Harbor Tug & Barge Co. v. Papai
520 U.S. 548 (1997)

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OCTOBER TERM, 1996

Syllabus

HARBOR TUG & BARGE CO. v. PAPAl ET ux.

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

No.95-1621. Argued January 13, 1997-Decided May 12, 1997

Respondent Papai was injured while painting the housing structure of the tug Pt. Barrow. Petitioner Harbor Tug & Barge Co., the tug's operator, had hired him to do the work, which was expected to last one day and would not involve sailing with the vessel. Papai had been employed by Harbor Tug on 12 previous occasions in the 21/2 months before his injury, receiving those jobs through the Inland Boatman's Union (lEU) hiring hall. He had been getting short-term jobs with various vessels through the hiring hall for about 2Y4 years. Most of those were deckhand work, which Papai said involved manning the lines on- and off-board vessels while they dock or undock. Papai sued Harbor Tug, claiming, inter alia, negligence under the Jones Act, and his wife joined as a plaintiff, claiming loss of consortium. The District Court granted Harbor Tug summary judgment upon finding that Papai did not enjoy seaman status under the Jones Act, and it later confirmed that adjudication. The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded for a trial of, among other things, Papai's seaman status and his corresponding Jones Act claim. Based on Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U. S. 347, the court described the relevant inquiry as not whether Papai had a permanent connection with the vessel but whether his relationship with a vessel or an identifiable group of vessels was substantial in duration and nature, and found that this required consideration of his employment's total circumstances. The court determined that a reasonable jury could conclude that Papai satisfied that test, for if the type of work a maritime worker customarily performs would entitle him to seaman status if performed for a single employer, he should not be deprived of that status simply because the industry operates under a daily assignment, rather than a permanent employment, system.

Held:

1. Because the issue whether the record permits a reasonable jury to conclude that Papai is a Jones Act seaman is here resolved in the employer's favor, this Court does not reach the question whether an administrative ruling for an employee on his claim of Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act coverage bars his claim of seaman status in a Jones Act suit. P. 550.


549

2. This record would not permit a reasonable jury to conclude that Papai is a Jones Act seaman. Jones Act coverage is confined to seamen, those workers who face regular exposure to the perils of the sea. An important part of the test for determining who is a seaman is whether the injured worker has a substantial connection to a vessel or to a fleet of vessels, and the latter concept requires a requisite degree of common ownership or control. Chandris, 515 U. S., at 366. The requisite link is not established by the mere use of the same hiring hall which draws from the same pool of employees. The various vessels on which Papai worked through the IBU hiring hall in the 2Y4 years before his injury were not linked by any common ownership or control. Considering prior employments with independent employers in making the seaman status inquiry would undermine "the interests of employers and maritime workers alike in being able to predict who will be covered by the Jones Act ... before a particular work day begins," id., at 363, and there would be no principled basis for limiting which prior employments are considered for determining seaman status. That the IBU Deckhands Agreement classified Papai as a deckhand does not give him claim to seaman status. Seaman status is based on his actual duties, South Chicago Coal & Dock Co. v. Bassett, 309 U. S. 251, 260, and Papai's duties during the employment in question included no seagoing activity. Nor is it reasonable to infer from his testimony that his 12 prior employments with Harbor Tug involved work of a seagoing nature that could qualify him for seaman status. Pp. 553-560.

67 F.3d 203, reversed.

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and O'CONNOR, SCALIA, SOUTER, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GINSBURG and BREYER, JJ., joined, post, p. 560.

Eric Danoff argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Richard K. Willard.

Thomas J. Boyle argued the cause and filed a brief for respondents.

David C. Frederick argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance. With him on the brief were Acting Solicitor General Dellinger, Deputy Solicitor


550
Full Text of Opinion

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