257 U.S. 469 (1922), 35, Grant Smith-Porter Ship Co. v. Rohde

Docket Nº:No. 35
Citation:257 U.S. 469, 42 S.Ct. 157, 66 L.Ed. 321
Party Name:Grant Smith-Porter Ship Co. v. Rohde
Case Date:January 03, 1922
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 469

257 U.S. 469 (1922)

42 S.Ct. 157, 66 L.Ed. 321

Grant Smith-Porter Ship Co.



No. 35

United States Supreme Court

January 3, 1922

Argued December 7, 1920




A workman employed generally as a carpenter by a builder of seagoing vessels was injured through the employer's negligence while engaged in construction work on a ship nearly completed and

Page 470

launched and lying in navigable waters of the United States in Oregon. Both parties had accepted the Oregon Workmen's Compensation Law, which, in the absence of its rejection by either employer or employee, requires the employer to make payments, including deductions from the employee's wages, to a compensation fund, specifies the sums which the employee may receive therefrom in case of injury, and declares they shall be in lieu of all claims against his employer on account of the injury.


(1) The general doctrine is that, in contract matters, admiralty jurisdiction depends upon the nature of the transaction, and, in tort matters, upon the locality. P. 476.

(2) The general admiralty jurisdiction extends to a proceeding to recover damages resulting from a tort committed on a vessel in process of construction when lying on navigable waters within a state. P. 477.

(3) But, in this case, since the contract for the construction of the vessel was nonmaritime, and since neither the employment of the workman nor his activities at the time of injury had any direct relation to commerce or navigation, the application of the Oregon Compensation Law, with reference to which employer and employee had contracted, could not materially affect any of the rules of the sea whose uniformity is essential, and was therefore permissible. P. 477. Union Fish Co. v. Erickson, 248 U.S. 308; Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, and other cases distinguished.

(4) In view of its exclusive features, the Oregon Act abrogated the right of the employee to recover damages in an admiralty court, which otherwise would exist. P. 478.

This was a proceeding in admiralty to recover damages for personal injuries resulting to an employee. The questions are determined on a certificate from the court below stating the facts.

Page 473

MCREYNOLDS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Asking for instruction, the court below has sent up the following certificate and questions. Judicial Code § 239.

This cause came to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upon an appeal from the United States district court of Oregon from a judgment in favor of the appellee as libelant in that court, and against the appellant as libelee in that court, for the sum of $10,000. The cause was a libel in admiralty for damages for injury sustained.

Libelant, Herman F. Rohde, received injury while at work on a partially completed vessel lying at a dock in the Willamette River forming a part of the shipbuilding plant of respondent, Grant Smith-Porter Ship Company. The character of the work being done by libelant and the

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operations of respondent of which the work formed a part are as follows: respondent, Grant Smith-Porter Ship Company, at and prior to the time of libelant's injury, was engaged in constructing steam vessels for the United States government under contract with United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation. One of these steam vessels was the steamer "Ahala." Prior to the time of libelant's injury, this steamer had been launched in the Willamette River at Portland, Oregon, which river is a part of the navigable waters of the United States. At the time of libelant's injury, April 10, 1919, the vessel had been substantially completed, but was not ready for delivery, and all of the work in process at the time of libelant's injury was work pertaining to the construction of the vessel by respondent, Grant Smith-Porter Ship Company. Libelant's work was that of a carpenter or joiner, and, at the time of the injury, he was at work constructing a bulkhead enclosing certain tanks in the vessel.

Libelant began this proceeding in personam against respondent in the District Court of the United States for the District of Oregon sitting in admiralty. Negligence of the employer, respondent Grant Smith-Porter Ship Company, in the construction and maintenance of a scaffold is alleged as the ground for recovering of damages.

At and prior to the time of libelant's injury, there was in effect the so-called "Workmen's Compensation Law" of the Oregon (Chapter...

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