Uravic v. F. Jarka Co., Inc.
282 U.S. 234 (1931)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Uravic v. F. Jarka Co., Inc., 282 U.S. 234 (1931)

Uravic v. F. Jarka Co., Inc.

No. 32

Argued December 8, 1930

Decided January 5, 1931

282 U.S. 234

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK

Syllabus

Section 33 of the Merchant Marine Act, which, in connection with the Employers' Liability Act, gives an action at common law to

Page 282 U. S. 235

the personal representative of any "seaman" suffering death from injuries received in the course of his employment, even where such injuries are due to the negligence of a fellow servant, extends to the case of an American stevedore while engaged in unloading, in American waters, a private foreign ship. P. 282 U. S. 237.

252 N.Y. 530 reversed.

Certiorari, 281 U.S. 708, to review a judgment of the Supreme Court of New York, entered on remittitur from the Court of Appeals. The judgment affirmed the dismissal of the complaint in a death action brought against the Jarka Company, an American stevedoring company, by the administratrix.

Page 282 U. S. 237

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an action that was brought in a court of the State of New York and tried before a jury. At the close of the plaintiff's case, the complaint was dismissed upon the merits and the decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, 252 N.Y. 530, 170 N.E. 131, on the authority of Resigno v. F. Jarka Co., 248 N.Y. 225, 162 N.E. 13. A writ of certiorari was granted by this Court, 281 U. S. 70, because there is involved an important question as to the applicability of the Jones Act, Act March 4, 1915, c. 153, § 20, as amended by the Act of June 5, 1920, c. 250, § 33, 41 Stat. 988, 1007; U.S.Code, Title 46, § 688.

The action was for causing the death of the plaintiff's intestate, Anton Uravic, an American citizen, employed

Page 282 U. S. 238

in work as a stevedore by the F. Jarka Company, a Delaware corporation. The suit against the other defendant named was discontinued. At the time of receiving the injury that caused his death, July 13, 1926, Uravic was helping to unload a vessel flying the German flag in the harbor of New York. He was on the vessel at the time, and we are to take it that he was hurt by the negligence of a fellow servant. That fact was no defence if the above-mentioned § 33 governed, because it is not one in the case of railway employees; Act of the April 22, 1908, c. 149, § 1, 35 Stat. 65; U.S.Code, Tit. 45, § 51, and this § 33, giving an action at common law to the personal representative of any seaman suffering death in the course of his employment, makes applicable all statutes of the United States conferring or regulating such right of action in the case of railway employees. It is decided that stevedores come within the benefits conferred by § 33. International Stevedoring Co. v. Haverty,272 U. S. 50. But the question is raised whether the statute applies to a stevedore working on a vessel that we assume to have been German, since she flew the German flag.

The language of the statute is general. The right is given to "any seaman," including, as we have said, stevedores. The jurisdiction and the authority of Congress to deal with the matter are unquestionable and unquestioned. Cunard Steamship Co. v. Mellon,262 U. S. 100, 262 U. S. 124et seq. The conduct regulated is of universal concern. The rights of a citizen within the territorial limits of the country are more extensively determined by the scope of actions for torts than even by the law of crimes. There is strong reason for giving the same protection to the person of those who work in our harbors when they are working upon a German ship than they would receive when working upon an American ship in the next dock, as is especially obvious in the case of stevedores, who may

Page 282 U. S. 239

be employed in unloading vessels of half a dozen different flags in turn.

But it is said that stevedores only get their rights by a somewhat artificial extension of the word "seaman," and it is argued that a seaman upon a German vessel clearly would not be given the rights claimed. It is said that the word is defined by R.S. § 4612, U.S.Code, Tit. 46, § 713. But that section merely provides that, for the purposes of the chapter, "seaman" shall include persons who otherwise might be deemed not to be seamen. It is directed to extension, not to restriction, as remarked by Judge Crane in Resigno v. F. Jarka Co., 248 N.Y. 225, 242, 162 N.E. 13. Then it is argued that the grant of jurisdiction to the court of the district in which the defendant employer resides or has his principal office without granting a proceeding in in the case of tramp steamers from abroad shows that seamen on a foreign vessel were not contemplated. But the question is not whether they were thought of for the purpose of inclusion, but whether they were intentionally excluded from a description that, on its face, includes them. The express mention of them in sections as to the payment of wages does not help the respondent, since that is a domestic matter of contract that, unless mentioned, might be left to the parties concerned. See Jackson v. The Archimedes,275 U. S. 463, 275 U. S. 467.

Perhaps it would be a sufficient answer to the objections that, while § 33 is construed to give the rights of seamen to stevedores, it does not say or mean that stevedores are to be regarded as seamen on the particular vessel upon which for the moment they happen to be at work. They simply are given the rights of seamen, and, as they are American workmen, they have the rights of American seamen as well on German as on American ships.

But we may go further. Here, we are dealing with the conduct of persons within the jurisdiction affecting the

Page 282 U. S. 240

safety of other persons within it. If the rule is wise, there is no reason why it should not be universal. Wise or not, it is law, and the question is why general words should not be generally applied. What would be the alternative? Hardly that the German law should be adopted. It always is the law of the United States that governs within the jurisdiction of the United States, even when, for some special occasion, this country adopts a foreign law as its own. The Exchange v. M'Faddon, 7 Cranch 116, 11 U. S. 136; The Lottawanna, 21 Wall. 558, 88 U. S. 571-572; The Western Maid,257 U. S. 419, 257 U. S. 432; Cunard S.S. Co. v. Mellon,262 U. S. 100, 262 U. S. 124. There hardly seems to be a reason why it should adopt a different rule for people subject to its authority because they are upon a private vessel registered abroad. They are not within the exception as to public armed vessels of a foreign sovereign, whatever its extent. The Exchange v. M'Faddon, 7 Cranch 116, 11 U. S. 143. Crimes committed upon such private vessels may be punished by the territorial jurisdiction. Wildenhus' Case,120 U. S. 1; Patterson v. The Eudora,190 U. S. 169, 190 U. S. 177. We see no reason for limiting the liability for torts committed there when they go beyond the scope of discipline and private matters that do not interest the territorial power. But, in these latter cases, the local authority might abstain from interfering simply because it did not care to interfere. It would be extraordinary to apply German law to Americans momentarily on board a private German ship in New York.

At the argument, it was suggested that the case should be governed by the general maritime law. This means, as we have indicated, by the law of the United States, with the provisions of § 33 left out. It is assumed that, by the law so qualified, a master would not be liable to a servant for an injury caused by the negligence of a fellow servant. But that doctrine is of relatively recent appearance

Page 282 U. S. 241

in admiralty following the common law. The City of Alexandria, 17 F. 390. And, as we believe, it was introduced into the common law almost within the memory of men still living upon a principle of policy. Labatt, Master & Servant, §§ 471, et seq., § 484; 2d ed. §§ 1394, 1408. It would be somewhat hard to maintain that principal as still the policy of the law in this case after the doctrine has been abolished for railroad employees and seamen. See International Stevedoring Co. v. Haverty,272 U. S. 50, 272 U. S. 52.

If it should appear that, by valid contract or special circumstances, seamen on a foreign ship should not be protected by the statute, it will be time enough to consider the exception when it is presented. But the purport of the words is plain, and there is no reason to deny stevedores the benefit of them even if exceptions to the rule for seamen may be found upon peculiar facts.

Judgment reversed.

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