Hust v. Moore-McCormack Lines, Inc.
Annotate this Case
328 U.S. 707 (1946)
U.S. Supreme Court
Hust v. Moore-McCormack Lines, Inc., 328 U.S. 707 (1946)
Hust v. Moore-McCormack Lines, Inc.
Argued April 22, 29, 1946
Decided June 10, 1946
328 U.S. 707
1. A seaman employed on a ship owned by the United States and operated for the War Shipping Administration by a private company "as its agent and not as an independent contractor" under the standard form of General Agent Service Agreement was injured a few days before the effective date of the Clarification Act of March 24, 1943, due to the negligent operation of the ship.
Held: he is entitled to sue the operating company for damages in a state court and to have a jury trial under § 33 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (the Jones Act), even if he was technically an employee of the United States. Pp. 328 U. S. 715-734.
2. The purpose of the Suits in Admiralty Act was to expand, not to restrict, the rights of seamen. To interpret it as intended to displace the settled scheme of private rights of seamen during a period of temporary governmental control of the entire merchant marine would be to pervert its whole purpose, create numerous uncertainties, and cause the loss of substantive rights long enjoyed by seamen. Pp. 328 U. S. 715-723.
3. Even if the seaman was an employee of the United States, this did not remit him exclusively to the Suits in Admiralty Act for remedy to enforce the substantive rights given by the Jones Act or deprive him of all remedies against the operating "agent" for such injuries as he incurred. Pp. 328 U. S. 723-724.
4. An application of the common law rules of private agency to defeat the Jones Act cannot be justified in this temporary situation, since neither Congress nor the President intended to take away the normally applicable rights and remedies of seamen when the maritime industry was transferred temporarily to governmental control for the duration of the war emergency. Pp. 328 U. S. 724-725, 328 U. S. 730-731.
5. Nothing in the Jones Act, the Suits in Admiralty Act, the War Powers Act of 1941, or the Executive Orders by which the maritime industry was transferred to governmental control compels a contrary conclusion. P. 328 U. S. 725.
6. That the wartime transfer of the merchant marine from private to government control was not intended to deprive the seaman of his right to sue under the Jones Act is confirmed by the Clarification Act. One primary occasion for the passage of the Clarification Act was to save the seaman's rights, rather than to take them away. Pp. 328 U. S. 725-734.
7. In its retroactively operating provisions, here applicable, the Clarification Act gives the seaman an election between enforcing his rights in the usual manner and asserting them against the United States under the Suits in Admiralty Act. It would nullify this election to hold that the seaman's only remedy for injuries incurred before the Clarification Act became effective was under the Suits in Admiralty Act. Pp. 328 U. S. 729-730.
8. The mere fact that the standard form of General Agent Service Agreement was changed so as to omit the provision for the operating agent to man the ship did not deprive seamen of the long established scheme of rights and remedies provided by law, or reduce them to the single mode of enforcement under the Suits in Admiralty procedure. Pp. 328 U. S. 730-731.
176 Ore. 662, 158 P.2d 275, reversed.
A seaman injured aboard a ship owned by the United States brought suit and obtained a judgment for damages in an Oregon court under § 33 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (the Jones Act) against a steamship company which was operating the ship for the Government under the standard form of General Agent Service Agreement with the War Shipping Administration. The Supreme Court of Oregon reversed. 176 Ore. 662, 158 P.2d 275. This Court granted certiorari. 327 U.S. 771. Reversed, p. 328 U. S. 734.