287 U.S. 278 (1932), 90, Bainbridge v. Merchants & Miners Transp. Co.

Docket Nº:No. 90
Citation:287 U.S. 278, 53 S.Ct. 159, 77 L.Ed. 302
Party Name:Bainbridge v. Merchants & Miners Transp. Co.
Case Date:December 05, 1932
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 278

287 U.S. 278 (1932)

53 S.Ct. 159, 77 L.Ed. 302



Merchants & Miners Transp. Co.

No. 90

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 5, 1932

Argued November 17, 1932



1. The provision in § 33 of the Merchant Marine Act that jurisdiction (meaning venue) of actions by seamen for personal injuries suffered in the course of their employment "shall be under the court of the district in which the defendant employer resides or in which his principal office is located" refers only to federal courts. P. 280.

2. Where such action is in a state court, venue is determined by the state law. Id.

3. U.S.C. Title 28, § 837, (c. 113, 40 Stat. 683) provides that courts of the United States, "including appellate courts," shall be open to seamen without payment of or security for fees or

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costs in suits in their own name and behalf for wages or salvage and "to enforce laws made for their health and safety." Held that it applies to appellate proceedings in this Court, in a suit by a seaman for personal injuries, under § 33 of the Merchant Marine Act, which section is an amendment of the Seamen's Act. P. 281.

4. Statutes passed for the benefit of seamen should be liberally construed in the light of the policy of Congress to deal with seamen as a favored class. P. 282.

306 Pa. 204 reversed.

Certiorari to review the affirmance of a judgment dismissing the action for want of jurisdiction.

SUTHERLAND, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner brought this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, to recover damages for an injury sustained by her as a member of the crew of a steamship operated by respondent. The action was brought under the Jones Act, § 33 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, U.S.C., Title 46, § 688, which provides:

Jurisdiction1 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.

Respondent, contending that the court in which the action was brought was not of the proper district, since respondent's principal office was in Baltimore, Maryland, moved to dismiss the action for want of jurisdiction. The motion

Page 280

was sustained, and the action accordingly dismissed. The judgment of dismissal was affirmed by the state supreme court. 306 Pa. 204, 159 A.19.

The question presented for our determination is whether the quoted provision in respect of jurisdiction applies to the state courts, or is limited to the federal courts. The decisions are conflicting, but we think the correct construction of the provision limits it to the courts of the United States. The word "district" is peculiarly apposite in that relation, but, in order to apply it to a state court, whose territory for venue purposes may or may not be designated as a "district," an elasticity of interpretation would be required which it does not seem probable Congress had in mind. Thus, in one instance, where an action had been brought in a state court, it was found necessary, in order to hold the provision applicable, to interpret the word "district" [53 S.Ct. 160] as meaning "county" in which the defendant resides or has his principal office. Wienbroer v. United States Shipping Board E.F. Corp., 299 F. 972. The contrary view limiting the provision to the federal courts, which we approve, is expressed in Lynott v. Great Lakes Transit Corp., 202 A.D. 613, 619, 195 N.Y.S. 13, aff'd without opinion, 234 N.Y. 626, 138 N.E. 473; Patrone v. M. P. Howlett, 237 N.Y. 394, 397, 143 N.E. 232; Rodrigues v. Transmarine Corporation, 216 A.D. 337, 339, 215 N.Y.S. 123, and State ex rel. Sullivan v. Tazwell, 123 Or. 326, 330, 262 P. 220. Compare Panama R. Co. v. Johnson, 264 U.S. 375, 384; Engel v. Davenport, 271...

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