Petitioners were longshoremen engaged in "trimming" wheat as it
was being loaded by means of a spout directly from a pierside grain
elevator owned and operated by the City of Galveston, Texas, into
the hold of a ship berthed at the pier. A last "shot" of grain
called for and released into the bin had been treated with a
chemical insecticide, and petitioners were injured by fumes from
the chemical made noxious by concentration in the closely confined
area where they were working. They sued the City and the shipowner
to recover for their injuries, claiming that the City and the
shipowner had been negligent and that the ship was unseaworthy.
a judgment for the defendants is affirmed. Pp.
370 U. S.
(a) On the issue of negligence, a finding by the District Court,
affirmed by the Court of Appeals, that the City had not itself
applied the fumigant to the grain and that neither of the
defendants knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have
known, that the grain had been improperly fumigated by someone else
at an inland point, was based upon substantial evidence, and this
Court cannot say that it was clearly erroneous. Pp. 370 U. S.
(b) The District Court found, upon substantial evidence and
under proper criteria, that the absence of a forced ventilation
system in the hold did not make the ship unseaworthy, and that the
ship was not in any manner unfit for the service to which she was
to be put; that finding was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, and
this Court cannot say that it was wrong. Mitchell v. Trawler
Racer, Inc., 362 U. S. 539
distinguished. Pp. 370 U. S.
291 F.2d 97, affirmed.
Page 370 U. S. 166
MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.
On the afternoon of March 14, 1957, the S.S. Grelmarion
was berthed at Galveston, Texas, taking on a cargo of wheat from a
pierside grain elevator owned and operated by the city. The wheat
was being loaded directly from the elevator into the ship by means
of a spout. The petitioners were longshoremen engaged in "trimming"
the wheat as it was received in the offshore bin of the vessel's
No. 2 hold, which was then about three-quarters full. A last "shot"
of grain was called for and was released into the bin. The grain in
this last shot had been treated with a chemical insecticide, and
the petitioners were injured by fumes from the chemical, made
noxious by concentration in the closely confined area where they
The petitioners brought the present suit against the City of
Galveston and the owner of the vessel to recover for their
injuries. [Footnote 1
claim was predicated upon the negligence of the City and the
shipowner, and upon the unseaworthiness of the ship. After an
extended trial, the District Court entered judgment for the
respondents, based upon detailed findings of fact, 181 F.
, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, 275 F.2d 191. On
certiorari (364 U.S. 295), we vacated the judgment and remanded the
case to the Court of Appeals for consideration in the light of
Mitchell v. Trawler Racer, Inc., 362 U.
, which had been decided in the interim. That
court, one judge dissenting, was of the view that Mitchell
was inapplicable to the facts of the present case, and again
affirmed the District Court's judgment, 291 F.2d
Page 370 U. S. 167
97. We granted certiorari to consider a seemingly significant
question of admiralty law. 368 U.S. 816.
The factual issues bearing upon the alleged negligence of the
City and shipowner were determined in their favor by the District
Court. Specifically, the court found that the City had not itself
applied the fumigant to the grain in question, and that neither of
the respondents knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should
have known, that the grain had been improperly fumigated at an
inland point by someone else. [Footnote 2
] Even a cursory examination of
Page 370 U. S. 168
the lengthy record shows that these findings were based upon
substantial evidence. They were reexamined and affirmed on appeal.
] We cannot say that
they were clearly erroneous. McAllister v. United States,
348 U. S. 19
348 U. S.
Of greater significance in this litigation is the issue which
prompted our remand to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration.
Briefly stated, the question is whether, upon the facts as found by
the District Court, it was error to hold that the
was seaworthy at the time the petitioners were
injured. [Footnote 4
In the Mitchell
we reversed a
judgment for the defendant because the District Court and the Court
of Appeals had mistakenly imported concepts of common law
negligence into an action for unseaworthiness. There, the jury had
erroneously been instructed that liability for unseaworthiness
could attach only if the alleged unseaworthy condition was "there
for a reasonably long period of time so that a shipowner ought to
have seen that it was removed." [Footnote 5
] The Court of Appeals had affirmed on the
theory that, at least as to an unseaworthy condition that arises
during the progress of the voyage, the shipowner's obligation "is
merely to see that
Page 370 U. S. 169
reasonable care is used under the circumstances . . . incident
to the correction of the newly arisen defect." [Footnote 6
] It was alleged in that case that a
ship's rail which was habitually used as a means of egress to the
dock was rendered unseaworthy by the presence of slime and gurry.
We did not decide the issue, but reversed for a new trial under
proper criteria, holding that the shipowner's actual or
constructive knowledge of the unseaworthy condition is not
essential to his liability, and that he has an absolute duty "to
furnish a vessel and appurtenances reasonably fit for their
intended use." 362 U.S. at
362 U. S. 550
In the present case, the Court of Appeals was of the view that
the trial judge's determination of the Grelmarion's
seaworthiness at the time the petitioners were injured was in no
way inconsistent with our decision in the Mitchell
We agree. The District Judge did not, as in Mitchell,
that unseaworthiness liability depends upon the shipowner's actual
or constructive knowledge. He did not, as in Mitchell,
indicate that liability may be excused if an unseaworthy condition
is merely temporary. Rather, as the Court of Appeals pointed out,
the trier of the facts found, upon substantial evidence, that "the
cause of the injury was not any defect in the ship, but the fact
that the last shot of grain which was being loaded was
contaminated. . . ." 291 F.2d at 98.
The trial court found, upon substantial evidence, that what
happened was an unexpected, isolated occurrence. Several years
before, there had been three, or perhaps four, incidents involving
injury to longshoremen from grain which had been fumigated by
the city itself.
But, at the time the present case arose, the
city had adopted a series of safety and inspection measures which
made completely innocuous the grain which it fumigated, and
Page 370 U. S. 170
"vast quantities of wheat and other grains had been loaded
through the elevator, some eight to ten percent of which had been
fumigated by the city, without similar incident in recent years.
The court found that the fumes in the present case came from
"chloropicrin, an insecticide which had never been used by the
respondent city." [Footnote 8
The petitioners question none of these findings here. Under these
circumstances, we cannot say that it was error for the court to
rule that the absence of a forced ventilation system in the hold
did not constitute unseaworthiness. [Footnote 9
A vessel's unseaworthiness might arise from any number of
individualized circumstances. Her gear might be defective, her
appurtenances in disrepair, her crew unfit. The method of loading
her cargo, or the manner of its stowage, might be improper.
Mahnich v. Southern S.S. Co., 321 U. S.
; Seas Shipping Co. v. Sieracki, 328 U. S.
; Pope & Talbot, Inc., v. Hawn,
346 U. S. 406
Alaska Steamship Co. v. Petterson, 347 U.
; Rogers v. United States Lines,
984; Boudoin v. Lykes Bros. S.S. Co., 348 U.
; Crumady v. The Joachim Hendrik Fisser,
358 U. S. 423
Atlantic & Gulf Stevedores, Inc. v. Ellerman Lines,
Ltd., 369 U. S. 355
any or all of these reasons, or others, a vessel might not be
Page 370 U. S. 171
for her intended service. What caused injury in the present
case, however, was not the ship, its appurtenances, or its crew,
but the isolated and completely unforeseeable introduction of a
noxious agent from without. The trier of the facts ruled, under
proper criteria, that the Grelmarion
was not in any manner
unfit for the service to which she was to be put, and we cannot say
that his determination was wrong.
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER took no part in the consideration or
decision of this case.
Petitioners, of course, received compensation and medical
treatment under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation
Act, 33 U.S.C. § 901 et seq.,
181 F. Supp. at 207.
"14. I find that neither of the respondents knew, or in the
exercise of reasonable care should have known, that this quantity
of grain, which had been improperly treated with an excessive
amount of fumigant, was in the elevator or loaded aboard the
and that (for all the evidence shows here) the
respondent city, in the operation of its elevator, had never
received knowledge of a prior instance where chloropicrin or other
fumigants applied at inland elevators had adhered to the grain
sufficiently long as to present danger after receipt by the
"15. I find that the respondent city was not negligent in
failing to know or learn of the presence of this quantity of grain
within its elevator, in failing to make some additional inspection
therefor, or in any other particular. The record shows without
dispute that careful and painstaking inspections and examinations
were made under governmental authority when the grain was received,
and again as it was disbursed by the elevator, which, in the
present instance, failed to detect the presence of the remaining
traces of fumigant in this quantity of grain. I find that, had
additional inspections been made by the respondent city, there is
no reason to believe that such inspections would have been more
"* * * *"
"17. I find that the Grelmarion's
cargo spaces were of
customary design and construction; that they were clean, and in all
respects ready to receive the wheat; and had been surveyed and
approved prior to loading. No fumigation for weevils was made
aboard the vessel, and none was necessary. . . . I find . . . that
her Captain, crew, agent, or other representatives were not
negligent in any particular."
"Careful consideration of, and reflection on, the claims and
arguments of the opposing parties, in the light of the record and
the controlling authorities, leaves us in no doubt that, as to the
charges of negligence, there is no basis whatever for the attack
here upon the findings as clearly erroneous. Indeed, we are
convinced that, under an impartial and disinterested view of the
evidence as a whole, the findings are well supported and wholly
275 F.2d at 193.
The District Court and the Court of Appeals, without discussion,
proceeded upon the assumption that the petitioners belonged to the
class to whom the respondent shipowner owed the duty of providing a
seaworthy vessel. This was correct. Seas Shipping Co. v.
Sieracki, 328 U. S. 85
Pope & Talbot, Inc., v. Hawn, 346 U.
362 U.S. at 362 U. S.
-541, n. 2.
265 F.2d 426, 432.
181 F. Supp. at 205.
". . . While the Grelmarion's
cargo spaces were not
equipped with forced ventilation systems, I find that only very
rarely is this the case on grain vessels, and that it is not
necessary or customary. . . ."
"The finding heretofore has been made that the noxious gases and
fumes were introduced into the bin with the last 'shot' of grain,
and resulted from a fumigant that had been improperly applied, and
that had adhered to the grain an unusually long period of time.
Under these circumstances, I find that the admission thereof into
the bin of the vessel did not cause the Grelmarion
become unseaworthy, the vessel and all its appurtenances being
entirely adequate and suitable in every respect."
181 F. Supp. at 206-207.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE
BLACK concur, dissenting.
The District Court found that the libellants were injured in
1957 as a result of a release into the hold of a "shot" of grain
that completely closed the hatch opening, which was the only source
of ventilation for the hold in which they were working. This grain
had been treated by chemicals for weevil infestation; and the
noxious fumes from those chemicals injured libellants.
The vessel's cargo spaces were not equipped with a forced
ventilation system. Grain vessels, the District Court found, rarely
are so equipped, and it concluded that forced ventilation is "not
necessary or customary." If this were an isolated instance of
fumigated grain releasing noxious gases, no claim of
unseaworthiness could be maintained. But this was not an isolated
instance. Of the wheat loaded through this elevator, some 8 to 10%
was fumigated by the city. Wheat is commonly fumigated either in
the elevators or in railroad cars. When the fumigant is properly
applied, the gases and fumes are dissipated so as not to be
dangerous or harmful after 24 to 48 hours. The District Court
found, however, that, to the knowledge of the owners of the vessel,
Page 370 U. S. 172
incidents like that in the present case had occurred in
Galveston, causing injury to longshoremen -- one in 1949, one in
1950, two in 1953.
A vessel without a forced ventilation system would be seaworthy
if this injury were an unexpected, isolated occurrence. But I agree
with Judge Rives of the Court of Appeals that the vessel and her
appurtenances were not "reasonably fit for their intended use" (291
F.2d 97, 99) where up to 10% of the grain loaded from this elevator
was fumigated and where the owners had knowledge of like accidents.
One "intended service" of this vessel was, therefore, the loading
of fumigated grain which in the past had given off noxious fumes.
Unseaworthiness by reason of the absence of a forced ventilation
system is clearer here than it was in Mitchell v. Trawler
Racer, Inc., 362 U. S. 539
where temporary slime and gurry on the ship's rail rendered it
unseaworthy. The unseaworthy condition in the present case had no
such temporary span. What happened here shows that the vessel was
unseaworthy whenever fumigated grain was being loaded.