IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
Subaqueous Exploration and Archaeology, Ltd.
Atlantic Ship Historical Society, Inc.
Unidentified Wrecked and Abandoned Vessels
Alleged to be
Santa Rosalea CA R-81-51; Royal George CA R-81-52; San Lorenzo de Escorial and Santa Clara CA R-81-53
Reported out as:
Subaqueous Exploration & Archaeology, Ltd. v. Unidentified, Wrecked & Abandoned Vessel, 577 F. Supp. 597 (1983)
The Wild Horses of Assateague Island: Victims of Fraud
On December 21, 1983, The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland situated in Baltimore, Maryland, issued its decision on who owns four treasure-laden shipwrecks lost off the beaches of Ocean City, Maryland:
“Approximately two hundred years ago, three ships [ actually 4], believed to be carrying a King’s ransom in gold altar plate and other riches, sank in the Atlantic Ocean after being battered by a fierce hurricane. The remains of these vessels and their cargo, are currently submerged “under an undetermined amount of sand” off the shore of Ocean City, Maryland.
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? It was for a while, but the reality of this situation was a shocking display of government malfeasance overlaid with blatant fraud. You see, these four shipwrecks were not real; there was no treasure; they were the invention of a clever conman from Baltimore named Donald Stewart.
The story I’m about to tell is true because I was there.
Anatomy of the fraud
Who would have guessed that the wild horses immortalized in the children’s classic, Misty of Chincoteague, would not only be exploited by a con man but would result in a court decision that legitimized his fraud.
It all started with Donald Stewart, born in Baltimore in 1930. He had a wild imagination and dreamed of adventure. Just out of high school, he read this article from the Baltimore Sun of January 4, 1949:
Galleon Is Wrecked
1n 1750, a Spanish galleon, the “Greyhound,” Daniel Huony, master, ran aground on Assateague Island. When news of the wreck spread, people from Maryland and Virginia went to the scene and carried away its cargo, and even stripped the decks of their planks. On January 5, 1799, the English sailing vessel “Ocean Bird” sank near Ocean City during a storm. Another unidentified Spanish ship is believed to have been wrecked on the Ocean City shoals in 1820 during a storm. Legend has it that this ship was carrying a cargo of “pieces of eight” A number of gold coins have been found there from time to time.1
Stewart vowed one day that he would organize a treasure hunt and go in search of these ships. He discovered that the Spanish galleon was actually called La Galga in Spanish. The Maryland archives documented that the wreck was surveyed as being two ship’s lengths north of the Maryland/Virginia line.2 But before he would get the chance to go to Assateague, he became involved with the USS Constellation preservation effort. When the old ship was towed into Baltimore from Boston in 1955, it was uncertain whether the Constellation was the original built in Baltimore in 1797 or the second version built in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1854. Stewart signed on after leaving his clerk-typist job at the B&O Railroad.
The ship was actually the 1854 version, but Stewart convinced federal, State, and city officials with fake documents that it was the original from 1797. Millions were spent because of this little diversion, later exposed in 1975 by historians and the FBI. Nonetheless, Stewart rose in the administration of the ship. His pay escalated.
Stewart left the Constellation before it closed in on him and founded his own historical society, the Atlantic Ship Historical Society. With this Society he could solicit donations but, more importantly, obtain federal permits to explore Assateague. It gave him credibility.
After 1949, Stewart learned more about Spanish coins washing ashore in present-day Ocean City, MD. Stewart didn’t realize that any ship from the Colonial period until the Civil war could carry Spanish coins as they were considered legal tender at the time.3
The Spanish coins from 1820 he first read about in 1949 particularly fascinated him. He had seen such coins on display at the Ocean City Lifesaving Museum. He also realized more coin finds indicated other shipwrecks in Ocean City.
July 24, 1977, he published an elaborate hoax in the Baltimore Sun about a Spanish ship he called the San Lorenzo de Escorial, which, according to him, had wrecked at present Ocean City in 1820. He said it was not only carrying tons of gold and silver but 110 little mine ponies, which he said were the forbears of those running wild on Assateague Island today.4 With this article, he conned the National Park Service, who published his account as if it were true and erected a wayside exhibit at the National Seashore. In anticipation of this, he set up a 501C(3) corporation called the Atlantic Ship Historical Society, Inc. Stewart was president. With these homemade credentials, he launched Subaqueous Exploration and Archaeology, Ltd. (SEA, Ltd.) in 1980 to go after La Galga, although he never publicly divulged the ship’s name.5 He was convinced that all he needed to do was go down to the current Maryland-Virginia border and tow a magnetometer, and the shipwreck would be his. Over thirty investors eagerly joined up. This author was one of them.
In 1980, I too, went in pursuit of La Galga, and that is how we crossed paths.6
In the fall of 1980, Stewart did not find his immediate success at the Maryland-Virginia boundary as he had hoped, so he decided to focus on the coin finds at Ocean City. His main target was the “San Lorenzo,” which he believed would be found at 14th St., where the early 19th century coins were found. SEA, Ltd. had no success here, but there were more coin finds and more areas to search. Stewart believed that he could easily locate the source of the coins, and once successful, no one would doubt the existence of the San Lorenzo. But success remained out of reach.
SEA, Ltd., by now, was running out of money and there was nothing to boost investor morale. Stewart came up with the idea of filing admiralty claims to four shipwrecks in federal court, tying up all of Ocean City to the Delaware line, guarantying that he would successfully find these shipwrecks. Three separate actions were filed:
- A Spanish treasure ship called Santa Rosalea said to have wrecked in 1785 around 60th St.
- The British privateer called the Royal George wrecked in 1789 below the Delaware line.
- The San Lorenzo wrecked in 1820 in the vicinity of 14th Street, and the Spanish privateer, Santa Clara, wrecked in 1798 around 18th St. These two shipwrecks were combined in one action because of their proximity to each other.
On January 9, 1981, Cardillo informed the board that the contemplated admiralty claims were imminent. He and the Baltimore attorneys were now working out the details. In his memo to the board, however, he expressed a looming concern. “there are a number of points that disturb Mr. Coleman and me. Namely, we had hoped that some concrete evidence would have been recovered during December, which would have lent added impetus to our claim.”7
The Subaqueous case was filed on January 13, 1981. The co-plaintiff was the Atlantic Ship Historical Society, Inc., which was run by Stewart, his wife, his daughter, and a friend. The historical research for his treasure hunts supposedly came from Stewart’s historical society.8
The Plaintiffs’ Complaint was in two counts. Count 1 asserted title to the Defendant Property, and Count 2 asserted a claim for a salvage award and a right of possession as first salvors. Neither count alleged facts sufficient to state a cause of action within the Court’s admiralty or maritime jurisdiction.
The Defendant vessels were each described as “wrecked and abandoned vessels including their “tackle, armament, apparel, cargo, and other effects. “She [they] is [are] presently located within this District in peril under an undetermined amount of sand in Exhibit A hereto and incorporated herein.”
The Complaint stated further, “Plantiffs’ have found such abandoned vessel(s) through the expenditure of considerable money, time, expertise and effort and have present control of the abandoned vessel(s)…Plaintiffs have the intention and capability to raise and recover the abandoned vessel(s)….By virtue of the acts undertaken by Plaintiffs, title to the Abandoned vessel has vested in them jointly, their respective shares being held in accordance with an agreement between the Plaintiffs.”
Raymond Cardillo, Secretary of the Treasury, swore this affidavit: “That he is familiar with the Defendant vessel believed to be the [ various ships] described in the complaint herein, at least to the extent of her size, type, construction material and apparent condition.” Stewart did not want to take the oath, so he convinced Cardillo to do it in his place.9
The Plaintiffs sought a warrant for the arrest of the abandoned vessels, title to the abandoned vessels, or in the alternative, a full and liberal salvage award.
SEA, Ltd. expected the State of Maryland to file its own claim upon notice of the admiralty complaint. The State felt they needed more time to file a response, so they obtained a stipulation from SEA, Ltd. that they would be filing their own claim under Supplemental Admiralty Rule C(6), of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This Rule says Maryland would have to file a verified statement of right or interest (under oath) and must describe the State’s interest in the property that supports the State’s demand for its restitution or right to defend the action.
Stewart’s reputation around Baltimore was that he was a hustler and a great exaggerator. In 1980, a Dr. John Harvey contacted Maryland’s State Archaeologist after meeting with Stewart in Ocean City. Harvey was a friend of Bill Bane, a SEA, Ltd investor. Stewart’s tall tales did not persuade Harvey of treasure. The State Archaeologist wanted to know more, so the State needed more time to respond to the SEA, Ltd. Complaint. Maryland received an extension to April 9, 1981.
On April 7, 1981, John Harvey wrote:
“I have personal knowledge of Mr. Stewart’s overtures and misrepresentations to me that I brought to your attention a year ago. My investigation of his reputation at that time reinforced my negative impression of him; thereafter, I had no further interest in his projects, until you wrote to me and I called my friend [Bill Bane] in Ocean City last week. Following that call, I reviewed a lot of documentary and conversational material about the proposed salvage operation. I will be pleased to share with you (or agents of any state or federal government) information, observations, and opinions that I have developed. In fact, I hope that competent authorities will respond to what I perceive as an incompetent operation that may well be laced with deception to the point of criminal fraud as defined from a variety of legal angles. My personal position is that of concern…. I see it being run by a man who, from my personal observation, I believe suffers from paranoid schizophrenia or from a neurosis that has palpable features of well-compensated paranoid schizophrenia.”10
Maryland needed to decide how to structure its response. There were several options. On the face of the Complaint, it was clear that there had been no success by Sea, Ltd. Nothing had been seen or recovered. It was all hypothetical based solely on Stewart’s “research.”
Before courts accept salvage cases, the salvor has to prove that the court has subject matter jurisdiction. In the Supreme Court case of the Sabine11 in 1880, three elements for a valid salvage claim were established:
- a marine peril must exist.
- Service is voluntary rendered.
- There is success in whole or in part or that the service rendered contributes to the success.
SEA, Ltd. merely alleged these prerequisites. They brought the word of a con man into court. Nothing but junk was ever found. On the face of the Complaint, subject matter, or admiralty and in rem jurisdiction, did not exist. They were non-existent vessels.
SEA, Ltd. invoked U.S.C. §1333 and Rule (9h) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution extends judicial power to cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. If admiralty jurisdiction is invoked and there is no subject matter or admiralty jurisdiction, then there is no real case or controversy. The Constitution bars such proceedings. Any court which renders a decision without subject matter jurisdiction, and in this case in rem jurisdiction, renders the Court’s rulings merely advisory opinion.12
To illustrate more clearly, SEA, Ltd. could not ask the court for an opinion as to who owned the wrecks before they were actually found. SEA, Ltd. needed a real case, not a hypothetical one, to make that determination. Likewise for Maryland. They could not approach the court on their own with a question of who owns the shipwrecks without a real case or controversy. So, SEA, Ltd. had to falsely claim that the shipwrecks were real and had been discovered. And for Maryland to keep the case alive for nearly three years, they needed the court to proceed under false pretenses.13
If the court dismissed SEA, Ltd. for lack of subject matter jurisdiction as it should have, it would have been without prejudice, and SEA, Ltd. would have been told to come back “when you have something.”14 There would be no precedential value in such a decision for the State of Maryland. If SEA, Ltd. won, the State could appeal based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction getting a second crack at it. But if Maryland had filed a claim of ownership for the shipwrecks instead of only a limited appearance to challenge jurisdiction, and they won, a highly complex situation would arise. Maryland’s Natural Resource Code15 requires the State to inventory historic properties. The federal government mandates the same thing through the National Historical Preservation Act. To inventory, verification would have to take place. That verification would require supporting historical research that didn’t exist, which would easily lead to the discovery of the fraud. Stewart would be investigated, and his former role in the Constellation’s mistaken identity would play out nationally, not just in the Baltimore Sun.
However, if the State of Maryland could steer the court to look at another constitutional escape hatch, then Maryland could defeat SEA, Ltd.’s claim and gain a precedent against future treasure hunters and not look at the underlying merits of the claim.
Two days later, on April 9, after the State was put on notice about Stewart, the State of Maryland filed its first appearance in the SEA, Ltd. admiralty cases and moved to vacate the arrest warrant and dismiss the complaints. They argued the vessels belonged to the State and the State was immune from suit by the 11th Amendment to the Constitution. “If the Defendant property, in fact, consists of the remains the Plaintiffs believe them to be, it is the property of the State of Maryland.”16
In their Response, Maryland pleaded, “Plaintiffs have not alleged the performance of any salvage services. Instead, they have merely alleged in their Complaint that they found or located the Defendant property and that they intend to raise and recover that property in the future.” (Emphasis supplied).
The State asked that the Complaint be dismissed for want of jurisdiction over the defendant property and that the Complaint of the Plaintiffs be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction only as a secondary defense.15 The State could have raised the issue that since the jurisdiction claimed by the Plaintiffs was in rem, (against the thing), nothing was in fact arrested, creating in rem jurisdiction, precluding the court from further deliberations. Where there has been no arrest, there can be no admiralty jurisdiction.17 In hindsight, the Attorney General realized that the first jurisdictional threshold was an actual arrest. The case must begin there or face dismissal before considering their other defenses, which involved interpreting statutes and legal precedent. This jurisdictional challenge was never raised.
Cardillo was getting nervous. He realized the weakness in SEA, Ltd.’s case. On April 20, 1981, Cardillo wrote to the SEA, Ltd. Board, “Can SEA, Ltd. be a salvor if it has not actually reduced the vessel(s) and/or cargo (or any part thereof) to actual possession?”18
After the cases were filed, investor money poured in. However, Stewart’s haphazard searches would continue with no luck. He even diverted SEA into Delaware after he claimed to have found a 1715 piece of eight on the beach. He said he had “researched” that the Spanish ship Principe de Asturias had wrecked there in 1717, carrying treasure from the 1715 wrecks in Florida. My researcher in Spain easily debunked this one.
“Since no salvage services have been performed in this case, obviously there can have been no success or contribution to success.”19 This was an argument for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which the court ignored. There were other principles ignored by the court as well.
Stewart’s masterpiece of fraud was his San Lorenzo hoax. He had conned the National Park Service, who published his story in their Assateague Island Handbook and erected a wayside exhibit at the Visitors Center at the Assateague Island Seashore.20 He parlayed this into convincing investors to purchase stock in SEA, Ltd.
When Maryland responded, they submitted the affidavit of J. Rodney Little, Director of the Maryland Historical Trust:
“That if the plaintiffs’ beliefs concerning the identity of the Defendant vessel(s) are correct, the vessel(s) may be of great historical significance; it will apparently have survived unmolested for many years and may therefore contain invaluable historic and scientific information, which should be preserved for the benefit of the people of Maryland and the United States.” And the corollary to that is if the plaintiff’s alleged beliefs concerning the identities of the shipwrecks were not “correct” it would be a fraud since no such shipwrecks existed.
Stewart’s San Lorenzo hoax was published in the Baltimore Sun in 1977. The Maryland Historical Trust had nearly four years to vet the San Lorenzo story. They failed to do anything independently to locate the shipwreck or obtain information from Stewart on his story, as did the National Park Service. Why not? Or did they?
During the Spring and Summer of 1981, SEA, Ltd. continued their searches at Ocean City, often followed by the Maryland Marine Police, who were there to stop any recovery of artifacts or even digging. By the fall of 1981, I realized that the SEA, Ltd. investors had been had. My researcher in Spain confirmed that the Santa Rosalia did not wreck in 1785 and was still sailing long afterward. As for the San Lorenzo, she could find nothing.
As the chief diver and magnetometer operator, I was unaware of the nature of the claims until February of 1982, even though I was a stockholder. I knew Stewart was a fraud and was determined to expose him.
On October 21, 1982, the Court convened a hearing to hear arguments on the jurisdictional issues. The State requested permission to submit an additional memorandum in light of the Cobb Coin decision in Florida made in August of 1982.21
Raymond Cardillo reported to the SEA, Ltd. board:
At the hearing, the court led the parties to believe that a decision favorable to the plaintiffs would be forthcoming in a matter of days. “This was made obvious by the fact that the Court had limited the State to seven (7) days within which to file posthearing briefs; and the Court’s statement to the effect that when the State appeals [his] decision, nothing would be left undecided.”
On October 29th, the State submitted its Second Supplemental Memorandum on Jurisdictional Issues: “In the cases at bar, federal interests are illusory, and this Court should therefore decline to exercise its admiralty jurisdiction” “…This Court, sitting as a court of admiralty, would be obliged to apply settled principles of admiralty law and to recognize the deficiency of the Plaintiff’s allegations. Since this deficiency goes to the heart of this Court’s subject matter jurisdiction, it is a deficiency that cannot be waived by the action of the State. The parties cannot confer on this Court subject matter jurisdiction that it does not otherwise possess.” The court would ignore this basic principle.
On March 23rd, 1983, I filed a motion to intervene in the Santa Rosalea case to inform the court of what I knew firsthand and that the entire enterprise was a fraud. I swore as a diver and an employee of SEA, Ltd., and a stockholder that nothing had been found contrary to what the admiralty complaint filed in Baltimore’s Federal District Court that said the vessels had been found. These complaints expressly stated that SEA had found the vessels. I swore that the vessels described did not lie in the jurisdiction of the court “nor in any other area of the world.”
Stewart’s frauds were debunked:
- The “Santa Rosalea:” Stewart said she wrecked in 1785 carrying millions in treasure, but it never sank. There was a Santa Rosalia, which sank in 1788 at the Virginia Capescarrying 4,000 barrels of flour.18 For more, go here within this website.
- The San Lorenzo was easily debunked because Stewart provided so many details that were proven false. Coin finds at 14th Street went beyond 1820 to 1829. Research proves that the brig Samaritan wrecked in this area in September of 1830 and was traveling from Havana to Newburyport, RI. It most likely had some Spanish money on board.23 For more, go here within this website.
- The Santa Clara. No evidence to support Stewart’s claim that a Spanish ship had wrecked in Ocean City area in 1798 as he claimed. However, on January 5, 1799, a ship named the Hawk did wreck in the 18th Street area, and it was sailing from Havana to Philadelphia with a cargo of sugar. It most likely had some Spanish money on board. Her Captain, William Carhart, was buried just across the bay from 18th Street on the mainland at what is now known as Captain’s Hill.24
- The British privateer, Royal George, said to be wrecked in 1789, was nothing more than Stewart’s childish attempt to create a shipwreck. In real life, HMS Royal George, built in 1756 and carried 100 guns, was lost at the Isle of Wight, England, in 1782. At the head of Assawoman Bay, North Ocean City is an island now known as Isle of Wight, originally patented to John White in the 17th There is no doubt this coincidence inspired Stewart.
As for La Galga, research in Spain proved that La Galga was not carrying the millions in treasure claimed by Stewart. The boundary line that would define the shipwreck’s location was verified as being 2,500 yards south of the current boundary line. Government surveys recorded in the Accomack County Courthouse bear this out.25 The shipwreck that Stewart wanted to believe was La Galga was the Sunbeam, lost in 1852 seven miles north of the Assateague Lighthouse and near the Maryland-Virginia border. The bark, Sunbeam, was traveling from Havana to Newcastle, Maine, so she too would have had Spanish money onboard.26
On April 13, 1983, shortly after my motion to intervene in the Santa Rosalea case, Maryland’s Assistant Attorney General, Judith Armold, wrote to Judge Norman Ramsey ostensibly to transmit an opinion from the Massachusetts court hearing the case on the pirate ship, Whydah. She then proceeded on a separate matter, namely my motion to intervene. “Mr. Amrhein’s verified motion and his correspondence to Your Honor make very serious and important allegations concerning the plaintiff SEA, Ltd., certain of its officers and directors, and the basic allegations of the plaintiff’s complaint.” She told the Judge that if he followed the State’s suggestion that the Eleventh Amendment barred the proceeding it would render the issues raised by me “moot.” “However, should the court determine that further proceedings may be had in these cases, Mr. Amrhein’s allegations would appear to merit serious consideration.27” This letter was not entered as part of the official record. The Court ignored the letter, “Neither plaintiffs nor the State of Maryland have filed responses to Amrhein’s motion.” Subaqueous, p. 602. My allegations in the Motion to Intervene contradicted the court’s jurisdictional assumptions, i.e., that there was a real case or controversy.
On Sunday, April 24th, a month after I had filed my motion to intervene, The Baltimore Sun featured on its front page these headlines: “Search for Treasure off Ocean City is Shipwrecked on Rocky Finances.” The reporter contacted Ms. Judith Armold, Assistant Attorney General, who was handling the case, and asked her why the State had not pressed for a decision. Her response: “I guess it was not believed that if anything was down there it would be worth a lot.” The article went into detail on the San Lorenzo story and Stewart’s claim of possessing hundreds of pages of documentation proving its existence. Mrs. Corddry even detailed Stewart’s claim of treasure on the San Lorenzo for the readers. The paper also displayed a map of the coast of Ocean City that delineated the areas for all four shipwrecks. The San Lorenzo was clearly shown in the area between Tenth and Fourteenth Streets of Ocean City. The world now knew where to look for the so-called San Lorenzo. When Mrs. Corddry confronted Stewart with the fact that my researcher in Spain could find no reference to the ship, he responded “she must have been looking in the wrong archive.” Stewart took the opportunity to connect his fictitious San Lorenzo with the wild Assateague horses by telling the Sun reporter that the San Lorenzo was also known as the Santo Cristo, the name given to the mythical ship in Misty of Chincoteague. Stewart admitted to the paper that the shipwrecks had not been found yet. And for Santa Rosalia, the article made it clear that records proved she was safely in Veracruz, Mexico, when Stewart claimed she was lost off of Ocean City. Judge Ramsey could read in the Sun article some of the evidence that would be presented in the proposed evidentiary hearing.
SEA, Ltd. scheduled its last meeting of stockholders for Saturday, April 30, 1983, and invited Stewart to attend. Stewart never showed up. SEA voted to dissolve, and the board decided to “throw the ball in Stewart’s court.” The future of SEA was in his hands. All he had to do was prove what had already been played out on the front page of the Sun. In a telephone interview with the Sun that evening, Stewart said, “I’m going to throw it right back at them.” In the local paper, Stewart’s wife said he was too distraught to talk with reporters. She proclaimed, however, “Wait until his book comes out, and we’ll see who’s right.” The Baltimore Sun of May 1st, which told this story, included a picture of Judge Ramsey and myself.
On June 17, 1983, Dr. Richard Passwater, President of the present SEA, Ltd. board, wrote to Judge Ramsey and told him that the current board of directors makes no objections to my motion to intervene and hopes for an evidentiary hearing. “The only persons claiming knowledge of the existence of the wrecks are Atlantic Ship Historical Society and its President Donald Stewart and Mr. Raymond Cardillo. At this point, the Board of SEA, Ltd. is interested in knowing the truth as we are sure the court must be. Therefore, we strongly recommend that an evidentiary hearing be held to review the representations of Atlantic Ship Historical Society, Mr. Donald Stewart, and Mr. Raymond Cardillo before making any final decision. Meanwhile, we are at the disposal of the court.” The Maryland Attorney General’s Office was copied with this letter.28
All Maryland had to do was tell the court that it would be behind an evidentiary hearing because without a real shipwreck, Maryland would have no legal interest, and the case would have been dismissed on proper grounds.29
When I received Ms. Armold’s letter, I realized that the Court was looking at the San Lorenzo case and the Royal George case, where I failed to make similar claims. As for the Royal George, no record could be found on the shipwreck, which would be insufficient to warrant intervention. So, on May 4, 1983, I filed a Motion to Intervene in the San Lorenzo case and emphasized specifically “in regards to the Santa Clara and San Lorenzo that they “are not wrecked vessels and do not lie in the jurisdiction of the court. Documentation is available that proves the particulars of these vessels are fabrications and that Donald Stewart had full knowledge of these facts and was using this ‘claim’ to sell stock.” The Court filed my San Lorenzo Motion to Intervene in the Royal George case file, making it challenging to locate.30
For eight months, I waited to hear from the court.
The federal court refused to hold an evidentiary hearing on the fraud and granted the four make-believe shipwrecks to the State of Maryland on Friday, December 23, 1983. The Court stated that Maryland Natural Resources Code Ann. Section 2-309 “expressly declares that such historical objects are the property of the State of Maryland provided they are situated on state-owned or state-controlled land. The Submerged Lands Act establishes that the submerged lands or the “undetermined amount of sand” under which the remains of these vessels and their cargo are situated (emphasis added) belong to the State of Maryland.
The Court documented in the Opinion an agreement by the State of Maryland that the “defendant vessels and their cargo are situated off the shore of Ocean City, Maryland.” This established in rem jurisdiction for the court when it was conspicuously absent in the Plaintiffs’ pleadings. Can Maryland make such an agreement when they were warned about the character of the founder of both Plaintiffs? Judith Armold told the Baltimore Sun, “I guess it was not believed that if anything was down there it would be worth a lot.” Can the State make such an agreement while harboring doubts about the Plaintiffs’ affidavit? Can they “assume the truth” of the plaintiffs’ Complaint to allow the litigation to proceed with the knowledge they possessed? When did they come into possession of this information, and how?
The State of Maryland agree[s], and the Court so finds that the defendant vessels and their cargo are situated off the shore of Ocean City, Maryland. The Court further finds that the defendant vessels and their cargo are within the territorial jurisdiction of this forum.
The defendant vessels and their cargo, when they are successfully recovered, promise to provide the public with an invaluable opportunity to learn about the culture of people who explored or traveled to the shores of the United States two centuries ago.31
So, the court was now faced with two choices: Accept Maryland’s 11th Amendment defense or conduct a messy evidentiary hearing.
The Court chose to avoid an evidentiary hearing. “The Court denies Amrhein’s motion to intervene… the adjudication of Amrhein’s claim would unduly delay and complicate the adjudication of the controverted rights of the original parties and the State of Maryland; and that the applicant can adequately protect his rights by instituting a separate proceeding,” Subaqueous, p 602, 603.
I learned of the court’s decision in January of 1984 and immediately contacted the Clerk of the Court and asked why I had not been sent a copy of the Opinion. I got no answer, but I received the Opinion on January 20, 1984. My Baltimore attorneys were preparing to file a fraud suit against Stewart and others in the Worcester County Circuit Court in Snow Hill, Maryland, on behalf of a group of SEA, Ltd. investors. I realized this decision could be detrimental to our case, so I immediately filed a notice of appeal with the 4th Circuit. Once my brief was filed and copied to the Attorney General of Maryland, they answered, saying I was a day late filing the notice.
On February 6, I wrote to Judge Ramsey and shared with him internal memoranda to demonstrate that no shipwrecks had been found. I explained that I had researchers in England and Spain supporting my allegations. I said that the only vessel that appeared to be genuine was the Santa Rosalia, but I had documentation that it never sank. “Had you held the hearing and found no defendant vessels, the actions could have swiftly dismissed and negate the need for your lengthy opinion.” On February 15, Judge Ramsey responded, “Since you have appealed, it would be utterly inappropriate for me to engage in any discussion or debate with you concerning my Opinion in the captioned cases.”
Maryland’s win was touted as a great victory for historic preservation by the Society for Historical Archaeology. In their March 1984 newsletter:
“The State of Maryland has received a very favorable decision in a treasure salvage lawsuit…. The Judge specifically declined to follow some of the terrible precedents set by the Florida and Texas treasure hunting lawsuits. This case is highly significant in terms of the prospects of preservation of historic shipwreck sites instead of their destruction through commercial exploration.”32
On appeal, the Attorney General ran cover for the Judge. In a responsive pleading in the Court of Appeals, the AG pointed out that the “plaintiffs’ allegations were never an issue in the lower court and that the Court was not called on to make findings of fact with respect to the existence of the alleged defendant property. Anything in the Court’s opinion suggesting such findings were made is misleading.” The Society for Historical Archaeology was certainly “misled” as was the rest of the world. It needs to be pointed out that the State of Maryland and the Judge were the only ones that could have challenged the Plaintiff’s allegations, but they chose not to even though the State of Maryland was given a heads up on the forthcoming fraudulent claims by Stewart.
In January of 1984, I and other SEA, Ltd. investors sued Donald Stewart and his phony Atlantic Ship Historical Society in the circuit court for Worcester County, Maryland. Stewart’s defense attorney moved for dismissal, saying that the federal court’s Opinion proved that the vessels DID exist as a matter of law barring the plaintiffs from prosecuting our suit under the principle of collateral estoppel.33 We were barred from litigating the existence of the shipwrecks. However, other counts of misrepresentation survived, and discovery began.34
In May, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals denied my appeal as being untimely because I was a day late.
I then attempted a Motion for Reconsideration of the Court’s denial of intervention in federal District Court. The State of Maryland aggressively argued that this should not be available to me. Again, they were fighting to preserve their ill-gotten legal precedent, not the protection of Maryland’s historical heritage or funds in their treasury. They swore to the court that “the State has no knowledge concerning Mr. Amrhein’s allegations of fraud.” They claimed again they had sovereign immunity. Since they no longer were defending State property but defending an advisory opinion, I argued that they had crossed the line and waived their sovereign immunity. The District and Appellate courts failed to address this.
SEA, Ltd. never filed any evidence of any discovery of any shipwreck. The plaintiffs made no statements about treasure. The language in the Opinion about treasure had to have come from newspaper articles. While the court acknowledged my Motion to Intervene and stated its desire to deny my motion, it failed to issue the order of denial required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.35
The entire proceeding was fraught with ignorance of the law and the court’s abuse of discretion. The State of Maryland did not claim the wrecks. They made a Special Appearance to argue that the State was immune from suit because the 11th Amendment gave them sovereign immunity protection. On those grounds, they asked for dismissal rather than using the favored defense of lack of subject matter jurisdiction and in rem.36
The jurisdiction claimed by the Plaintiffs was in rem admiralty jurisdiction. The jurisdiction of the court was proclaimed by the Court to be in rem. The suit was ostensibly against shipwrecks, not a person (in personam) or the State of Maryland. For the court to have jurisdiction in admiralty, subject matter jurisdiction must be evident on the face of the record.37 Without marine peril or successful service rendered, there would be no subject matter jurisdiction. The State of Maryland even argued in its secondary defense that lack of subject matter jurisdiction is a deficiency and that the parties cannot confer subject matter jurisdiction on the court it does not otherwise possess.38 The State of Maryland assumed the truth of SEA, Ltd.’s Complaint, thereby creating subject matter jurisdiction even though the pleadings in the case say otherwise. The Plaintiffs’ attorney was making representations to the court based on the untruths spoken by Donald Stewart and the Plaintiff, Atlantic Ship Historical Society, Inc. (For the record, Donald Stewart is the common denominator for the Plaintiffs. The SEA, Ltd. board members were victims). The State of Maryland did not assume the truth. They had knowledge of Stewart’s lack of credibility, as evidenced by their admission to the Baltimore Sun: “I guess it was not believed that if anything was down there it would be worth a lot.”
So even if the parties can infer subject matter jurisdiction by agreement, which it cannot,39 can it be created by the parties so situated? Even if it was in good faith?” The good faith of SEA, Ltd.’s attorneys is assumed. There was no good faith on the part of the Atlantic Ship Historical Society. But that good faith does not create subject matter jurisdiction when the record says it does not exist. If subject matter jurisdiction is lacking on the face of the record, the court may dismiss the case on its own motion.40 That should have been done.
The court’s findings and judgment were made without requisite admiralty (subject matter) jurisdiction. The opinion issued on December 23, 1983, is nothing more than an advisory opinion to the Attorney General of the State of Maryland. Such opinions are not provided for in Article III Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution.41
I realized that the State now had a legal mandate to inventory and preserve objects of historical interest, thanks to the SEA, Ltd. decision, so I thought it might prove valuable to visit the Office of the Maryland Historical Trust in September of 1984.42 I found the staff very friendly and ready to answer questions. (I didn’t tell them who I was.) They produced the archaeological inventory map covering the Ocean City area. I looked up and down the coast and could not find any notations for shipwrecks. I saw some outlines drawn on the mainland areas that extended into the water. The staff member informed me that the dotted lines indicated a suspected site for Indian habitation, but it had not been verified. I told him I had read in the newspaper that some old shipwrecks were found at Ocean City. He matter-of-factly said, “They are not really there.” Then I told him that they knew this because of me. I did not need to see anymore, so I left. So, as of September 1984, the State of Maryland was not assuming the truth of SEA, Ltd.’s allegations. On November 30, 1984, the State of Maryland claimed before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals case No. 84-2170 that “The State has no knowledge concerning these claims…”
The day after my visit to the Maryland Historical Trust, I wrote to the State’s Archaeologist for an explanation. I got no answer.
When I realized that the District Court erred in not issuing a separate order denying my Motion to Intervene, I filed a motion for the court to issue the order so that I could then appeal. The State argued that I had no right to do that, and the District Court agreed and denied my motion.
I filed yet another appeal which the State vigorously objected to. I then realized that if the District Court had not yet officially denied my Motion to Intervene, I could file a motion to supplement my original filing. With this filing, I included the many pages of documents proving the fraud. But first, I asked the 4th Circuit to hold off on a decision until the District Court made a decision on my supplemental filing.
On April 26, 1985, the 4th Circuit denied my motion to appear as an amicus curiae. But, the court proclaimed, “If Amrhein is so disposed, he may file a new notice [of appeal] from that order [of my original Motion to Intervene.] This was no small win.
As soon as the records were returned to the district court, the State of Maryland, on May 24, 1985, in direct contradiction to the ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, filed another motion, “strongly urging” the district court to enter the orders as effective on the earlier date of December 23, 1983. This would prevent me from filing a valid appeal even though the 4th Circuit said the time had not started to run. I was forced to respond on June 7.
The docket shows that the court ordered the denial of my motion to intervene on June 10.
Judge Ramsey had known since late April that he was required to issue the order of denial as directed by the court of appeals. Finally, on Friday, June 14, I received notice of Judge Ramsey’s denial of my Motions to Intervene, but something didn’t seem right. On the order, the place for the day was left blank when it was typed, only the month and year typed in. The order was dated the 10th by a handwritten notation. This in and of itself was of no real concern, but the envelope to me was dated Wednesday the 12th, two days after the record said Judge Ramsey had signed it and one day after the court had received my evidence.
The court also failed to deny my Motion to Supplement pleadings but only did so after I reminded the district court of this deficiency—that order was issued on July 12.
According to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,43 the Clerk of Court is supposed to mail court orders immediately. (This certainly makes sense because some poor litigant could end up a day late with his appeal.)
So, the “record” shows I was a day late again. The courts had no obligation to review the evidence I submitted. Since I was in the middle of the investors’ suit against Stewart, I realized that if I continued to fight in federal court, the Attorney General would oppose me every step of the way, which could jeopardize our fraud suit, so I let it ride.
David R. Owen, an attorney formerly with Semmes, Bowen &. Semmes of Baltimore, Md., was also past president of the Maritime Law Association of the United States and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce in 1985 when he authored “Some Legal Troubles with Treasure: Jurisdiction and Salvage.” Judge Norman Ramsey had previously practiced at his law firm. I met Mr. Owen in 1984, and he encouraged me to keep up the fight. His review of the Subaqueous case ended with this:
The court had no jurisdiction over the subject matter or the res. Therefore, it had no power to decide any issue of salvage law, federal preemption, or the Eleventh Amendment. Lacking jurisdiction, it could do no more than dismiss the Complaint and vacate the arrest: This, of course, it did, but for the wrong reasons…What Subaqueous amounts to in legal effect but most assuredly not by design is an advisory opinion to the Attorney General of Maryland. It is elementary that a federal court has no power to render such an opinion.44
In Worcester County Court, Stewart submitted numerous manufactured documents and was close to a mental breakdown. He settled out of court. But it wasn’t over. His tentacles had reached into the Federal District Court for the District of Wilmington, Delaware, where yet another case of shipwreck fraud over a ship now described as the “Santa Rosea Lea” was being litigated. I was asked to get involved by a young admiralty attorney named Peter Hess from Wilmington. At the same time, a treasure hunting company called Alpha Quest, Inc. was formed by Richard Cook. Cook, a former SEA, Ltd. investor, who remained under the spell of Donald Stewart, was determined to prove him right.
Stewart’s fraudulent San Lorenzo hoax made its way into various local histories and tourist literature conning the general public at large.
On March 11, 1998, La Galga found her way into federal court in Norfolk, Virginia, lured there by a claim of discovery that was inspired by the con man, Donald Stewart.
Owen, David R., “Some Legal Troubles with Treasure: Jurisdiction and Salvage, Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce, vol. 16, No. 2, April, 1985.
Amrhein Jr., John L., The Hidden Galleon: The True Story of a Lost Spanish Ship and the Wild Horses of Assateague Island, New Maritima Press, Inc, Kitty Hawk, NC, 2007.
