Category Archives: Land History

May an indefinitely moored houseboat be subject to federal maritime jurisdiction?

Lozman houseboat in transit.

Lozman houseboat in transit.

Several years ago, the City of Riviera Beach (“the City”) straddling the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in Florida, arrested a houseboat under federal maritime law and demolished it. The homeowner, Mr. Lozman had lived on his houseboat for more than a dozen years under a lease with the City. The City had sent Lozman several eviction notices for deficiencies in the houseboat and failure to make certain payments.

The District Court of the Southern District of Florida found that the houseboat was a “vessel” for purposes of admiralty jurisdiction, that the vessel was delinquent in payments, put the vessel up for auction, the City bought it for the amount of its judgment and demolished it.

The court held that the houseboat met the definition of a “vessel”within the meaning of 1 U.S.C. s. 3; accordingly, federal maritime law applied despite the fact that the houseboat had been an “indefinitely moored” structure. It was still “capable” of transportation.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court’s holding that Lozman’s houseboat constituted a “vessel” for purposes of maritime jurisdiction and that Lozman’s houseboat “trespassed” upon city property.

On January 15, 2013, the Supreme Court reversed. The Court held that Lozman’s houseboat was not a “vessel” for purposes of invoking maritime jurisdiction. Except for the fact that it floated upon the water, Lozman’s houseboat had no means of self-propulsion, no steering mechanism, an unraked hull, no means of storing or generating electricity, and no realistic means of transporting passengers or cargo.

Onlookers observe Lozman houseboat moored at Riviera Beach docks.

Onlookers observe Lozman houseboat moored at Riviera Beach docks.

Federal courts therefore have no jurisdiction over “houseboats” similarly configured and indefinitely moored. In general, federal courts have exclusive maritime jurisdiction over “vessels” like boats in navigable waters such as the Intracoastal Waterway. Although federal jurisdiction protects those who improve and work on boats by affording workers the right to arrest a vessel for unpaid work and enforce a lien for such charges as well as the right to seek damages for trespass on private property, asserting federal jurisdiction also brings into play the regulatory powers of the Coast Guard to insure public safety as well as other agencies working to protect the environment and other public interests.

FIND 1928

The first Board of Commissioners of the Florida Inland Navigation District (1928). Courtesy, FIND.

Of all the coastal states contributing inland waterways that now make up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, only the State of Florida was required to buy its waterway for turnover to the federal government free of charge. For example, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was not required to buy the privately owned Cape Cod Canal built by August Belmont for turnover to the federal government free of charge.

Congress appropriated the funds to buy the Massachusetts waterway. The Florida legislature created the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) to float the bond issue at Florida taxpayer expense to buy the Florida East Coast Canal for turnover to the Corps of Engineers for enlargement and perpetual maintenance. FIND’s commissioners included yacht club commodores, newspaper publishers, and real estate developers. FIND issued a million dollars worth of bonds to buy the waterway for $725,000 and to acquire the right-of-way for the waterway’s enlargement. In the end, commissioners ‘burned’ the bonds not needed for the project, a result rarely seen in modern-day public works.

Sir Sandford Fleming, chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway

Sir Sandford Fleming, chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway, designer of Canada's first adhesive postage stamp, and the inventor of the world-wide 24 railway time zones.  In 1892, Fleming began acquiring a substantial amount of Boston & Florida land stock, soon mq aking him the largest investor.

Sir Sandford Fleming, chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway,

The Canadians are coming!  The Canadians are coming! In the late 1880s, four Canadians, including Sir Sandford Fleming’s son, Sandford H. Fleming, traveled to the State of Florida to enter into a subcontract with the Florida canal company to perform a portion of the work in the Matanzas-Halifax River Cut joining St. Augustine and today’s Ormond Beach, just above Daytona Beach.

Sir Sandford Fleming had won world-wide acclaim as chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the designer of Canada’s first adhesive postage stamp, and the inventor of the 24 time zones around the world known as Universal Time, making it easier for railways to create timetables for arrivals and destinations around the world.

The particulars of the early Florida work performed by the junior Fleming are to date unknown.  We do know that after a time the Canadian group failed to complete the work, owing a substantial sum in damages to the Florida canal company. The Canadians wouldn’t be in a position to repay the debt until almost thirty years had passed.

