264 U.S. 375 (1924), 369, Panama Railroad Company v. Johnson

Docket Nº:No. 369
Citation:264 U.S. 375, 44 S.Ct. 391, 68 L.Ed. 748
Party Name:Panama Railroad Company v. Johnson
Case Date:April 07, 1924
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 375

264 U.S. 375 (1924)

44 S.Ct. 391, 68 L.Ed. 748

Panama Railroad Company

v.

Johnson

No. 369

United States Supreme Court

April 7, 1924

Argued December 7, 1923

ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

1. As a general rule, where existing legislation on a particular subject has been systematically revised and restated in a comprehensive general statute such as the Judicial Code, subsequent enactments touching that subject are to be construed and applied in harmony with the general statute, save as they clearly manifest a different purpose. P. 383.

2. Section 20 of the Act of March 4, 1915, as amended June 5, 1920, which allows a seaman suffering personal injury in his employment to sue his employer for damages, declares that "jurisdiction in such actions shall be under the court of the district in which the defendant employer resides or in which his principal office is located." Held that the quoted provision (construed with Jud.Code, §§ 24 and 51) relates only to venue, conferring a personal privilege which a defendant may waive if he enters a general appearance before or without claiming it. Id.

3. Section 2 of Art. III of the Constitution, in extending the judicial power of the United States to "all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction," by implication made the admiralty and maritime law the law of the United States subject to power in Congress to alter, qualify or supplement it as experience or changing conditions might require. P. 385.

4. This power of Congress extends to the entire subject, substantive and procedural, and permits of the exercise of a wide discretion, though subject to well recognized limitations, one of which is that there are boundaries to the maritime law and admiralty jurisdiction which cannot be altered by legislation, and another, that the enactments, when not relating to matters whose existence or influence is confined to a more limited field, shall be coextensive with, and operate uniformly in, the whole of the United States. P. 386.

5. The Act of March 4, 1915, § 20, as amended, provides that any seaman suffering personal injury in the course of his employment may, at his election, maintain an action at law, with the right of trial by jury,

and, in such action, all statutes of the United States modifying or extending the common law right or remedy in cases of personal injury to railway employees shall apply.

Page 376

Held:

(a) The statute is not objectionable as an attempted withdrawal of subject matter from the reach of the maritime law, but is a permissible addition to that law of new rules concerning the rights and obligations of seamen and their employers. P. 388.

(b) Congress has power to make maritime rules in relative conformity to the common law or its modifications, and to permit enforcement of rights thereunder through proceedings in personam, according to the course of the common law on the common law side of the courts. Id.

(c) The statute is not to be construed as restricting enforcement of the new rights to actions at law (which might mean an unconstitutional encroachment on the maritime jurisdiction), but as allowing the injured seaman to assert his right of action under it either on the common law side, with right of trial by jury, or on the admiralty side, with trial to the court. P. 389.

(d) A statute may adopt the provisions of other statutes by reference. P. 391.

(e) The reference in the above statute is to the Federal Employers Liability Act and its amendments. Id.

(f) The statute, with the legislation it incorporates by reference, has the uniformity required of maritime enactments. P. 392.

(g) The statute does not conflict with the Fifth Amendment in permitting injured seamen to elect between varying measures of redress and different forms of action without according a corresponding right to their employers. Id.

289 F. 964 affirmed.

Error to a judgment of the circuit court of appeals affirming a judgment entered in the District Court for the Eastern District of New York on a verdict recovered by the plaintiff, Johnson, as damages resulting from personal injuries sustained at sea in the course of his employment by the defendant railroad company as a seaman. The action was based on § 20 of the Act of March 4, 1915, c. 153, 38 Stat. 1185, as amended by 33 of the Act of June 5, 1920, c. 250, 41 Stat. 1007.