- These coins may no longer be on display at the Ocean City Life Saving Museum. Amrhein, pp. 79, 177.
- Volume 28, page 493, Proceedings of the Council of Maryland, 1732-1753, Maryland State Archives.
- The article, “Assateague Ponies A New Look,” was also published under “Assateague Ponies Traced to 1820 Ship Sinking” in the Maryland Resorter magazine, Ocean City, MD, July 15-31, 1979.
- “Shipwreck: 18th century Spanish shipwreck reported off Delmarva,” Maryland Beachcomber, May 16, 1980, Ocean City, MD. The article claimed the Spanish ship was carrying 4,250,000 pesos valued at $30-$40 million in 1980.
- On April 25, 1980. SEA, Ltd. placed an ad in the Wall Street Journal classifieds seeking investors with the claim that five shipwrecks worth $100,000,000 had been found. This ad was published the very weekend this author’s search effort began. Amrhein, p.61.
- Cardillo to Rick Firth, President of SEA, Ltd., January 9, 1981.
- The Atlantic Ship Historical Society had contracted with SEA, Ltd. for the special expertise possessed by Donald F. Stewart and the records and knowledge he alone possesses, not only specific shipwreck sites and proper method of their discovery and recovery, but as well as a broad field of underwater archaeology, in general.”
- Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permitted claims based on knowledge and belief. “Rule 11 speaks in plainly subjective terms: the attorney’s certification of a pleading is an assertion that “to the best of his knowledge, information, and belief there is good ground to support it. . . .” Nemeroff v. Abelson, 620 F. 2d 350 CA, 2nd Circuit 1980. In Cardillo’s case, he had been taken in by Stewart. Stewart suborned his perjury through Cardillo. But Cardillo and Stewart knew that SEA, Ltd. had not found anything when he swore they had. “The signature of an attorney constitutes a certificate by him that he has read the pleading; that to the best of his knowledge, information, and belief there is good ground to support it…” Rhinehart v. Stauffer, 638 F.2d 1171 (9th Cir. 1980). Later, in the fraud and negligence suit against Stewart and Cardillo, Cardillo chose to settle out of court rather than answer his interrogatories.
- This letter was also supplied to the SEA, Ltd. board of directors. It almost derailed Stewart, but the corporation continued to raise funds off of the admiralty filings.
- THE “SABINE, ” 101 U.S. 384 (1879).
- Advisory opinions. Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil §2862 1972, says a judgment is void “if the Court that rendered it lacked jurisdiction of the subject matter, or of the parties, or if it acted in a manner inconsistent with the due process of law.”
- Maryland would argue on appeal that they always “assumed to truth” of Plaintiff’s Complaint. They had known about Stewart’s San Lorenzo story since 1977 and had six years to conduct a reasonable inquiry. This story was easily debunked using the many details provided by Stewart. Research in Spain debunking the Santa Rosalia and the San Lorenzo cost a few hundred dollars. Maryland certainly had historical and archaeological experts at their disposal at the Maryland Historical Trust.
- Owen, p. 157 citing Del Greco v. New York Harbor Independent Pilots, 1983 AMC 2221, 2239, S.D. NY, 1982: “This was not waste time; comprehension of the factual background was essential to a determination of whether or not jurisdiction existed. But jurisdiction does not exist. The practical result is that in contemplation of law, the parties are not here. I can properly say nothing to them other than “farewell.” It is axiomatic that the lack of subject matter jurisdiction is never waived. C. Wright, Federal Courts § 67 (2d Ed. 1970). The consent of the parties cannot confer jurisdiction on this Court. Subject matter jurisdiction involves the power of the court to hear a case and, therefore, the lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be asserted by the court itself, either at the trial or appellate level. Wright v. Baltimore Teachers Union, 369 F Supp. 848 citing 5 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil § 1393, at 866-67 (1st Ed. 1969); 1 Moore, Federal Practice ¶ 0.60  (2d Ed. 1964). The 4th Circuit knew it but ignored my arguments because I was not a party because my appeal was a day late.
- Maryland’s Natural Resource Code §2-309 Annotated 1974, 1980 supp. “any object or material of historical or archaeological value or interest found on an archaeological site or land owned or controlled by the State is property of the State. §2-301 stated that: A person who knows the location of any archaeological site in the State is encouraged to communicate the information to a reputable museum, an institution of higher education, a recognized scientific or historical institution or society, or the [Geological] Survey.
- Maryland Natural Resources Coded only applied to real shipwrecks actually resting on or imbedded in the State’s submerged lands. 7A J. Moore’s Federal Practice ¶.215 , 92d Ed. 1983 “for admiralty jurisdiction to exist, it is absolutely imperative and mandatory that a “vessel” within the statutory definition of a “vessel” be present.” Noble v. Union River Logging R. Company 147 U.S. 165, 173-4, 13 S. Ct 271, 273, 37 L. ed 123 1893, “It is true that in every proceeding of a judicial nature, there are one or more facts which are strictly jurisdictional, the existence of which is necessary to the validity of the proceedings and without which the act of the court is a mere nullity — such, for example… possession of the res within the bailiwick in a proceeding in rem”. When jurisdiction may not exist, however, the court must raise the issue even if the parties are willing to stipulate to federal jurisdiction. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h) (3). See, e. g., Wong v. Bacon, 445 F. Supp. 1177 (N.D. Cal. 1977). International Brotherhood of Boilermakers v. International Brotherhood pf Boilermakers… 621 F 2d 1032, (CA 9th 1980). The Court burdened with duty not to entertain jurisdiction if it does not affirmatively appear cannot infer its jurisdiction from attorney’s certificate such as his signature on a pleading, Dodrill v. New York Central R. Co., 253 F. Supp, 564 (DC Ohio 1966).
- The State’s argument that subject matter jurisdiction was a secondary defense was not legitimate. Owen, 148 n. “The court is presumed not to have subject matter jurisdiction…If the Complaint does not on its face show subject matter jurisdiction it is subject to dismissal on motion…it can be raised sua sponte by the court.” And where there has been no arrest, Admiralty has no jurisdiction to enter a decree in rem, Burns Bros. v. Long Island Railroad Company, 176 F 2d 950 (2nd 1949). The State did not offer this defense.
