probable profits of a voyage are not a fit rule for the ascertainment of damages.
In cases of violation of our neutrality by any of the, belligerents, if the prize comes voluntarily within our territory, it is restored to the original owners by our courts. But their jurisdiction for this purpose, under the law of nations, extends only to restitution of the specific property, with costs and expenses, during the pendency of the suit, and does not extend to the infliction of vindictive damages as in ordinary cases of marine torts.
Where the original owner seeks for restitution in our courts upon the ground of a violation of our neutrality by the captors, the onus probandi rests upon him, and if there be, reasonable doubt respecting the facts, the court will decline to exercise its jurisdiction. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
This was the case of a Spanish ship captured by the Venezuelan privateer La Guerriere on the high seas in November, 1817, and afterwards forcibly taken possession of near the mouth of the Mississippi, by a detachment from the United States ketch Surprise, and brought into the port of New Orleans. A libel was there filed in the district court, in behalf of the original Spanish owners, claiming restitution of the property, upon the ground (among other things) that the privateer had augmented her crew in the United States, during the cruise, and before the capture. A claim was given in by the original captors, denying the allegations in the libel, and praying restitution of the property as lawfully captured. At the hearing in the district court, the cause turned almost entirely upon the question of the augmentation of the crew, and the court decreed restitution of the property to the original Spanish owners with damages, which were ordered to be ascertained by assessors. The assessors reported damages as follows:
To the owners of the ship, for loss by plunder . . . $ 625.00
And to the owners of the cargo, for loss of market
by the capture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4,000.00
And loss by plunder. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 575.00
In the whole . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $5,200.00
The report was confirmed by the court and damages decreed accordingly. From this decree, the captors appealed to this Court. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary