Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S. A. v. Calhoun
516 U.S. 199 (1996)

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 1995

Syllabus

YAMAHA MOTOR CORP., U. S. A., ET AL. v.

CALHOUN ET AL., INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATORS OF THE ESTATE OF CALHOUN, DECEASED

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

No. 94-1387. Argued October 31, 1995-Decided January 9, 1996

Twelve-year-old Natalie Calhoun was killed in a collision in territorial waters off Puerto Rico while riding a jet ski manufactured and distributed by petitioners Yamaha. Natalie's parents, respondents Calhoun, filed this federal diversity and admiralty action for damages against Yamaha, invoking Pennsylvania's wrongful-death and survival statutes. The District Court agreed with Yamaha that the federal maritime wrongful-death action recognized in Moragne v. States Marine Lines, Inc., 398 U. S. 375, controlled to the exclusion of state law. In its order presenting the matter for immediate interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U. S. C. § 1292(b), the District Court certified questions of law concerning the recoverability of particular items of damages under Moragne. The Third Circuit granted interlocutory review, but the panel to which the appeal was assigned did not reach the questions presented in the certified order. Instead, the panel addressed and resolved an anterior issue; it held that state remedies remain applicable in accident cases of this type and have not been displaced by the federal maritime wrongful-death action recognized in Moragne.

Held:

1. Section 1292(b) provides that "[w]hen a district judge, in making ... an order not otherwise appealable ... , shall be of the opinion that such order involves a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appealfrom the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation, he shall so state in writing in such order," and specifies that "the Court of Appeals ... may thereupon, in its discretion, permit an appeal to be takenfrom such order" (emphasis added). As that text indicates, the court of appeals can exercise interlocutory jurisdiction over any question fairly included within the order certified by the district court, and is not limited to the particular questions of law therein formulated. Pp. 204-205.

2. In maritime wrongful-death cases in which no federal statute specifies the appropriate relief and the decedent was not a seaman, longshore


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worker, or person otherwise engaged in a maritime trade, state remedies remain applicable and have not been displaced by the wrongfuldeath action recognized in Moragne. Pp.206-216.

(a) In The Harrisburg, 119 U. S. 199, this Court ruled that the general maritime law (a species of judge-made federal common law) did not afford a cause of action for wrongful death. Federal admiralty courts, prior to Moragne, tempered the harshness of The Harrisburg's rule by allowing recovery under state wrongful-death and survival statutes in maritime accident cases. See, e. g., Western Fuel Co. v. Garcia, 257 U. S. 233. Such state laws proved an adequate supplement to federal maritime law, until a series of this Court's decisions transformed the maritime doctrine of unseaworthiness into a rule making shipowners strictly liable to seamen injured by the owners' failure to supply safe ships. See, e. g., Mahnich v. Southern S. S. Co., 321 U. S. 96. By the time Moragne was decided, claims premised on unseaworthiness had become "the principal vehicle for recovery" by seamen and other maritime workers injured or killed in the course of their employment. 398 U. S., at 399. The disparity between the unseaworthiness doctrine's strict liability standard and negligence-based state wrongful-death statutes prompted the Moragne Court, id., at 409, to overrule The Harrisburg and hold that an action "lie[s] under general maritime law for death caused by violation of maritime duties." pp.206-209.

(b) This Court rejects Yamaha's argument that Moragne's wrongful-death action covers the waters, creating a uniform federal maritime remedy for all deaths occurring in state territorial waters, and ousting all state remedies previously available to supplement general maritime law. The uniformity concerns that prompted the Moragne Court to overrule The Harrisburg related to ships and the workers who serve them, and to the frequent unavailability of unseaworthiness, a distinctively maritime substantive concept, as a basis of liability under state law. See 398 U. S., at 395-396. The concerns underlying Moragne were of a different order than those invoked by Yamaha. Notably, Yamaha seeks the contraction of remedies, not the extension of relief in light of the "humane and liberal" character of admiralty proceedings recognized in Moragne. See id., at 387. The Moragne Court tied its petitioner's unseaworthiness plea to a federal right-of-action anchor, but left in place the negligence claim she had stated under Florida's law, and thus showed no hostility to concurrent application of state wrongful-death statutes that might provide a more generous remedy. Cf. Sun Ship, Inc. v. Pennsylvania, 447 U. S. 715, 724. No congressionally prescribed, comprehensive tort recovery regime prevents such enlargement of damages here. See Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U. S. 19, 30-36. The only relevant congressional disposition, the Death on


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