U.S. Supreme Court
The Roanoke, 189 U.S. 185 (1903)
Submitted December 17, 1902
Decided March 2, 1903
189 U.S. 185
The following propositions in regard to lien for supplies furnished to vessels may be considered as settled:
(1) That, by the maritime law as administered in England and in this country, a lien is given for necessaries furnished a foreign vessel upon the credit of such vessel, and that in this particular the several states of the Union are treated as foreign to each other.
(2) That no such lien is given for necessaries furnished in the home port of the vessel, or in the port in which the vessel is owned, registered, enrolled or licensed, and the remedy in such case, though enforceable in the admiralty, is in personam only.
(3) That it is competent for the states to create liens for necessaries furnished to domestic vessels, and that such liens will be enforced by the courts of admiralty under their general jurisdiction on the subject of necessaries.
Where, however, Congress has dealt with a subject within its exclusive
power, or where such exclusive power is given to the federal courts, as
in cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, it is not competent for chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
the states to invade the domain of such jurisdiction and enact laws which in any way trench upon the power of the federal courts.
The statutes of the State of Washington, sections 6963, 5964, 2 Ballinger's Code, giving an absolute lien upon foreign vessels for work done or material furnished at the request of a contractor or subcontractor, and making no provision for the protection of the owner in case the contractor has been paid the full amount of his bill before notice of the claim of the subcontractor is received, insofar as it attempts to control the administration of the maritime law by creating and superadding conditions for the benefit of a particular class of creditors, and thereby depriving the owners of vessels of defenses to which they would otherwise have been entitled, is an unlawful interference with the exclusive jurisdiction of all admiralty and maritime cases which is vested by the Constitution in the federal courts, and to that extent such statute is unconstitutional and void.
This was a libel in rem for materials, and also for work and labor, alleged to have been furnished by the libellants King and Winge in the repair of the steamship Roanoke, to certain contractors with the owners, who had full charge of the alteration and repair of the steamship. An intervening libel was also filed by one Fraser for labor and material furnished under the same conditions.
The cases resulted in decrees for the libellants, from which the North American Transportation and Trading Company, owner of the steamship, appealed directly to this Court, and the following facts were found:
"The North American Transportation and Trading Company appeared as claimant and owner, and the vessel was released upon its stipulation."
"It admitted all the allegations of the libel except that the work was done on the credit of the ship, which it denied except that it admitted that libellants had acted under the belief that they had a lien by virtue of law. It then alleged its incorporation and existence under the laws of the State of Illinois, the residence there at all times of its president and general manager, its maintaining only agencies at Seattle and at other places in Alaska and Canada, and its enjoying a high credit. The Roanoke it alleged to be an ocean-going vessel, registered at Chicago, Illinois, under the navigation laws of the United States, with the name of 'Chicago' painted on her stern. She was alleged
to have been purchased by claimant in 1898 on the Atlantic coast, and, upon the Pacific coast since that time, employed between Seattle and the mouth of the Yukon in the summer, and between San Francisco and southern ports in the winter. It was further alleged that the claimant had never given any order for the material and labor described in the libel, and that these were furnished on the order of the contractor, who, before the filing of the libel and without any knowledge by claimant of these unpaid claims, had been paid by this claimant for these materials and labor in full. It was alleged in conclusion that the lien claimed by libellants was claimed under sections 5953 and 5954 of Ballinger's Code and Statutes of Washington, that such a lien was in this instance void, being in violation of the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution of the United States, conferring upon Congress the power to regulate commerce among the several states, was an illegal burden upon interstate commerce, and in violation also of the fourteenth article of the Constitution of the United States, as depriving claimant of its property without due process of law and without its equal protection, and was in violation of the second section of the third article of the Constitution conferring on the courts of the United States admiralty and maritime jurisdiction."
"To the intervening libel of Fraser, the same answer was made."
"To each of these answers, respectively, the libellants and intervening libellant excepted as insufficient, and the whole of each, to constitute any answer or defense to the libel."
"The exceptions were sustained, the claimant elected to stand on its answer, and a decree was entered against it and its stipulators for the whole sum claimed in the libels. "