U.S. Supreme Court
Steamboat Burns, 76 U.S. 9 Wall. 237 237 (1869)
76 U.S. (9 Wall.) 237
1. A writ of error or appeal to this Court cannot be sustained in the name of a steamboat or any other than a human being or some corporate or associated aggregation of persons.
2. The acts of the state legislatures authorizing suits to be sustained by or against steamboats by name confer no right so to sustain them in the federal courts.
3. Any person, however, who in the state courts has substantially made himself a party to the case by asserting on the record his interest in the vessel and conducting the defense in the highest court of the state may prosecute a writ of error in his own name in this Court under the 25th section of the Judiciary Act.
These were two cases brought before the Court by what purported to be writs of error to the Supreme Court of Missouri. The writ in the first case referred to a judgment in chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
that court in a suit "between the steamboat Burns, her tackle &c., appellant, and James Reynolds and James Aiken, respondents and appellees," in which "a manifest error hath happened, to the great damage of the said steamboat, her tackle &c., as by her complaint appears." The citation made the same recital. The writ and citation in the second case varied from this only in the names of the defendants in error.
This form of the writ was endeavored to be justified by a statute of Missouri known in that state as the Boat Law, a statute which it was said sought to establish in the state court the plan and procedure of the admiralty. By this act, proceeding was authorized against the res, and the vessel was a good deal treated of by the language of the act as the defendant in the case. However, one section of the act (section 12), provided that the owner, captain, agent, consignee, or any creditor of the boat might appear to the action on behalf of the boat or vessel and plead thereto and defend the same, and another section, the 38th, that the captain, agent, owner, consignee, or other person interested in the boat or vessel might appeal or prosecute a writ of error to reverse any judgment rendered against the boat or vessel. And indeed in this very case the record showed that one Adolph Keinecke had made claim in the inferior court as owner, and as such had defended the suit in the name of the steamboat. He had likewise made affidavit that he was the owner, and gave bond to enable him to appeal to the supreme court of the state. But instead of taking the appeal in his own name, he took it in the name of the steamboat.
The question now was whether these writs could be sustained.