Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1

Document 76

The Sarah

8 Wheat. 391 1823

March 4th, 1823. Marshall, Ch. J., delivered the opinion of the court, and after stating the case, proceeded as follows:--By the act constituting the judicial system of the United States, the district courts are courts both of common-law and admiralty jurisdiction. In the trial of all cases of seizure, on land, the court sits as a court of common law. In cases of seizure made on waters navigable by vessels of ten tons burden and upwards, the court sits as a court of admiralty. In all cases at common law, the trial must be by jury. In cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, it has been settled, in the cases of The Vengeance (reported in 3 Dallas 297); The Sally (in 2 Cranch 406); and The Betsy and Charlotte (in 4 Cranch 443); that the trial is to be by the court. Although the two jurisdictions are vested in the same tribunal, they are as distinct from each other as if they were vested in different tribunals, and can no more be blended, than a court of chancery with a court of common law.

The court for the Louisiana district, was sitting as a court of admiralty; and when it was shown, that the seizure was made on land, its jurisdiction ceased. The libel ought to have been dismissed, or amended, by charging that the seizure was made on land. The direction of a jury, in a case where the libel charged a seizure on water, was irregular; and any proceeding of the court, as a court of admiralty, after the fact that the seizure was made on land appeared, would have been a proceeding without jurisdiction. The court felt some disposition to consider this impannelling of a jury, at the instance of the claimants, as amounting to a consent that the libel should stand amended; but, on reflection, that idea was rejected.

If this is considered as a case at common law, it would be necessary to dismiss this appeal, because the judgment could not be brought before this court but by writ of error. If it be considered as a case of admiralty jurisdiction, the sentence ought to be reversed, because it could not be pronounced by a court of admiralty, on a seizure made on land. As the libel charges a seizure on water, it is thought most advisable to reverse all the proceedings to the libel, and to remand the cause to the district court for further proceedings, with directions to permit the libel to be amended.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1, Document 76
The University of Chicago Press

Easy to print version.