1. Art. 2315, Rev.Code of Louisiana, providing: "Every act
whatever of man that causes damage to another obliges him by whose
fault it happened to repair it," applies to personal injuries
suffered by a workman while engaged in repairing a vessel afloat on
waters of the United States and due to the negligence of his
employer. P. 274 U. S.
2. Such cause of action, under Art. 2315, is not barred by the
Louisiana Workmen's Compensation Act, which provides special means
and measures for adjusting claims for personal injuries in certain
occupations, including repair of vessels, and declares its remedies
exclusive, but does not, by its terms, include maritime injuries or
torts under federal law. P. 274 U. S.
3. Art. 2315, Louisiana Rev.Code, supra,
equivalent of a "common law remedy," saved to suitors in the state
court by § 9 Judiciary Act of 1789, § 256 Jud.Code. P. 274 U. S.
Page 274 U. S. 428
4. The right of action under this section, in the state court,
in a case of maritime tort, is governed by the federal admiralty
law, including the applicable section of the Federal Employers'
Liability Act incorporated in that law by the Merchant Marine Act,
of June 5, 1920, § 33, c. 250, 41 Stat. 1007. P. 274 U. S. 434
5. In an action under Art. 2315, supra,
injuries in performance of a marine contract, an amendment to the
complaint claiming in the alternative under the workmen's
compensation act is surplusage, and does not subject the plaintiff
to the prescription of one year provided by the latter statute. P.
274 U. S.
6. A denial by a state court of it jurisdiction is renewable
here when based on an erroneous view of the federal law. P.
274 U. S.
Certiorari (26 U.S. 544) to a judgment of the Supreme Court of
Louisiana which refused to review a judgment of the state court of
appeals affirming the dismissal of an action for damages resulting
from personal injuries. The action of the state supreme court was
based on the ground that the judgment of the intermediate court was
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE TAFT delivered the opinion of the Court.
On December 20, 1920, Robert L. Messel filed a suit in the civil
district court for the Parish of Orleans, State of Louisiana, to
recover $10,000 for damages for personal injuries from the
Foundation Company, a corporation of the State of New York doing
business in Louisiana as a shipbuilder and repairer of sea-going
steamships. The facts as averred in his petition were as follows:
he was employed by the Foundation Company in
Page 274 U. S. 429
September, 1919, as a helper to a boilermaker. He was sent with
the boilermaker on board the steamship La Grange,
afloat on the Mississippi River at New Orleans. The task to be
performed was to add 8 feet to the smokestack of the steamer. The
two men were furnished ladders to ascend to the top of the stack,
and, while engaged in the work, Messel was brought directly over
the mouth of the steam escape pipe running from the engine room.
While he was so engaged, scalding steam was allowed to escape from
the pipe. It overcame him and inflicted serious injuries.
The fourteenth paragraph of his petition is:
"Petitioner represents that he is entitled to claim and recover
under Civil Code, Art. 2315, of this state all the damages
sustained by him arising from the casualties aforesaid, . . . and
not by the workmen's compensation act of that state, known as Act
No. 20 of 1914, and its amendments."
In his petition, he attacks the Louisiana Workmen's Compensation
Act, known as Act No. 20 of 1914, as invalid under the state
constitution. He says that, when injured, he was engaged in marine
work in admiralty on the steamship on the navigable waters of the
United States, and that this entitled him to an action in
against the owner and master of the vessel, but that,
as the owner and master had departed from the port for a foreign
port before he was able to bring his action in admiralty, and as
the Foundation Company holds indemnity against any loss to it on
account of the damage claimed, he prays for judgment against his
The Foundation Company excepted to the petition on the ground
that it disclosed no legal cause of action, but, in the event that
the exception should be overruled, the
Page 274 U. S. 430
company admitted the averments of the petition, save that it
charged that the petitioner was guilty of gross negligence, and
assumed the risk, and that the injuries received were due to his
own fault or were caused by the negligence of a fellow servant. It
denied the extent of the damage, said that the petitioner was
precluded from bringing his action under Art. 2315 of the Civil
Code, but must bring it under the state workmen's compensation
Messel amended his petition, reaffirming the averments of his
original petition, but, in the alternative, asked, if it should be
held that the workmen's compensation act of Louisiana was not
unconstitutional and did apply, that he have compensation under
that act in $4,000, or in $10 a week for 400 weeks provided in the
act. This amendment was filed May 22, 1922, by order of court. An
exception by respondent was taken on the ground that the amended
petition had changed the issue, and was an attempt, after the lapse
of more than one year from the date of the injuries, to bring the
suit under the workmen's compensation act, while the original
action was brought under Civil Code, Art. 2315, for damages for a
tort, that the claim was therefore prescribed under Art. 31 of Act
No. 20 of 1914. By a judgment of July 19, 1922, the exceptions
filed by the Foundation Company were sustained, and the suit
against it was dismissed.
The Court of Appeal of the Parish of Orleans, to which the case
was then taken on appeal, held that the objections to the
constitutionality of the workmen's compensation act could not be
sustained. It further decided that, if the petitioner's right of
action was not under the workmen's compensation act, the state
courts had no jurisdiction of such demands ratione
that it had twice decided that the state court was
without jurisdiction in an action brought under the workmen's
compensation act where the plaintiffs sustained injuries while
aboard a ship under a maritime contract; that these decisions were
in accord with the opinion of the Supreme
Page 274 U. S. 431
Court of Louisiana in Lawson v. New York & P. R.
148 La. 290, and with the decisions of this
Court in Southern Pacific v. Jensen, 244
U. S. 206
, affirmed in Knickerbocker v.
Stewart, 253 U. S. 149
State v. Dawson, 264 U. S. 219
in Peters v. Veasey, 251 U. S. 121
that an employee like Messel, who suffered injury upon a vessel
under a maritime contract of employment, could not obtain
compensation in a state court of Louisiana.
Application was then made to the Supreme Court of Louisiana for
a writ of certiorari to review the decree of dismissal by the Court
of Appeal. The writ was refused by the supreme court on the ground
that the judgment was correct, May 25, 1925.
Article 2315 of the Revised Code of Louisiana, under which
Messel sought recovery, is as follows: "Every act whatever of man
that causes damage to another, obliges him by whose fault it
happened to repair it."
The workmen's compensation act, No. 20 of the Acts of 1914, as
amended in subsequent acts, provides for the prosecution of claims
for personal injuries in certain hazardous trades, businesses and
occupations, includes the operation, construction, repair, removal,
maintenance and demolition of vessels, boats, and other watercraft,
and provides certain payments for such injuries. Section 34 of the
act provides that the rights and remedies therein granted to an
employee on account of personal injury, for which he is entitled to
compensation under the act, shall be exclusive of all other rights
and remedies of such employee, his personal representative,
dependents, relations, or otherwise, on account of such injury.
The argument of the Court of Appeal in reaching its conclusion
in this case was that, because it had been held in Peters v.
Veasey; Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen; Knickerbocker Ice Co. v.
and in State v. Dawson
that a workmen's
compensation act could have no application to an injury to one
working as an employee on a vessel afloat on the waters of the
Page 274 U. S. 432
where his work was upon a maritime contract and the rights and
liabilities of the parties were matters clearly within the
admiralty jurisdiction, a state court had no power to consider and
decide a claim that must rest on the maritime law, because the
workmen's compensation act was made exclusive, by its terms, and
prevented the operation and application of § 2315 granting what was
equivalent to a common law remedy in the enforcement of such a
maritime claim. At first, this decision would seem to be conclusive
upon us, because it would seem to be a construction by the
Louisiana state court of the jurisdiction conferred by its own
statute upon its own courts. But this is a misconception of what
the court actually decided in respect to the statute. The workmen's
compensation act did not, by its terms, include a maritime injury
or tort under the federal law, such as is the basis of this suit.
