259 U.S. 263 (1922), 625, State Industrial Commission of New York v. Nordenholt Corporation

Docket Nº:No. 625
Citation:259 U.S. 263, 42 S.Ct. 473, 66 L.Ed. 933
Party Name:State Industrial Commission of New York v. Nordenholt Corporation
Case Date:May 29, 1922
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 263

259 U.S. 263 (1922)

42 S.Ct. 473, 66 L.Ed. 933

State Industrial Commission of New York


Nordenholt Corporation

No. 625

United States Supreme Court

May 29, 1922

Argued March 9, 1922




1. When an employee, while working on board a vessel lying in navigable waters, sustains personal injuries there and seeks damages from his employer, the liability of the employer must be determined under the maritime law. P. 272.

2. But where the injuries occur while the employee is engaged in unloading the vessel on land, the local law has always been applied. P. 273.

3. A longshoreman was injured on a dock (an extension of the land) while engaged about the unloading of a vessel lying in navigable waters in New York, and died as a result of his injuries. Held that his contract of employment did not contemplate any dominant

Page 264

federal rule concerning his employer's liability in damages, and that whether awards under the state compensation act are to be regarded as made upon implied agreement of employer and employee or otherwise, the act was applicable to the case, since this would not conflict with any federal statute or work material prejudice to any characteristic feature of the general maritime law. P. 275. Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, and other cases, distinguished.

195 A.D. 913, 232 N.Y. 507, reversed.

Certiorari to a judgment of the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, entered upon a remittitur issued from the New York court of appeals pursuant to a decision of the latter court which affirmed a reversal by the former court of an order made under the state Workmen's Compensation Act by the present petitioner requiring the respondents to pay compensation to the widow of a longshoreman who died as the result of personal injuries received while in the employ of the respondent Nordenholt Corporation.

Page 269

MCREYNOLDS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Sebastiana Insana, mother of Guiseppe Insana, asked of the New York State Industrial Commission an allowance under the Workmen's Compensation Law on account of her son's death, which she claimed resulted from accidental injuries received May 15, 1918, in the course of his employment as a longshoreman by the Nordenholt Corporation,

Page 270

then unloading a vessel lying in navigable waters at Brooklyn. The cargo consisted of bags of cement. These were hoisted to the dock and there tiered up by Insana and other longshoremen. While thus engaged, he slipped and fell on the dock.

The Commission found

the accidental injuries which the said deceased sustained while working for his employer when he fell from the pile of bags to the floor were the activating cause of his death, and his death was a direct result of the injuries sustained by him while engaged in the regular course of his employment,

and awarded compensation as specified by the statute. Upon authority of Matter of Keator v. Rock Plaster Manufacturing Co., 224 N.Y. 540, and Matter of Anderson v. Johnson Lighterage Co., 224 N.Y. 539, the Appellate Division reversed the award, 195 A.D. 913, and the Court of Appeals affirmed its action without opinion, October 25, 1921, 232 N.Y. 507.

In both the Keator and Anderson cases, the employee suffered injuries on land while helping to unload a vessel lying in navigable waters. The Court of Appeals held, when so injured, he was performing a maritime contract, and that, for reasons stated in Doey v. Howland Co., Inc., 224 N.Y. 30, the Industrial Commission had no jurisdiction to make an award. While making repairs on an oceangoing vessel lying at the dock in navigable waters, Doey fell down the hatchway and sustained fatal injuries. The Appellate Division reversed an award of compensation, and the Court of Appeals affirmed its action, holding that, as Doey was performing a maritime contract, the Commission had no jurisdiction, under the doctrine of Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, and Clyde Steamship Co. v. Walker, 244 U.S. 255. It said:

Two questions are presented: (a) was Doey at the time of his death, engaged in the performance of a maritime contract? . . .

Page 271

If the first question be answered in the affirmative, then it necessarily follows, from the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States above referred to [Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen and Clyde Steamship Co. v. Walker] that the commission had no authority to make the award in question. In determining whether a contract be of maritime nature, locality is not controlling, since the true test is the subject matter of the contract -- the nature and character of the work to be done. Erie R. Co. v. Welsh, 242 U.S. 303. In torts the rule is different. There, jurisdiction depends solely upon the place where the tort was committed, which must have been upon the high [42 S.Ct. 474] seas or other navigable waters. Atlantic Transport Co. of W.Va. v. Imbrovek, 234 U.S. 52. An award under the workmen's compensation law is not made on the theory that a tort has been committed; on the contrary, it is upon the theory that the statute giving the commission power to make an award is read into and becomes a part of the contract. Matter of Post v. Burger & Gohlke, 216 N.Y. 544. The contract of employment, by virtue of the statute, contains an implied provision that the employer, if the employee be injured, will pay to him a certain sum to compensate for the injuries sustained, or if death results, a certain sum to dependents. These payments are made irrespective of whether or not the employer was guilty of wrongdoing. It is a part of the compensation agreed to be paid for services rendered in the course of the employment.

In the present case, upon the conceded facts, I am of the opinion that Doey, was at the time he met his death, engaged in the performance of a maritime contract. His employer had taken a contract to repair an ocean-going vessel preparatory to its taking on a cargo of grain. Doey was...

To continue reading