American Foreign Steamship Co. v. Matise,
423 U.S. 150 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

American Foreign Steamship Co. v. Matise, 423 U.S. 150 (1975)

American Foreign Steamship Co. v. Matise

No. 74-966

Argued October 14, 1975

Decided December 16, 1975

423 U.S. 150


Respondent's decedent, a seaman, was discharged for misconduct from petitioner's ship while it was docked in South Vietnam. Because of South Vietnamese currency regulations and other complications precluding paying the seaman in American currency the wages due him that he had earned prior to his discharge, petitioner purchased for him an airline ticket to the United States for $510, and this ticket, together with a wage voucher for $118.5, representing wages due less the $510, were given to him. When the seaman arrived back in the United States, he received the $118.45. Subsequently he sued petitioner, claiming that it had withheld $510 in wages from him. He contended that petitioner was liable to him for the $510, and for an added sum pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 596, which requires the master or owner of a vessel making foreign voyages to pay a discharged seaman his wages within four days after the discharge, and, upon refusal or neglect to make such payment "without sufficient cause," to pay the seaman a sum equal to two days' pay for every day during which payment is delayed. Finding that the seaman had consented to the purchase of the airline ticket for his purposes with his money and that such purchase therefore constituted a partial payment of wages, the District Court held that petitioner had not refused or neglected to pay, and hence was not liable under § 596. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that § 596 requires that wage payments be made directly to the seaman, and that therefore the $510 paid to the airline could not be regarded as a partial payment of wages. On remand, the District Court assessed damages pursuant to § 596, and the Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal from this assessment.

Held: Under the circumstances, the transaction resulting in the seaman's receipt of an airline ticket purchased with money owed to him as wages constituted a payment of wages, and therefore there was no refusal or neglect to make payment, and hence no liability, under § 596. Isbrandtsen Co. v. Johnson, 343 U. S. 779, distinguished. Since the transaction was a partial payment of wages and not a "deduction

Page 423 U. S. 151

from" wages, the requirement of 46 U.S.C. § 642 that a ship's master enter wage deductions in the logbook does not apply, and thus the master's failure to make a logbook entry that the $510 had been paid does not bar viewing the transaction as a partial payment of wages. Pp. 423 U. S. 156-160.

Reversed and remanded; see 488 F.2d 469.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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