234 U.S. 52 (1914), 215, Atlantic Transport Company v. Imbrovek

Docket Nº:No. 215
Citation:234 U.S. 52, 34 S.Ct. 733, 58 L.Ed. 1208
Party Name:Atlantic Transport Company v. Imbrovek
Case Date:May 25, 1914
Court:United States Supreme Court

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234 U.S. 52 (1914)

34 S.Ct. 733, 58 L.Ed. 1208

Atlantic Transport Company



No. 215

United States Supreme Court

May 25, 1914

Argued January 29, 30, 1914




As a general principle, the test of admiralty jurisdiction in tort in this country is locality.

Admiralty has jurisdiction of a suit in personam by an employee of a stevedore against the employer to recover for injuries sustained through the negligence of the latter while engaged in loading a vessel lying at the dock in navigable waters.

The precise scope of admiralty jurisdiction is not a matter of obvious principle or of very accurate history, The Blackheath, 195 U.S. 361, and quaere whether the admiralty jurisdiction extends to a case where the tort is not of a maritime nature although committed on navigable waters.

A tort committed on a vessel in connection with a service thereto may be maritime even if there is no fault on the part of, or injury to, the ship itself.

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Stevedores are now as clearly identified with maritime affairs as are the mariners themselves.

Whether the employer failed to provide a safe place to work is a question properly determinable by the circuit court of appeals in last resort, and this Court will not disturb such a finding if concurred in by both courts below and justified by the record.

193 F. 1019, affirmed.

The facts, which involve the admiralty jurisdiction of the United States courts over suits for personal injuries sustained on a vessel in port while being loaded by a stevedore, and questions of negligence of the stevedore, are stated in the opinion.

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HUGHES, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a libel to recover for personal injuries sustained by the libellant as a stevedore in the employ of the Atlantic Transport Company (the petitioner), which was engaged in loading the Pretoria, belonging to the Hamburg-American Steam Packet Company, while lying in the port

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of Baltimore. The libel was brought against both the owner of the ship and the stevedore company. It was dismissed as to the former, but a recovery against the latter was allowed by the district court (190 F. 229) and sustained by the circuit court of appeals (193 F. 1019). This writ of certiorari was granted.

The libellant was one of a gang engaged in loading and stowing copper. He was working on the ship, under one of the hatches. The covers of the hatch were in three sections, the division being made by two movable iron beams placed athwart the ship. The coverings of the middle section had been removed and placed on top of the fore and after sections. On the dock, the copper was piled upon a rope mat which was lifted by a winch, swung over the hatch, and lowered into the hold. On one of its return trips, the mat caught under the after cross beam, which was instantly jerked out of its support, and, with the lengthwise timbers resting on it and the hatch covers, fell into the hold, severely injuring the libellant. The district court (referring to the petitioner, the Atlantic Transport Company, as the stevedore) said:

There would have been no accident had the entire hatch been uncovered. To uncover a hatch takes time and labor. If bad weather comes, it must be covered. Unnecessary uncovering is to be avoided. It is easy to make a partially covered hatch absolutely safe. The cross beams of the hatch have holes in their ends. There are corresponding holes in the hatch combings. Pins can be put through these holes. It takes about five minutes to put them in. When in place, an accident such as gave rise to this case cannot happen. The ship's carpenter of the Pretoria keeps the pins when not in use. Accidents often happen because an opened hatch has been left unguarded, or because the hatch coverings fall into the hold. When they do, there is usually a dispute as to whether the ship or the stevedore is to blame. In the case at bar, the ship and the stevedore were represented

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by the same proctors and by the same advocates. The stevedore acquits the ship. . . . The stevedore proved that, when the ship came into port, it took complete charge of the hatches. It uncovered so much of them as it saw fit. If the pins were in and it wanted them out, it took them out. It laid them on the deck. The ship's carpenter gathered them up. If the pins were out and it wanted them in, it told the ship's carpenter. He put them in.

For its failure to use due diligence in seeing that the libellant had a safe place in which to work, the district court held the Transport Company liable.

The principal question is whether the district court had jurisdiction -- that is, whether the cause was one "of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction." Const. Art. III, § 2; Rev.Stat. § 563; Judicial Code, § 24; Act of Sept. 24, 1789, c. XX, § 9, 1 Stat. 73, 77. As the injury occurred on board a ship while it was lying in navigable waters, there is no doubt that the requirement as to locality was fully met. The petitioner insists, however, that locality is not the sole test, and that it [34 S.Ct. 734] must appear that the tort was otherwise of a maritime nature. And this was the view taken by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in affirming a decree dismissing a libel for want of jurisdiction in a similar case. Campbell v. Hackfeld & Co., 125 F. 696.

At an early period, the court of admiralty in England exercised jurisdiction "over torts, injuries, and offenses at ports within the ebb and flow of the tide, on the British seas and on the high seas." De Lovio v. Boit, 2 Gall. 398, 406, 464, 474. While its authority was denied when the injurious action took place infra corpus comitatus, it was not disputed that jurisdiction existed when the wrong was done "upon the sea, or any part thereof which is not within any county." (4 Inst. 134.) The jurisdiction in admiralty of the courts of the United States is not controlled by the restrictive statutes and judicial prohibitions

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of England (Waring v. Clarke, 5 How. 441, 457-458; Insurance Co. v. Dunham, 11 Wall. 1, 24; The Lottawanna, 21 Wall. 558, 576), and the limitation with respect to torts committed within the body of any county is not applicable here. Waring v. Clarke, supra; Jackson v. The Magnolia, 20 How. 296. "In regard to torts," said Mr. Justice Story in Thomas v. Lane, 2 Sumn. 1, 9,

I have always understood, that the jurisdiction of the admiralty is exclusively dependent upon the locality of the act. The admiralty has not, and never (I believe) deliberately claimed to have, any jurisdiction over torts except such as are maritime torts -- that is, such as are committed on the high seas or on waters within the ebb and flow of the tide.

This rule -- that locality furnishes the test -- has been...

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