Meanwhile, several officials of the Florida canal company and a Newburyport, Mass. banker, Albert P. Sawyer, formed the Boston and Florida Atlantic Coast Land Company to buy 100,000 acres of the Florida canal company’s state land grant at a dollar an acre for $100,000.  Sawyer also created three land trusts to buy more canal company land, restoring the canal venture’s coffers to further dredging work down the Florida peninsula into the Indian River.  Soon Sir Sandford Fleming became the largest stockholder in the Boston & Florida land company after company officials made the stock exchangeable in land owned by the company.

Sir Sandford Fleming

Chief engineer of the Canadian and Pacific Railway, Sir Sandford Fleming was also the designer of Canada’s first adhesive postage stamps. In 1892 Fleming and his son, Sandford H. Fleming, as well as several other Canadians became interested in the inland waterway being dredged along the east coast of Florida.  In a matter of time, Sir Sandford became the largest investor in the affiliated Boston & Florida land company.

But by 1912, Fleming and his Canadian colleagues had become disenchanted with the enterprise. No dividends had yet been paid on their stock. In a few short years, the Fleming group would soon reap dividends as high as 16% annually on their investment after completion of the Florida waterway and the sales of lands abutting the waterway and Flagler’s railway.

Brigadier General Quincy Adams Gillmore

Brigadier General Quincy Adams Gillmore
Brigadier General Quincy Adams Gillmore, Second Florida chief of the Army Corps of Engineers. Gillmore graduated first in his class at West Point. He conducted several surveys of the Florida east coast during his command (1869-1884). In later years, Gillmore published several textbooks, including one on underwater concrete, a necessity in waterway and canal improvements. Gillmore recommended improvements in the old Haulover Cut that Wright had constructed in 1854. But Wright, now Gillmore’s superior and Chief of the Corps of Engineers, turned Gillmore down. The Federal Government remained resistant in spending federal dollars for construction of internal improvements. Construction of waterways was left to the states and to private enterprise for work deemed local in importance. In the relatively new state of Florida, its government after the Civil War was bereft of any cash to pay for public improvements. It was again left to private enterprise to finance canals and railways.

In 1881, four St. Augustine investors led by Dr. John Westcott, who also had been Surveyor General of Florida, formed the Florida canal company that would dredge 268 miles of privately-owned waterway by 1912 and earn the company more than a million acres of valuable east coast land from St. Augustine to the tip of the Florida peninsula as well as the right to collect tolls from waterway traffic. Westcott proved invaluable in heading the company. His knowledge of the choice state land available to pay for the company’s work benefitted the enterprise immensely in the years ahead. In 1929, the State of Florida turned over what been the private Florida East Coast Canal to the Federal Government free of charge for perpetual maintenance and enlargement as the Florida portion of the toll-free Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Courtesy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Lt. Horatio G. Wright, Florida’s first chief of engineers

Lt. Horatio G. Wright

Lt. Horatio G. Wright

Horatio G. Wright was the first Florida chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (1852-1854). Wright superintended the first cut in what would become the Florida section of the Intracoastal Waterway, joining the Matanzas and Halifax rivers at Titusville, Fla. After years of wrangling over Congress’s constitutional powers, Congress authorized a mere pittance of $1,200 to dredge a short cut two feet deep and ten feet wide to join the waterways for military defensive purposes.

At the country’s founding, Thomas Jefferson had fought for a military with limited powers to survey the internal improvements of the Nation but not to spend a dime’s worth of taxpayer dollars for construction of roads, waterways, and bridges.  Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists pursued an expansive view of the military to fund inland waterways at taxpayer expense.  The small waterway at Titusville represented a grudging nod to a burgeoning nation with the need to transport commerce and defend the Nation. Courtesy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Boston & Florida Atlantic Coast Land Company

Boston & Florida Atlantic Coast Land Company stock certificate issued in 1924

Boston & Florida Atlantic Coast Land Company stock certificate issued in 1924

In 1892, to raise additional cash to finance canal dredging, Bradley enlisted the assistance of Albert P. Sawyer, a wealthy Newburyport, Mass. investor to organize a new company to raise $100,000. Sawyer selected the State of Maine as the venue for the new enterprise because Sawyer believed that Maine assessed the least amount of incorporation taxes. The purchase of one share of preferred stock would entitle the investor to cumulative dividends with preference over common stock. In other words, the preferred shareholder would be entitled to dividends and the liquidation of stock before the payment of dividends on common stock and the liquidation of common stock. Within a few years, Sir Sandford Fleming, formerly chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway, would become one of the largest investors in the new land company. Courtesy, Collection of the author.