Southwest Marine, Inc. v. Gizoni
Annotate this Case
502 U.S. 81 (1991)
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OCTOBER TERM, 1991
SOUTHWEST MARINE, INC. v. GIZONI
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
No. 90-584. Argued October 15, 1991-Decided December 4,1991
Petitioner Southwest Marine, Inc., a ship repair facility operator, owns several floating platforms that, among other things, support ship repairmen engaged in their work. Respondent Gizoni, a rigging foreman, worked on the platforms and rode them as they were towed into place. Disabled when his foot broke through a wooden sheet covering a hole in a platform's deck, he applied for, and received, medical and compensation benefits from petitioner pursuant to the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). He later brought suit against petitioner under, inter alia, the Jones Act, alleging that he was a seaman injured as a result of his employer's negligence. The District Court granted petitioner's motion for summary judgment, concluding that, as a matter of law, Gizoni was not a Jones Act seaman, and that he was a harbor worker precluded from bringing his action by the LHWCA, which provides the exclusive remedy for a maritime employee, 33 U. S. C. § 905(a). The term employee includes, inter alios, any harbor worker, including a ship repairman, but not "a master or member of a crew of any vessel," § 902(3). The Court of Appeals reversed both determinations. It held that questions of fact existed as to Gizoni's seaman status; and it rejected the notion that any employee whose work involved ship repair was necessarily restricted to remedy under the LHWCA, reasoning that coverage under the Jones Act or the LHWCA depended not on the claimant's job title, but on the nature of the claimant's work and Congress' intent in enacting those statutes.
Held: A maritime worker whose occupation is one of those enumerated in the LHWCA may be a seaman within the meaning of the Jones Act. Pp.86-92.
(a) It cannot be the case that, as a matter of law, the LHWCA provides the exclusive remedy for all harbor workers, since the LHWCA and its exclusionary provision do not apply to a harbor worker who is also a "member of a crew of any vessel," a phrase that is a "refinement" of the term "seaman" in the Jones Act. McDermott Int'l, Inc. v. Wilander, 498 U. S. 337, 355. Although better characterized as a mixed question of law and fact, the inquiry into seaman status is fact specific and depends on the vessel's nature and the employee's precise relation to it. A maritime worker need only be doing a ship's work, not aiding
in its navigation, in order to qualify as a "seaman" under the Jones Act. Id., at 349. Petitioner's argument that this fact-intensive inquiry may always be resolved as a matter of law if the claimant's job fits within one of the enumerated occupations defining the term "employee" covered by the LHWCA ignores the fact that some maritime workers may be Jones Act seamen performing a job specifically enumerated under the LHWCA. pp. 86-89.
(b) Petitioner's several arguments to foreclose Gizoni's Jones Act suit are rejected. Decisions holding that the LHWCA provides the exclusive remedy for certain injured railroad workers otherwise permitted by the Federal Employers' Liability Act to pursue a negligence cause of action provide no meaningful guidance here, for the LHWCA contains no exclusion for railroad workers comparable to that for Jones Act seamen. Petitioner errs in arguing that, where a maritime worker is arguably covered by the LHWCA, Congress intended to preclude or stay traditional Jones Act suits in the district courts pending a final LHWCA administrative agency determination of that issue. Indeed, the LHWCA anticipates that such suits could be brought. See 33 U. S. C. § 913(d). And, unlike the Federal Employees Compensation Act, the LHWCA contains no "unambiguous and comprehensive" provisions barring any judicial review of administrative determinations of coverage. Moreover, its administrative proceedings do not require the same jurisdictional limitations that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) places on courts in favor of National Labor Relations Board hearings, since the LHWCA's proceedings in no way approach the NLRA's complex and interrelated federal scheme of law, remedy, and administration requiring pre-emption in those cases. Neither is it essential to the LHWCA's administration that resolution of the coverage issue be left in the first instance to agency proceedings. Petitioner's suggestion that an employee's receipt of benefits under the LHWCA precludes subsequent litigation under the Jones Act is also rejected, see Tipton v. Socony Mobil Oil Co., 375 U. S. 34, 37, since the question of coverage has never been litigated in such cases, and since the LHWCA clearly does not comprehend such a preclusive effect, see § 903(e). Pp. 89-92.
909 F.2d 385, affirmed.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except THOMAS, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
George J. Tichy II argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Roy D. Axelrod, James J. McMullen, Jr., Jacqueline P. McManus, and Lloyd A. Schwartz.