248 U.S. 308 (1919), 76, Union Fish Co. v. Erickson

Docket Nº:No. 76
Citation:248 U.S. 308, 39 S.Ct. 112, 63 L.Ed. 261
Party Name:Union Fish Co. v. Erickson
Case Date:January 07, 1919
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 308

248 U.S. 308 (1919)

39 S.Ct. 112, 63 L.Ed. 261

Union Fish Co.



No. 76

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 7, 1919

Submitted November 22, 1918




By a contract made orally in California, respondent was engaged to go to Alaska and there for one year to serve as master of petitioner's vessel, mainly upon the sea. The respondent libeled the vessel in the district court in California for breach of the contract. Held that the contract was maritime, and that the California statute of frauds requiring a writing for agreements not to be performed within a year was therefore inapplicable in defense. P. 312.

235 F. 385 affirmed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

Page 311

DAY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DAY delivered the opinion of the Court.

Erickson filed a libel in admiralty in the district court of the United States for the Northern District of California alleging that, by an oral contract with the petitioner, owner of the vessel Martha, he engaged to proceed to Pirate Cove, Alaska, and after arrival there to serve for a year as master of the vessel and perform certain duties in connection therewith for an agreed compensation. The libel averred that he proceeded [39 S.Ct. 113] to Pirate Cove, and performed his duties under the contract until he was wrongfully discharged by the respondent. Libelant sought to

Page 312

recover damages for breach of contract. An answer was filed denying the alleged contract and averring that libelant was discharged because of his wrongful conduct.

A decree was rendered in favor of libelant in the district court; upon appeal, that decree was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals. 235 F. 385.

The question presented and argued here concerns the application of the California statute of frauds, which it is alleged rendered the contract void because not to be performed within one year from the making thereof. The Civil Code of California provides, Section 1624:

The following contracts are invalid unless the same, or some note or memorandum thereof, is in writing and subscribed by the party to be charged, or by his agent:

1. An agreement that, by its terms, is not to be performed within a year from the making thereof.

The contract of the master was of a maritime character. This does not seem to be controverted by the petitioner. See The Boston, Fed.Cas. No. 1669; The William H. Hoag, 168 U.S. 443. We have, then, a maritime contract for services to be performed principally upon the sea, and the question is can such engagement be nullified by the local laws of a state, where the contract happens to be entered into, so as to prevent its enforcement in an admiralty court of the United States?

The Constitution (Article III, § 2) extends the judicial power of the United States...

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