- Cardillo admits to no in rem Where there is no arrest, there can be no jurisdiction in rem. There must be a vessel that fulfills the statutory definition of a “vessel,” 7A J. Moore, Moore’s Federal Practice ¶.215 (2d Ed. 1983).
- State of Maryland’s Special Appearance and Motion to Vacate Arrest and to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction, p. 5.
- Assateague Island Handbook 106, National Park Service, Government Printing Office 1980. This handbook was revised in 1985, removing all references to the San Lorenzo.
- Cobb Coin Co., Inc. v. Unidentified, Wrecked, Etc., 549 F. Supp. 540 (S.D. Fla. 1982). The res brought into court was an iron cannon. The court had in rem jurisdiction.
- The Pennsylvania Gazette of August 20, 1788, printed an account written from Norfolk dated July 31, which said that “a Spanish ship with 4 thousand barrels of flour on board, from Baltimore for the Mississippi or New Orleans was wrecked on Cape Charles and the crew consisting of 30 people all perished.” This was not a Spanish treasure ship.
- Brig Samaritan, Amrhein, pp. 177-9, 460.
- The Hawk, Amrhein pp. 189-90, 453.
- Amrhein, pp 139-141.
- Sunbeam, Amrhein p. 279.
- Assistant Attorney General, Judith Armold to Judge Norman Ramsey, April 19, 1983. Armold ignored Supreme Court precedent: “For the adjudication of constitutional issues, concrete legal issues, presented in actual cases, not abstractions, are requisite, see, e.g., Michael v Cockrell 162 F.2d 163 (4th Cir. 1947 and Alabama State Federation of Labor v. McAdory 325 U.S. 450, 89 L. Ed. 1725, 65 S. Ct .1384 (1945). Her letter may have been inspired by the principles found in 4 AM JUR 2d AMICUS CURIAE S5 1962 [i]t is not only the right but the duty of an attorney of the court, if he knows or has reason to believe that the time of the court is being taken up by the trial of a feigned issue, to inform the Judge thereof.” It was more important to the Attorney General to win the case as a future precedent that to prosecute the perjury and stock fraud so blatantly committed within his jurisdiction.
- Richard Passwater, President of SEA, Ltd. to Judge Norman Ramsey, June 17, 1983.
- Owen, proper grounds, see Note 49 below.
- This was not cleared up until the end of post-judgment litigation.
- Subaqueous, pp. 597, 612-614. “The Court finds that the challenged terms are not indefinite, vague, or uncertain. “Historical” items refer to objects pertaining or characteristic of past events. See Random House College Dictionary 628 (rev. ed. 1980). “Archaeological” items refer to objects pertaining to historic peoples or their dwellings and artifacts. See at 69.” The Court determined that Maryland Natural Resources Code was not unconstitutionally vague.
- This was the legal prize that the State of Maryland sought to maintain.
- Collateral estoppel: Doctrine that prevents a person from relitigating an issue. One summary is that “once a court has decided an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision … preclude[s] relitigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of actioninvolving a party to the first case.
- Case # 9981Circuit Court for Worcester County, Maryland. Amrhein, pp. 195, 202, 204.
- FRCP Failed to issue order, Rule 79.
- Favored defense. Owen, p. 141. “In this unfortunate decision, the court granted the State of Maryland’s motion to dismiss on the basis of its Eleventh Amendment arguments, whereas it should have dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter and in rem jurisdiction without reaching the Eleventh Amendment defense.” P. 142, “It should be noted, however that the State did not, in its motion or supporting memoranda, argue that the Court lacked in rem jurisdiction because there was no res in existence. In short, the State did not adopt the additional and fundamental defense suggested by Mr. Amrhein.” On October 29, 1982, in their Second Supplemental Memorandum on Jurisdictional Issues, the State argued that the parties cannot confer on the court subject matter jurisdiction. This was ignored by the court. The State also pointed out that [N]o property has yet been raised or recovered. And whether any property will be successfully recovered is wholly speculative.”
- Face of the record. See Note 17 supra.
- The Court recognized that there was such an agreement at Subaqueous, p. 606, “Plaintiffs and the State of Maryland agree, and the Court so finds that the defendant vessels and their cargo are situated off the shore of Ocean City, Maryland.” The State of Maryland had made no claim to the wrecks. They only appeared specially to argue their claim of sovereign immunity. They were not a party to the case and had no standing to concede in rem (Owen, p. 167). They knew of the falsity of the claims before my attempted intervention. Maryland was not in a position to enter into agreement to create in rem jurisdiction when on the face of the record, it did not exist.
- Owen, p. 145.
- In the absence of a case or controversy between the parties, this Court will not undertake to decide the questions presented. Fenner v Bruce Manor, Inc. 409 F. Supp 1353, D. Md 1976. Subject matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time, including for the first time on appeal.
- Owen, p. 179.
- The State’s Historic Preservation Officer is required to maintain inventories of historic properties. 16 USC §470a (b)(3) (A) of the National Historic Preservation Act. The regulations are at 36 CFR Part 61.4.
- Clerk of Court. The 4th Circuit ruled that per FRCP Rules 58 and 79, the court was required to issue a separate document for the order of denial. Timely mailing of court orders Rule 77(d) FRCP Notice of Orders or Judgments. Immediately upon the entry of an order or judgment, the clerk shall serve a notice of the entry in the manner provided for in Rule 5(b) upon each party who is not in default for failure to appear, and shall make a note in the docket of the service.
- Owen, p. 179. Owen, p. 179, n. Alabama State Federation of Labor v. McAdory 325 U.S. 450, 89 L. Ed. 1725, 65 S. Ct. 1384 (1945). Wright and Miller. Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil §1350 says an objection to subject matter jurisdiction goes to the power of the court to hear and decide the case; parties may not create or destroy jurisdiction by agreement or consent. Most importantly, if the defense is overruled, stricken, or excluded, it may be reasserted at any time. In Vecchione v. Wohlgmuth, 426 F Supp. 1297 (ED Pa. 1977) at 1307 “[a] judgment rendered in the absence of subject matter jurisdiction is a legal nullity unable to ripen with age into a valid judgment.” The Court could have and should have conducted an evidentiary hearing. “In any event, the Court could have exercised its inherent power and ordered an evidentiary hearing on the issue raised by Mr. Amrhein.” Owen, p. 158.