328 U.S. 707 (1946), 625, Hust v. Moore-McCormack Lines, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 625
Citation:328 U.S. 707, 66 S.Ct. 1218, 90 L.Ed. 1534
Party Name:Hust v. Moore-McCormack Lines, Inc.
Case Date:June 10, 1946
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 707

328 U.S. 707 (1946)

66 S.Ct. 1218, 90 L.Ed. 1534



Moore-McCormack Lines, Inc.

No. 625

United States Supreme Court

June 10, 1946

Argued April 22, 29, 1946



1. A seaman employed on a ship owned by the United States and operated for the War Shipping Administration by a private company "as its agent and not as an independent contractor" under the standard form of General Agent Service Agreement was injured a few days before the effective date of the Clarification Act of March 24, 1943, due to the negligent operation of the ship.

Held: he is entitled to sue the operating company for damages in a state court and to have a jury trial under § 33 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (the Jones Act), even if he was technically an employee of the United States. Pp. 715-734.

2. The purpose of the Suits in Admiralty Act was to expand, not to restrict, the rights of seamen. To interpret it as intended to displace the settled scheme of private rights of seamen during a period of temporary governmental control of the entire merchant marine would be to pervert its whole purpose, create numerous uncertainties, and cause the loss of substantive rights long enjoyed by seamen. Pp.715-723.

3. Even if the seaman was an employee of the United States, this did not remit him exclusively to the Suits in Admiralty Act for remedy to enforce the substantive rights given by the Jones Act or deprive him of all remedies against the operating "agent" for such injuries as he incurred. Pp. 723-724.

4. An application of the common law rules of private agency to defeat the Jones Act cannot be justified in this temporary situation, since neither Congress nor the President intended to take away the normally applicable rights and remedies of seamen when the maritime industry was transferred temporarily to governmental control for the duration of the war emergency. Pp. 724-725, 730-731.

5. Nothing in the Jones Act, the Suits in Admiralty Act, the War Powers Act of 1941, or the Executive Orders by which the maritime industry was transferred to governmental control compels a contrary conclusion. P. 725.

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6. That the wartime transfer of the merchant marine from private to government control was not intended to deprive the seaman of his right to sue under the Jones Act is confirmed by the Clarification Act. One primary occasion for the passage of the Clarification Act was to save the seaman's rights, rather than to take them away. Pp. 725-734.

7. In its retroactively operating provisions, here applicable, the Clarification Act gives the seaman an election between enforcing his rights in the usual manner and asserting them against the United States under the Suits in Admiralty Act. It would nullify this election to hold that the seaman's only remedy for injuries incurred before the Clarification Act became effective was under the Suits in Admiralty Act. Pp. 729-730.

8. The mere fact that the standard form of General Agent Service Agreement was changed so as to omit the provision for the operating agent to man the ship did not deprive seamen of the long established scheme of rights and remedies provided by law, or reduce them to the single mode of enforcement under the Suits in Admiralty procedure. Pp. 730-731.

176 Ore. 662, 158 P.2d 275, reversed.

A seaman injured aboard a ship owned by the United States brought suit and obtained a judgment for damages in an Oregon court under § 33 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (the Jones Act) against a steamship company which was operating the ship for the Government under the standard form of General Agent Service Agreement with the War Shipping Administration. The Supreme Court of Oregon reversed. 176 Ore. 662, 158 P.2d 275. This Court granted certiorari. 327 U.S. 771. Reversed, p. 734.

Page 709

RUTLEDGE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE RUTLEDGE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case arises by virtue of the fact that, during most of the Second World War, substantially our entire merchant marine became part of a single vast shipping pool, said to have been the largest in history,1 operated and controlled by the United States through the War Shipping Administration.2 So huge an enterprise necessarily comprehended many intricate and complex readjustments from normal peacetime shipping arrangements. These

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were executed largely through broad powers conferred upon the Administration.3

Eventually almost every vessel not immediately belonging to naval and other armed forces came under the Administration's authority. Otherwise than by direct construction and ownership, this was accomplished by transfer from private shipping interests to the Administration, pursuant to requisition or other arrangement.