The state court's ruling, as we conceive it, was not that § 2315
was not broad enough to include a suit for a maritime tort as
between master and servant if the federal law permitted it but that
the federal law does not permit it, and therefore such a suit can
only be maintained in a federal admiralty court. That is an
erroneous view of the rulings of our Court as to the application of
workmen's compensation acts. Section 2315 offers a remedy in the
state court for any act whatever of man that causes damage to
another and obliges him by whose fault it happened to repair it.
That includes everything except what the workmen's compensation act
bars from recovery under this general section. The workmen's
compensation act does not bar from recovery suit for damages
against another for a maritime tort. Clearly, therefore, suit for
such a tort is not excluded from the jurisdiction of the state
court under § 2315 unless the federal law forbids. To hold that the
federal law forbids would be to deprive the petitioner in this case
of the right secured to him under Judiciary Act of 1789, § 9, as
Page 274 U. S. 433
in paragraph third of § 256 of the Judicial Code, which gives
exclusive jurisdiction in courts of the United States of all civil
causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, "saving to suitors
in all cases the right of a common law remedy where the common law
is competent to give it."
Section 2315 has been held by the Supreme Court of Louisiana to
furnish the equivalent of the common law. In Gray v. New
Orleans Dry Dock & Shipping Co.,
146 La. 826, a case very
much like this, a workman was injured while engaged in maritime
employment. His action invoked Art. 2315 of the Civil Code. The
respondent in the case pleaded that the petitioner's right of
action, if any, was governed by the workmen's compensation act, No.
20 of 1914, and not by the provisions of Art. 2315 of the Revised
Civil Code of Louisiana, as pleaded by the plaintiffs. The Supreme
Court of Louisiana said:
"The work in which plaintiff was engaged at the time he was
injured was maritime in its nature; his employment was a maritime
contract, and his claim for damages was enforceable in the
admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. For that reason, before the
passage of the Act of Congress of October 6, 1917, the Employers'
Liability Act was not pertinent, and did not deprive the plaintiff
of the right of a common law remedy. We say 'common law,' because
Art. 2315 of the Civil Code of this state is only an embodiment of
the common law right of action for tort, viz.:
whatever of man that causes damage to another obliges him by whose
fault it happened to repair it.'"
The fact that Messel, in the alternative, asked for a recovery
under the workmen's compensation act could not defeat him in his
continuous request to proceed under Art. 2315, and, as the original
action invoked Art. 2315, and he is still invoking the remedy
provided by that article, there would seem to be no opportunity for
Page 274 U. S. 434
operation of the prescription of one year provided by the
Louisiana Workmen's Compensation Act. Messel's attack upon the
workmen's compensation act as unconstitutional under the
Constitution of Louisiana was entirely irrelevant, and should be
rejected as surplusage.
As Messel has resorted to the state court, and there is nothing
to prevent his recovery in the state court except the workmen's
compensation act, which is inapplicable to his case in view of our
decisions, the judgment of the Supreme Court of Louisiana must be
reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings not
inconsistent with this opinion.
The principles applicable to Messel's recovery, should he have
one, must be limited to those which the admiralty law of the United
States prescribes, including the applicable section of the federal
Employers' Liability Act, incorporated in the maritime law by § 33,
c. 250, 41 Stat. 988, 1007. Robins Dry Dock & Repair Co. v.
Dahl, 266 U. S. 449
Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. v. Kierejewski,
261 U. S. 479
261 U. S. 480
Knickerbocker Ice Co. v. Stewart, 253 U.
; The Osceola, 189 U.
; Panama R. Co. v. Johnson, 264 U.
; Baltimore S.S. Co. v. Phillips, ante,
p. 274 U. S. 316
Engel v. Davenport, 271 U. S. 33
Panama R. Co. v. Vasquez, 271 U.