CWRU Links

MARITIME LAW

MARITIME LAW. The Constitution of the U.S. asserts that the federal judicial power extends to all "cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction." Since we inherited our concepts of maritime law, like our common law, from Great Britain, it was assumed during the early years of the Republic that the boundary separating admiralty from other jurisdictions was, as it had been in England, coterminous with the high seas and the rivers of the country, so far as the saltwater tide reached. With that concept, it appeared that controversies regarding maritime matters on inland rivers and lakes (fresh water) fell to state, not federal, control. All this changed with a landmark decision by Chief Justice Roger Taney in 1851. Two vessels, the Cuba and the Genessee Chief, had collided on Lake Ontario about 40 miles below Niagara. When the Supreme Court was asked to settle the issue of proper jurisdiction for such a case, the Court ruled that, unlike England, admiralty (maritime) jurisdiction in the U.S. extended to all public navigable rivers and lakes where commerce is carried on between different states or with a foreign nation. With that ruling, federal courts in inland states became principal arenas for litigation of maritime matters. Those matters extended through a wide array of possible concerns: breaches of charter parties and contracts, collisions, demurrage, forfeitures, general averages, insurance, personal injuries, property damage, seamen's wages, salvage rights, maritime torts and negligent towage.

By the time of Taney's ruling in the Genessee Chief case, Cleveland's future as a principal commercial center seemed quite assured. Its Lake Erie harbor offered connections eastward, by way of the Erie Canal, or southward, by way of the Ohio Canal (opened in 1832) to the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Lake and river traffic increased and so, too, did disputes for the federal district court to resolve. In 1855 that court was divided into Northern and Southern districts; it was inevitable that the Northern court, which sat in Cleveland, would become an active arena for determining maritime cases. And so it was: Judge HIRAM V. WILLSON, who presided over the court during its first decade, became a highly respected interpreter of admiralty law. As one historian has explained, in those years "there was an immediate influx of a great number of admiralty cases." This would continue for some decades; by 1875 the court was pronouncing decrees in almost 100 cases a year. Near the end of the century Sixth Circuit Court Judge William H. Taft explained that the Circuit "with its extensive shore line on four of the great lakes" (the Circuit included Michigan) recorded "admiralty business . . . second only to that of the Second or New York Circuit." By 1910 a second Northern Ohio judge was authorized and the district split into eastern (Cleveland) and western (Toledo) divisions. By that time the volume of admiralty cases in the court had begun to stabilize.

Where judges sat to determine maritime matters, there too attorneys with skill in admiralty law might flourish. As commerce and the disputes it generated increased, it is not surprising to find that admiralty law became a distinct specialty within the Cleveland Bar. One of the early law firms focusing on maritime law was founded in 1843 by George Willey and John E. Cary. The firm was a predecessor of ARTER & HADDEN, a present-day firm that continues to practice in the maritime field.

The preeminent Cleveland admiralty attorney during the formative years of Great Lakes maritime law--the last decades of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th century--was HARVEY GOULDER. Born in Cleveland in 1852, he was the son of a shipmaster and worked on his father's lake vessels during summers while he was still in school. He read law with John E. Cary and others, and was admitted to the bar in 1875. He formed a partnership with ALEXANDER HADDEN, the father of JOHN A. HADDEN who would become a founding partner of Arter & Hadden. Goulder is said to have handled more maritime trials throughout the Great Lakes region than any other lawyer of his time; he participated in at least 5 cases that were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. From 1892 until 1925, when NEWTON D. BAKER succeeded him, he served as counsel for the LAKE CARRIERS ASSN., an organization of lake shipping owners from various Great Lakes' ports, headquartered in Cleveland, and he advocated the association's interests before federal agencies in Washington. He also was a founder of the CLEVELAND & BUFFALO TRANSIT CO., a combination of port tug companies.

In his long career, Goulder worked with other attorneys who also enjoyed considerable reputations as admiralty lawyers. These men included (in various firm combinations) William McAlister, Hermon Kelley, Robert McCreary, Henry S. Sherman, Neil Beall, Carl Schipfer, and Blake Woman. Kelley's firm (Kelley and Cottrell in 1921) was one Cleveland firm openly pronouncing admiralty law as its sole specialty. Goulder's firm, through merger, became the present-day SPIETH, BELL, MCCURDY & NEWELL CO. In the 1940s, Gilbert R. Johnson, who then was counsel for the Lake Carriers Assn., formed a partnership with Robert Branand and John Jaeger and it, in turn, eventually merged with the current firm of THOMPSON, HINE & FLORY.

Two additional names should be noted. S. Eldridge Sampliner, a native Clevelander, became legendary as a courtroom advocate for seamen in wage and other disputes falling within admiralty jurisdiction. And Roger Miller Lee, a Goulder partner and active proctor, taught the first admiralty law classes (or as the 1894-95 catalog titled it: "the Law of Shipping and Admiralty and Common Carriers") in the Western Reserve Univ. School of Law.

Carl Ubbelohde

Case Western Reserve Univ.


Kennedy, James Harrison and Wilson M. Day. The Bench and Bar of Cleveland (1889).

Marshall, Carrington T., ed. A History of the Courts and Lawyers of Ohio (1934).

Neff, William B. Bench and Bar of Northern Ohio (1921).

Reed, George Irving. Bench and Bar of Ohio (1897).

Links: Maritime Law