Norfolk Shipbuilding & Drydock Corp. v. Garris
Annotate this Case
532 U.S. 811 (2001)
OCTOBER TERM, 2000
NORFOLK SHIPBUILDING & DRYDOCK CORP. v.
GARRIS, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF GARRIS, DECEASED
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
No. 00-346. Argued April 18, 200l-Decided June 4, 2001
In her complaint filed in the District Court, respondent alleged that her son died as a result of injuries sustained while performing sandblasting aboard a vessel berthed in the navigable waters of the United States. She further asserted that the injuries were caused by the negligence of petitioner and another, and prayed for damages under general maritime law. The District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a federal claim, stating that no cause of action exists, under general maritime law, for death resulting from negligence. The Fourth Circuit reversed, explaining that although this Court had not yet recognized a maritime cause of action for wrongful death resulting from negligence, the principles contained in Moragne v. States Marine Lines, Inc., 398 U. S. 375, made such an action appropriate.
Held: The general maritime cause of action recognized in Moragne-for death caused by violation of maritime duties, id., at 409-is available for the negligent breach of a maritime duty of care. Although Moragne's opinion did not limit its rule to any particular maritime duty, Moragne's facts were limited to the duty of seaworthiness, and so the issue of wrongful death for negligence has remained technically open. There is no rational basis, however, for distinguishing negligence from unseaworthiness. Negligence is no less a maritime duty than seaworthiness, and the choice-of-Iaw and remedial anomalies provoked by withholding a wrongful-death remedy are no less severe. Nor is a negligence action precluded by any of the three relevant federal statutes that provide remedies for injuries and death suffered in admiralty: the Jones Act, the Death on the High Seas Act, and the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. Because of Congress's extensive involvement in legislating causes of action for maritime personal injuries, it will be the better course, in many cases that assert new claims beyond what those statutes have seen fit to allow, to leave further development to Congress. See, e. g., American Dredging Co. v. Miller, 510 U. S. 443, 455. The cause of action recognized today, however, is new only in the most technical sense. The general maritime law has recognized the tort of negligence for more than a cen-
tury, and it has been clear since Moragne that breaches of a maritime duty are actionable when they cause death, as when they cause injury. Pp. 813-820.
210 F.3d 209, affirmed.
SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, Parts I, II-A, and II-B-1 of which were unanimous, and Part II-B-2 of which was joined by REHNQUIST, C. J., and STEVENS, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and THOMAS, JJ. GINSBURG, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, in which SOUTER and BREYER, JJ., joined, post, p. 820.
James T. Ferrini argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Kimbley A. Kearney, Melinda S. Kollross, Robert M. Tata, and Carl D. Gray.
Patrick H. O'Donnell argued the cause for respondent.
With him on the brief was John R. Crumpler, Jr.
JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question presented in this case is whether the negligent breach of a general maritime duty of care is actionable when it causes death, as it is when it causes injury.
According to the complaint that respondent filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, her son, Christopher Garris, sustained injuries on April 8, 1997, that caused his death one day later. App. to Pet. for Cert. 53. The injuries were suffered while Garris was performing sandblasting work aboard the USNS Maj. Stephen W Pless in the employ of Tidewater Temps, Inc., a subcontractor for Mid-Atlantic Coatings, Inc., which was in turn a subcontractor for petitioner Norfolk Shipbuilding & Drydock Corporation. And the injuries were caused, the complaint continued, by the negligence of petitioner and one of its other subcontractors, since dismissed from this case. Because the vessel was berthed in the navigable waters of the United States when Garris was injured, respondent invoked federal admiralty jurisdiction, U. S. Const., Art. III,