Page 382

VANDEVANTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This was an action by a seaman against his employer, the owner of the ship on which he was serving, to recover damages for personal injuries suffered at sea while he was ascending a ladder from the deck to the bridge in the course of his employment, the complaint charging that the injuries resulted from negligence of the employer in providing an inadequate ladder and negligence of the ship's officers in permitting a canvas dodger to be stretched and insecuredly fastened across the top of the ladder and in ordering the seaman to go up the ladder. The employer was a New York corporation. The ship was a domestic merchant vessel which, at the time of the injuries, was returning from an Ecuadorian port. The action was brought on the common law side of a district court of the United States, and the right of recovery was based expressly on § 20 of the Act of March 4, 1915, c. 153, 38 Stat. 1185, as amended by § 33 of the Act of June 5, 1920, c. 250, 41 Stat. 1007, which reads as follows:

Page 383

Sec. 20. That any seaman who shall suffer personal injury in the course of his employment may at his election, maintain an action for damages at law, with the right of trial by jury, and in such action all statutes of the United States modifying or extending the common law right or remedy in cases of personal injury to railway employees shall apply, and in case of the death of any seaman as a result of any such personal injury the personal representative of such seaman may maintain an action for damages at law with the right of trial by jury, and in such action all statutes of the United States conferring or regulating the right of action for death in the case of railway employees shall be applicable. Jurisdiction in such actions shall be under the court of the district in which the defendant employer resides or in which his principal office is located.

The defendant unsuccessfully demurred to the complaint, and then answered. The issues were tried to the court and a jury; a verdict for the plaintiff was returned, and a judgment was entered thereon which the circuit court of appeals affirmed. 289 F. 964. The defendant prosecutes this writ of error.

1. Apparently the action was not brought in the district of the defendant's residence or principal office as provided in the act, and, on this ground, the defendant objected that the district court could not entertain it. The objection was not made at the outset on a special appearance, but after the defendant had appeared generally and demurred to the complaint. The court thought the objection went to the venue only, and was waived by the general appearance, so the objection was overruled. 277 F. 859. Error is assigned on the ruling, but we think it was right.

The case arose under a law of the United States, and involved the requisite amount, if any was requisite, * so

Page 384

there can be no doubt that the case was within the general jurisdiction conferred on the district courts by § 24 of the Judicial Code unless, as the defendant contends, it [44 S.Ct. 393] was excluded by the concluding provision of the act, which says:

Jurisdiction in such actions shall be under the court of the district in which the defendant employer resides or in which his principal office is located.

Although not happily worded, the provision, taken alone, gives color to the contention. But, as a general rule, where existing legislation on a particular subject has been systematically revised and restated in a comprehensive general statute such as the Judicial Code, subsequent enactments touching that subject are to be construed and applied in harmony with the general statute, save as they clearly manifest a different purpose. An intention to depart from a course or policy thus deliberately settled is not lightly to be assumed. See United States v. Barnes, 222 U.S. 513, 520; United States v. Sweet, 245 U.S. 563, 572. The rule is specially pertinent here. Beginning with Judiciary Act of 1789 (1 Stat. 73), Congress has pursued the policy of investing the federal courts -- at first the Circuit Courts, and later the district courts -- with a general jurisdiction expressed in terms applicable alike to all of them and of regulating the venue by separate provisions designating the particular district in which a defendant shall be sued, such as the district of which he is an inhabitant or in which he has a place of business, the purpose of the venue provisions being to prevent defendants from being compelled to answer and defend in remote districts against their will. This policy was carried into the Judicial Code, and is shown in §§ 24 and 51, one embodying general jurisdictional provisions applicable to rights under subsequent laws as well as laws then existing and the other containing particular venue provisions. A reading of the provision now before us with those sections, and in the light of the policy carried into

Page 385

them, makes it reasonably certain that the provision is not intended to affect the general jurisdiction of the district courts as defined in § 24, but only to prescribe the venue for actions brought under the new act of which it is a part. No reason why it should have a different purpose has been suggested, nor do we perceive any. Its use of the word "jurisdiction" seems inapt, and therefore not of special significance. The words "shall be" are stressed by the defendant, but, as they are found also in the...

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