An employee of a construction company, which was a contributor
to the workmen's compensation fund of the State, was employed in or
about the dismantling of an abandoned bridge over a navigable
stream, which involved cutting steel from the bridge, lowering it
to a barge, and towing or hauling the barge, when loaded, to a
storage place. He had helped to cut some steel from the bridge,
and, at the time of the accident, was working on the barge,
examining steel after it had been lowered and cutting the pieces to
proper lengths, as necessary. While so employed, he fell or was
knocked into the stream, in which his body was found.
1. That there is no constitutional objection to an award to the
decedent's widow under the Washington Act, which provides
compensation for employees, or dependents of employees, such as
Page 317 U. S. 250
if application of the Act can be made "within the legislative
jurisdiction of the State," and which expressly covers "all
employers or workmen . . . engaged in maritime occupations for whom
no right or obligation exists under the maritime laws," and that
the Federal Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Act, under which no
administrative action had been taken, did not exclude such
application of the state law. P. 317 U. S.
2. certain employees such as decedent are in a twilight zone of
jurisdiction, and the determination as to whether they are subject
to a state act or to the Federal Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers'
Act is largely a question of fact. P. 317 U. S.
3. Faced with this factual problem, courts will give presumptive
weight to the conclusions of the appropriate federal authorities
and to state statutes. P. 317 U. S.
4. Not only does the state Act in this case appear to cover the
employee, aside from the constitutional consideration, but no
conflicting process of federal administration is apparent. Under
all the circumstances of the case, the Court relies on the
presumption of constitutionality in favor of the state enactment.
Giving full weight to the presumption, and resolving all doubts in
favor of the Act, the Court holds that the Constitution is no
obstacle to the petitioner's recovery. P. 317 U. S.
12 Wash. 2d 349, 121 P.2d 365, reversed.
Certiorari, 316 U.S. 657, to review a judgment rejecting a claim
made under the state workmen's compensation law.
MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
In this case, the Washington Supreme Court held that the state
could not, consistently with the Federal Constitution, make an
award under its state compensation law to
Page 317 U. S. 251
the widow of a workman drowned in a navigable river. 12 Wash. 2d
349, 121 P.2d 365. The circumstances which caused the court to
reach this conclusion were these:
The petitioner's husband, a structural steelworker, was drowned
in the Snohomish River while working as an employee of the Manson
Construction and Engineering Company, a contributor to the
Workmen's Compensation Fund of the Washington. Contributions of
Washington employers to this Fund are compulsory in certain types
of occupations, including the job for which the deceased had been
employed. Rem.Rev.Stat. (1932) § 7674. That job was to dismantle an
abandoned drawbridge which spanned the river. A part of the task
was to cut steel from the bridge with oxyacetylene torches and move
it about 250 feet away for storage there to await delivery to a
local purchaser. The steel, when cut from the bridge, was lowered
to a barge by a derrick, and, when loaded, the barge was to be
towed by a tug, hauled by cable, or, if the current made it
necessary, both towed and hauled, to the storage point. Three
vessels which had been brought there along the stream for use by
the employer in the work -- a tug, derrick barge, and a barge --
were all licensed by the U.S. Bureau of Navigation. The derrick
barge was fastened to the bridge; the barge was tied to the derrick
barge. Deceased had helped to cut some steel from the bridge and,
at the time of the accident, was working on the barge which had not
yet been completely loaded for its first carriage of steel to the
place of storage. His duty appears to have been to examine the
steel after it was lowered to the barge, and, when necessary, to
cut the pieces to proper lengths. From this barge, he fell or was
knocked into the stream in which his body was found.
The Washington statute provides compensation for employees and
dependents of employees, such as decedent, if its application can
be made "within the legislative jurisdiction of the state." A
further statement of coverage
Page 317 U. S. 252
applies the Act to "all employers and workmen . . . engaged in
maritime occupations for whom no right or obligation exists under
the maritime laws." Rem.Rev.Stat.Wash. §§ 7674, 7693a. A line of
opinions of this Court beginning with Southern Pacific Co. v.