Inevitably the industry's transfer from private to public control was achieved to a very great extent by making use not only of private property, but also of private shipping men, both in management and for labor.4 This too

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was brought about in [66 S.Ct. 1220] various ways, but chiefly two for presently pertinent purposes. One was by time-chartering of privately owned vessels with crew, in which case the men remained the private employees of the vessel's owner. The other was by either bareboat charter or outright ownership by the Administration. In such instances, as will appear, master and seamen became technically employees of the United States.5

The difference is important for the issues and the decision in this case. They concern the broad question whether seamen employed in the latter capacity, as members of the United States Merchant Marine,6 lost during the period of such service prior to March 24, 1943,7 some of the American seamen's ordinary and usual protections in respect to personal injury or death incurred in the course of employment, or retained those rights. Specifically, in this case, the question is whether petitioner Hust retained the seaman's usual right to jury trial in a suit against the respondent, pursuant to the provisions of the Jones Act,8 for personal injuries incurred in the course of his employment as a seaman on the S.S. Mark Hanna.

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This was a Government-owned Liberty ship operated under a so-called General Agent Service Agreement between respondent and the Administration.

The Mark Hanna had been torpedoed in the Atlantic Ocean on March 9, 1943. Early on the morning of the 17th, the day of Hust's injury, the vessel was being towed to port. He was ordered to go to the ship's locker in the forepeak of the second deck and bring out a mooring line to be used in towing. The electric bulb lighting the locker room had burned out, and the room was dark. While crossing it to get the line, Hust fell through an unguarded hatch about twelve feet to the third deck. In landing, he struck a steel manhole cover projecting some six inches above the deck and incurred the injuries for which this suit was brought on September 24, 1943, in the Circuit Court for the County of Multnomah, Oregon.

The complaint alleged that Hust was respondent's employee, was injured through its negligence, and that the suit was brought pursuant to § 33 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. Trial before a jury brought a verdict and judgment for Hust. On appeal to the Supreme Court of Oregon, the judgment was reversed and an order was entered for the cause to be remanded, with directions to enter judgment for the respondent notwithstanding the verdict. The Supreme Court held that, as a matter of law,9 petitioner was an employee of the United States, not of respondent, and therefore he was not entitled [66 S.Ct. 1221] to

Page 713

recover from it under the Jones Act for the injuries alleged and proved. 176 Or. 662, 158 P.2d 275. The importance of the question for the administration of the Act in application to persons situated similarly to the petitioner caused us to grant certiorari in order to review this ruling. 327 U.S. 771.

The Supreme Court of Oregon considered that the controlling question was whether Hust was respondent's employee when the injuries were incurred, and that "it must be assumed . . . that the case is governed by the rule of the common law" to determine this question, and thus the outcome of the case. Accordingly, it examined with great care the arrangements which had been made between respondent and the Government for operation of the Mark Hanna, with special reference to the provisions of the General Service Agreement10 to which the Administration and respondent were parties. From this examination, the court concluded that respondent was an agent of the Administration for only limited purposes, not including control, authority, or principalship of the master and crew or responsibility for negligent occurrences taking place at sea and not attributable to the manner of discharging any duty of respondent while the

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vessel was in port.11 Hence, applying the common law "control" test,12 the court came to its conclusion that Hust was not respondent's employee as that relation is contemplated in the Jones Act. The court also found that the so-called Clarification Act13 in no way gave support to his view that he could recover from respondent under the Jones Act.14

It is around these questions and the effect for determining them of various authorities, particularly Brady v. Roosevelt S.S. Co., 317 U.S. 575, that the controversy has revolved in the state courts and here. In connection [66 S.Ct. 1222] with the bearing of the Clarification Act, it is of some importance to note that Hust's injuries were sustained

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only a few days before that Act became effective on March 24, 1943, and that it contained features relating to injuries like Hust's incurred between that date and October 1, 1941, retroactive in character.15 It is, in part, concerning those features that argument has been most intense.


At the outset, it is...

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