271 U.S. 33 (1926), 189, Engel v. Davenport

Docket Nº:No. 189
Citation:271 U.S. 33, 46 S.Ct. 410, 70 L.Ed. 813
Party Name:Engel v. Davenport
Case Date:April 12, 1926
Court:United States Supreme Court

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271 U.S. 33 (1926)

46 S.Ct. 410, 70 L.Ed. 813




No. 189

United States Supreme Court

April 12, 1926

Submitted January 26, 1926




1. A complaint by a seaman against a ship owner for damages for injuries alleged to have resulted from the owner's negligence in furnishing a defective appliance held an action under the Merchant Marine Act as supplemented by the Employers' Liability Act, in which the plaintiff must prove negligence and subject himself to reduction of damages in proportion to any contributory negligence on his part. P. 36.

2. The state courts have jurisdiction, concurrently with the federal courts, to enforce the right of action established by the Merchant Marine Act as a part of the maritime law. P. 37.

3. The provision of the Employers' Liability Act that "no action shall be maintained under this Act unless commenced within two years from the day the cause of action accrued" is one of substantive right, both setting a limit and necessarily implying that the action may be maintained, as a substantive right, within that period. P. 38.

4. This provision was incorporated by adoption in the Merchant Marine Act, and controls in actions brought under that Act in state courts, regardless of the statutes of limitations of the states. P. 38.

194 Cal. 344 reversed.

Certiorari to a judgment of the Supreme Court of California which affirmed a judgment dismissing, on demurrer, a complaint in an action for damages, brought by Engel against Davenport.

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SANFORD, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE SANFORD delivered the opinion of the Court.

The questions involved in this case relate to the effect of § 33 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, 41 Stat. 988, c. 250, which amended § 20 of the Seamen's Act of 1915, 38 Stat. 1164, c. 153, to read as follows:

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.

Engel, the petitioner, brought this action at law in January, 1923, in a superior court of California, against the respondent Davenport, one of the owners of a vessel on which he had been employed as a seaman,1 to recover damages for personal injuries suffered, in April, 1921, while he was engaged in placing a chain lashing around part of a cargo of lumber that had been taken on board the vessel at a port of landing. The complaint alleged, in substance, that the vessel had been negligently sent upon her voyage when unseaworthy and equipped with

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defective appliances, in that a pelican hook, which was a necessary part of the chain lashing used in carrying the cargo, had in it a flaw observable upon ordinary inspection; that this hook was not inspected, and that it broke by reason of this flaw, causing the injuries in question. Davenport demurred to the complaint on the ground, inter alia, that the cause of action was barred by § 340, subd. 3, of the California Code of Civil Procedure, which required an action for personal injury caused by wrongful act or negligence to be commenced within one year. This demurrer was sustained, without leave to amend, and judgment was entered in favor of Davenport, which was affirmed, on appeal by the supreme court of the state. 194 Cal. 344. This writ of certiorari was then granted. 266 U.S. 600.

The petitioner contends that the suit is one founded on § 33 of the Merchant Marine Act, of which the state courts have jurisdiction concurrently with the federal courts, and that, by virtue of § 6 of the Employers' Liability Act, 35 Stat. 65, c. 149, incorporated in the provisions of the Merchant Marine Act, it might be commenced within two years after the cause of action accrued, irrespective of the state statute.

The respondent contends, on the other hand, that the suit is not founded on the Merchant Marine Act, and its provisions therefore have no application, and that, in any event, § 6 of the Employers' Liability Act is not incorporated in the Merchant Marine Act and does not determine the period of time within which an action may be commenced in a state court.

It is settled by the decision in Panama Railroad v. Johnson, 264 U.S. 375, that § 33 of the Merchant Marine Act is an exercise of the power of Congress to alter or supplement the maritime law by changes that are countrywide and...

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