Jensen, 244 U. S. 205
244 U. S. 216
held that, under some circumstances, states could, but, under
others, could not, consistent with Article III, § 2 of the Federal
Constitution, [Footnote 1
apply their compensation laws to maritime employees. State
legislation was declared to be invalid only when it
"works material prejudice to the characteristic features of the
general maritime law, or interferes with the proper harmony and
uniformity of that law in its international and interstate
When a state could and when it could not grant protection under
a compensation act was left as a perplexing problem, for it was
held "difficult, if not impossible," to define this boundary with
With the manifest desire of removing this uncertainty so that
workers whose duties were partly on land and partly on navigable
waters might be compensated for injuries, Congress, on October 6,
1917, five months after the Jensen
decision, passed an Act
attempting to give such injured persons the "rights and remedies
under the workmen's compensation law of any State." 40 Stat. 395.
May 17, 1920, this Court declared the Act unconstitutional.
Knickerbocker Ice Co. v. Stewart, 253 U.
. June 10, 1922, 42 Stat. 634, Congress made
another effort to permit state compensation laws to protect these
waterfront employees, but this second effort was also held invalid.
State of Washington v. W. C. Dawson & Co.,
264 U. S. 219
March 4, 1927, came the Federal Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers'
Act, 33 U.S.C. § 901 et seq.
Here again, however, Congress
made clear its purpose to
Page 317 U. S. 253
permit state compensation protection whenever possible by making
the federal law applicable only "if recovery for the disability or
death through workmen's compensation proceedings may not validly be
provided by State law."
Harbor workers and longshoremen employed "in whole or in part,
upon the navigable waters" are clearly protected by this Federal
Act, but employees such as decedent here occupy that shadowy area
within which, at some undefined and undefinable point, state laws
can validly provide compensation. This Court has been unable to
give any guiding, definite rule to determine the extent of state
power in advance of litigation, and has held that the margins of
state authority must "be determined in view of surrounding
circumstances as cases arise." Baizley Iron Works v. Span,
281 U. S. 222
281 U. S. 230
The determination of particular cases, of which there have been a
great many, has become extremely difficult. It is fair to say that
a number of cases can be cited both in behalf of and in opposition
to recovery here. [Footnote
Page 317 U. S. 254
The very closeness of the cases cited above and others raising
related points of interpretation has caused much serious confusion.
] It must be
remembered that, under the Jensen
conditions are factual: does the state law "interfere with the
proper harmony and uniformity of" maritime law? Yet employees are
asked to determine with certainty before bringing their actions
that factual question over which courts regularly divide among
themselves and within their own membership. As penalty for error,
the injured individual may not only suffer serious financial loss
through the delay and expense of litigation, but discover that his
claim has been barred by the statute of limitations in the proper
forum while he was erroneously pursuing it elsewhere. See e.g.,
Ayers v. Parker, 15 F. Supp.
. Such a result defeats the purpose of the federal act,
which seeks to give "to these hardworking men engaged in a somewhat
hazardous employment the justice involved in the modern principle
of compensation," and the state acts such as the one before us,
which aims at "sure and certain relief for workmen." [Footnote 4
Page 317 U. S. 255
The horns of the jurisdictional dilemma press as sharply on
employers as on employees. In the face of the cases referred to
above, the most competent counsel may be unable to predict on which
side of the line particular employment will fall. The employer's
contribution to a state insurance fund may therefore wholly fail to
protect him against the liabilities for which it was specifically
planned. If this very case is affirmed, for example, the employer
will not only lose the benefit of the state insurance to which he
has been compelled to contribute and by which he has thought
himself secured against loss for accidents to his employees; he
must also, by virtue of the conclusion that the employee was
subject to the federal act at the time of the accident, become
liable for substantial additional payments. He will also be subject
to fine and imprisonment for the misdemeanor of having failed, as
is apparently the case, to secure payment for the employee under
the federal act. 33 U.S.C. §§ 938, 932.
We are not asked here to review and reconsider the
constitutional implications of the Jensen
decisions. On the contrary, even the petitioner argues that such
action might bring about still worse confusion in an already
uncertain field, and points out that state and federal agencies
have made real progress toward closing the gap. There is much force
in this argument. Since 1917, Congress and the states have sought
to restore order out of the confusion which resulted from the
decision. That success has not finally been
achieved is illustrated by the present case. The Longshoremen's Act
passed with specific reference to the Jensen
provided a partial solution. The Washington statute represents a
state effort to clarify the situation. Both of these laws show
clearly that neither was intended to encroach on the field occupied
by the other. But the line separating the scope of the two being
undefined and undefinable with exact
Page 317 U. S. 256
precision, marginal employment may, by reason of particular
facts, fall on either side. Overruling the Jensen
would not solve this problem. In our decision in Parker v.
Motor Boat Sales, 314 U. S. 244
held that Congress has, by the Longshoremen's Act, accepted the
line of demarcation between state and federal
jurisdiction. Obviously the determination of the margin becomes no
simpler because the standard applied is considered to be embedded
in a statute, rather than in the Constitution. Nor can we gain
assistance in this circumstance from the clause in the federal act
which makes that act exclusive. 33 U.S.C. § 905. That section gains
meaning only after a litigant has been found to occupy one side or
the other of the doubtful jurisdictional line, and is no assistance
in discovering on which side he can properly be placed.
There is, in the light of the cases referred to, clearly a
twilight zone in which the employees must have their rights
determined case by case, and in which particular facts and
circumstances are vital elements. That zone includes persons such
as the decedent who are, as a matter of actual administration, in
fact protected under the state compensation act.
Faced with this factual problem, we must give great -- indeed,
presumptive -- weight to the conclusions of the appropriate federal
authorities and to the state statutes themselves. Where there has
been a hearing by the federal administrative agency entrusted with
broad powers of investigation, factfinding, determination, and
award, our task proves easy. There, we are aided by the provision
of the federal act, 33 U.S.C. § 920, which provides that, in
proceedings under that act, jurisdiction is to be "presumed, in the
absence of substantial evidence to the contrary." Factfindings of
the agency, where supported by the evidence, are made final. Their
conclusion that a case falls within the federal jurisdiction is
Page 317 U. S. 257
entitled to great weight, and will be rejected only in cases of
apparent error. It was under these circumstances that we sustained
the Commissioner's findings in Parker v. Motor Boat Sales,
In the instant case, we do not enjoy the benefit of federal
administrative findings, and must therefore look solely to state
sources for guidance. We find here a state statute which purports
to cover these persons, and which indeed does cover them if the
doubtful and difficult factual questions to which we have referred
are decided on the side of the constitutional power of the state.
The problem here is comparable to that in another field of
constitutional law in which courts are called upon to determine
whether particular state acts unduly burden interstate commerce. In
making the factual judgment there, we have relied heavily on the
presumption of constitutionality in favor of the state statute.
South Carolina State Highway Dept. v. Barnwell Bros.,
303 U. S. 177
303 U. S. 188
303 U. S. 191
The benefit of a presumption is also given in cases of conflict
of state or state and territorial workmen's compensation acts under
the Full Faith and Credit clause, Const. art. 4, § 1. There, as
here, the issue is a factual one arising from a clash of interest
of two jurisdictions. In such a case, involving the question of
whether the California or the Alaska Workmen's Compensation Act
should apply to a
Page 317 U. S. 258
resident of California injured in Alaska who brought suit in
California, this Court has said:
"The enactment of the present statute of California was within
state power and infringes no constitutional provision. Prima
every state is entitled to enforce in its own courts
its own statutes, lawfully enacted."
Alaska Packers' Assn. v. Industrial Accident
Commission, 294 U. S. 532
294 U. S. 547
And see Pacific Employers Ins. Co. v. Industrial Accident
Commission, 306 U. S. 493
306 U. S.
Not only does the state act in the instant case appear to cover
this employee, aside from the constitutional consideration, but no
conflicting process of administration is apparent. The federal
authorities have taken no action under the Longshoremen's Act, and
it does not appear that the employer has either made the special
payments required or controverted payment in the manner prescribed
in the Act. 33 U.S.C. § 914(b) and (d). Under all the circumstances
of this case, we will rely on the presumption of constitutionality
in favor of this state enactment; for any contrary decision results
in our holding the Washington act unconstitutional as applied to
this petitioner. A conclusion of unconstitutionality of a state
statute cannot be rested on so hazardous a factual foundation here,
any more than in the other cases cited.
Giving the full weight to the presumption, and resolving all
doubts in favor of the Act, we hold that the Constitution is no
obstacle to the petitioner's recovery. The case is remanded for
proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
This Article extends the jurisdiction of Federal Courts "to all
Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction."
Cases which lend strength to petitioner's position are:
Sultan Railway & Timber Co. v. Dept. of Labor,
277 U. S. 135
Grant Smith-Porter Co. v. Rohde, 257 U.
; Millers' Indemnity Underwriters Co. v.
Braud, 270 U. S. 59
Ex parte Rosengrant,
213 Ala. 202, 104 So. 409, aff'd,
Rosengrant v. Havard,
273 U.S. 664; State Industrial Board
of N.Y. v. Terry & Tench Co., Inc.,
273 U.S. 639, reported
as Lahti v. Terry & Tench Co.,
240 N.Y. 292, 148 N.E.
527; Alaska Packers' Assn. v. Industrial Accident
Commission, 276 U. S. 467
note the dissenting view in Baizley Iron Works v. Span, supra;
United States Casualty Co. v. Taylor,
64 F.2d 521, cert.
290 U.S. 639; New Amsterdam Casualty Co. v.
87 F.2d 332; In re Herbert,
283 Mass. 348,
186 N.E. 554. Cases aiding respondent's view: Baizley Iron
Works v. Span, 281 U. S. 222
Gonsalves v. Morse Dry Dock, 266 U.
; Nogivera v. New York, N.H. & H. R.
Co., 281 U. S. 128
Northern Coal Co. v. Strand, 278 U.
; Employers' Assurance Corp. v. Cook,
281 U. S. 233
a number of state cases supporting each position, see
Circuit Court opinion in Motor Boat Sales v. Parker,
F.2d 789. For discussion of the problem, see
Workmen's Compensation and the Maritime Law, 38 Yale L.J. 472.
State industrial commissions have found real difficulty in
determining their proper function in respect to maritime accidents.
the discussion of this problem at the 19th Annual
Meeting of the International Association of Industrial Accident
Boards and Commissions, Bull. 577 of the Bureau of Labor
Statistics, p. 119 (1933). A question not mentioned above which has
been considered in several cases is that of the jurisdiction to
which it is to be assigned accidents affecting persons loading
boats while on the wharf; accidents affecting persons loading
vessels while on the vessel; accidents affecting persons standing
on either the vessel or the wharf who are knocked into the water.
Smith & Son v. Taylor, 276 U.
; Vancouver S.S. Co. v. Rice,
288 U. S. 445
Minnie v. Port Huron Terminal, 295 U.
For this expression of federal policy, see
of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on the Longshoremen's and
Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, S.R. 973, 69th Cong., 1st Sess.,
16. For the expression of public policy of the Washington Act,
Rem.Rev.Stat. (1932) § 7673.
for other examples of our application of this
principle, Southern R. Co. v. King, 217 U.
(statute regulating operation of interstate train
at crossings); Pure Oil Co. v. Minnesota, 248 U.
(statute requiring the inspection of certain
petroleum products while in interstate commerce); Interstate
Busses Corp. v. Holyoke Ry. Co., 273 U. S.
(requirement of certificate of convenience and
necessity for interstate carrier); Interstate Busses Corp. v.
Blodgett, 276 U. S. 245
(state statute taxing interstate carrier); Railway Exp. Agency
v. Virginia, 282 U. S. 440
(statute requiring corporation to hold local charter). For state
commerce regulations approved by this Court, see
Barnwell case, supra,
p. 303 U. S. 188
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER concurring.
Any legislative scheme that compensates workmen or their
families for industrial mishaps should be capable of simple and
dependable enforcement. That was the aim of Congress when, with due
regard for the diverse conditions in the several States, it
afforded to harbor workers the
Page 317 U. S. 259
benefits of state workmen's compensation laws. Act of October 6,
1917, c. 97, 40 Stat. 395, as amended by the Act of June 10, 1922,
c. 216, 42 Stat. 634. But Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen,
244 U. S. 205
cases following, frustrated this purpose.
Such a desirable end cannot now be achieved merely by judicial
repudiation of the Jensen
doctrine. Too much has happened
in the twenty-five years since that ill-starred decision. Federal
and state enactments have so accommodated themselves to the
complexity and confusion introduced by the Jensen
that the resources of adjudication can no longer bring relief from
the difficulties which the judicial process itself brought into
being. Therefore, until Congress sees fit to attempt another
comprehensive solution of the problem, this Court can do no more
than bring some order out of the remaining judicial chaos as
marginal situations come before us. Because it contributes to that
end, I join in the Court's opinion.
Theoretic illogic is inevitable so long as the employee in a
situation like the present is permitted to recover either under the
Federal act (cf. Parker v. Motor Boat Sales, 314 U.
; Northern Coal Co. v. Strand,
278 U. S. 142
Nogueira v. New York, N.H. & H. R. Co., 281 U.
; Employers' Liability Assurance Co. v.
Cook, 281 U. S. 233
under a state statute. Cf. Millers' Indemnity Underwriters v.
Braud, 270 U. S. 59
Alaska Packers' Assn. v. Industrial Accident Comm'n,
276 U. S. 467
That is the practical result, whether it be reached by the Court's
path or that apparently left open under the Chief Justice's views.
It is scant comfort to an employer that he may find he has
committed a misdemeanor in not posting a bond as required by the
federal Act because he may have been advised, not unnaturally,
that, under the prior rulings of this Court, the activities of his
employees were local in nature, and hence he could be sued only
under state law.
Page 317 U. S. 260
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE STONE.
Any effort to lessen the uncertainties and complexities which
have followed in the wake of the Jensen
decision and its
successors during the past twenty-five years deserves sympathetic
consideration. But, in the present state of the law, the Court's
attempt to remove them by construing state workmen's compensation
acts and the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Act so that their
coverages overlap can hardly be deemed to be within judicial
Section 3 of the Longshoremen's Act, 33 U.S.C. § 903, authorizes
payment of compensation "only . . . if recovery for the disability
or death through workmen's compensation proceedings may not validly
be provided by State law." In Parker v. Motor Boat Sales,
314 U. S. 244
314 U. S. 250
we held, as a matter of construction of this clause of the statute,
that it had adopted the rationale of Jensen
followers, regardless of their constitutional validity, as "the
measure by which Congress intended to mark the scope of the Act
they brought into existence." We thus decided that if, by the
application of the Jensen
doctrine, recovery could not
constitutionally be had under state laws, the federal act conferred
a right of recovery whether or not the Jensen
The Court's opinion in the present case seems to proceed upon
the assumption that, if petitioner had filed a claim under the
federal act and the federal commissioner had awarded compensation,
we would sustain his ruling, although the Court now holds that the
state authorities erroneously concluded they were without
constitutional power to make the award. Indeed, after our decision
in Parker v. Motor Boat Sales, supra,
of recovery under the federal act can hardly be doubted; not only
could a federal commissioner properly decide
Page 317 U. S. 261
in favor of jurisdiction, but any candid application of the
rule would seem to compel reversal of a federal
commissioner who declined jurisdiction. See Northern Coal Co.
v. Strand, 278 U. S. 142
Employers' Liability Assurance Co. v. Cook, 281 U.
, both cited to justify the federal award in the
case, 314 U.S. at 314 U. S.
Congress, by the enactment of the Longshoremen's and Harbor
Workers' Act, has left no room for an overlapping dual system of
the sort which the Court now espouses by placing its decision on a
new doctrine that recovery under either the state or the federal
act is to be sustained if the case is thought a close one. Section
5 of the Act, 33 U.S.C. § 905, provides that the employer's
liability under it
"shall be exclusive and in place of all other liability of such
employer to the employee, his legal representative, husband or
wife, parents, dependents, next of kin, and anyone otherwise
entitled to recover damages from such employer at law or in
admiralty on account of such injury or death. . . ."
See Nogueira v. New York, N.H. & H. R. Co.,
281 U. S. 128
281 U. S. 137
I cannot say that this section does not mean what it says. If there
is liability under the federal act, that liability is exclusive. It
follows that, in any case in which compensation might have been
awarded under the federal act, a recovery under state law is in
plain derogation of the terms of the federal statute, as construed
in the Motor Boat
] Congress has made it our duty, before
we sanction a recovery under state law, to ascertain that an award
under the federal act cannot be had.
Page 317 U. S. 262
The proposition that an employee in a "twilight zone" (where it
is doubtful whether the federal or a state act applies) can recover
under either act not only controverts the words of the statute, but
also imposes an unauthorized burden on the employer. Besides being
subjected to a liability which the statute forbids, he is
compelled, in order to protect himself in the large number of cases
in which the Court apparently would allow recovery under either
act, to comply with both. Under the federal act, the employer must
post security for compensation in a manner specified in § 32, 33
U.S.C. § 932, and failure to do so is a misdemeanor, § 38, 33
U.S.C. § 938, punishable by fine and imprisonment. Under state
acts, there is an obligation to contribute insurance premiums, or
take some comparable step, to say nothing of penal sanctions which
a state may impose.
Congress has directed that, if the case is within the federal
statute, the employer shall be relieved of all other obligation.
But, in order to relieve the employee in a doubtful case of the
necessity of filing two claims, one under each act, a double burden
is imposed on the employer by an inadmissible construction of the
federal act. The dual system of presumptions, which are to operate
in favor of the employee but apparently never against him, will
serve to sustain an exercise of either state or federal
jurisdiction in every case within the so-called "twilight zone."
But this is accomplished only by depriving employers of the
immunity which Congress sought to confer when it set up a system in
which federal and state acts are made mutually exclusive.
Although the basic question in these cases is said to be
"factual," the twilight zone doctrine does not reveal how -- in
view of the great weight which is to be given the federal
commissioner's finding, as in the Motor Boat
case -- we
can in this case disregard the findings of four state
Page 317 U. S. 263
tribunals, [Footnote 2/2
what the function of this Court is to be in cases where the federal
and the state commissioners both find against jurisdiction, or how
the line which marks the doubtful case is to be drawn more readily
than that which, under the Jensen
state from federal power.
Notwithstanding the ruling in the Motor Boat
Congress had adopted the Jensen
boundary of federal
jurisdiction, there are, in the present case, special circumstances
which take it out of that ruling and leave us free to reconsider
constitutional basis. The exclusive liability
section of the federal statute contains a proviso that, if the
employer fails to give security for payment of compensation, as
required, then the employee may elect to claim compensation under
the federal statute, "or to maintain an action at law or in
admiralty." The purpose of this proviso seems to be to preserve to
the employee all remedies which he might otherwise have had, in the
event that the employer does not give the prescribed security.
Since this record does not show that the employer complied,
petitioner is free to pursue any available remedy which the
Constitution permits and which the state may choose to afford.
Only if the Court were to overrule the Jensen
its constitutional aspects could I join in a reversal of the
judgment here. If we are to continue to apply the
Page 317 U. S. 264
doctrine, even when not required to do so by the federal act,
then our own decisions, including the recent Motor Boat
case, preclude a reversal of the Washington courts. Escape from
's embarrassments by the adoption of the twilight
zone doctrine, in disregard of the jurisdictional command of the
federal statute, is plainly not permissible. I am not persuaded
that it is practicable.
The Washington statute explicitly recognizes the exclusiveness
of the federal statute, for, in its coverage of employees engaged
in maritime occupations, it is made applicable only to those "for
whom no right or obligation exists under the maritime laws."
The state supervisor found that,
"after thorough investigation, it has been determined that the
work which the claimant was doing at the time of the said fatal
accident does not come under the jurisdiction of the workmen's
compensation act, but is maritime in character,"
and "that the alleged injury was sustained on board a vessel in
navigable waters, and was therefore under admiralty jurisdiction."
His finding and decision were sustained by the joint board of the
state department of labor and industries, the state superior court,
and the state supreme court.