Robert Allen & Co. vs. Flint River Steamboat Co.
About This Case
In 1848, the Florida Supreme Court considered the case of the Flint River Steam Boat Company vs. Roberts, Allen & Company.
Excerpts from Florida Reports, volume 2, page 102: “Where judgment had been rendered under the peculiar provisions of the second section of an act of the General Assembly approved January 4, 1847, entitled ‘An act given a lien to steam boat men and others navigating the Bay and River of Apalachicola,’ upon the affidavit of the plaintiff, without notice to the defendants or appearance by them and without any declaration filed or assessment of damages by a jury: Held that such judgment must be reversed notwithstanding the statute does not expressly require either a summons, appearance by or notice to defendant, or a declaration or a jury trial… Where consequences in violation of common reason, common right and the principles of common justice arise even collaterally out of a statute, it is void pro tanto… The statute above referred to is in violation of the declaration of our Constitution, ‘that the right of trial by jury shall forever remain inviolate,’ and is null and void.”
The Flint River Steam Boat Company, incorporated in Georgia, appealed a judgment from the circuit court (Judge Thomas Baltzell presiding) of Franklin County that awarded the plaintiff a recovery against the steam boat company. The plaintiff, Roberts, Allen & Company of Apalachicola, manufactured copper, tin, and sheet iron wares and dealt in stoves and hardware; they claimed they were owed $657.60 for ironwork and material on the steam boat Magnolia. In June 1847, Luther D. Roberts filed an affidavit with the court under a new law passed by the Legislature in January of that year. The law allowed men involved in the steam boat trade, either employed on the boats or “material men, merchants, or others” involved in furnishing or fitting out steam boats, to have an exclusive lien on the steam boats or watercraft against the owner or owners for any “debt, dues, wages, or demands.” The judge accordingly issued the order that was levied against the Magnolia. The Steam Boat Company appealed to the Florida Supreme Court for a writ of error and the case was heard at the January term of 1848.
The plaintiffs in error made several complaints in the case, but the Supreme Court considered the third decisive: “There was no summons issued and served, nor was there any evidence to show that the defendant had any notice of the institution of this suit, nor was there any declaration filed, or any assessment of damages by a jury.” The Court pointed out that common law in the recovery of debts did not require notice before seizure, but that it expressly required that notice of the institution of the lawsuit should be served upon the defendant or published, and further provided that the court might award judgment “upon the finding of a jury of inquest.” In this case there was no notice other than the advertisement of the sale of the steamboat by the Sheriff, and even that was not notice to the steamboat owners, but to the purchasers. The most serious objection to the 1847 act was that it allowed a judgment to be entered for any sum without even the verdict of a jury. The Florida state constitution held that “the right of a trial by jury shall remain forever inviolate.” The Court concluded that the Legislature had no power to restrict the right of a trial by jury and declared the 1847 act null and void, and reversed the judgment of the lower court.