355 U.S. 563 (1958), 75, Weyerhaeuser Steamship Co. v. Nacirema Operating Co., Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 75
Citation:355 U.S. 563, 78 S.Ct. 438, 2 L.Ed.2d 491
Party Name:Weyerhaeuser Steamship Co. v. Nacirema Operating Co., Inc.
Case Date:March 03, 1958
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 563

355 U.S. 563 (1958)

78 S.Ct. 438, 2 L.Ed.2d 491

Weyerhaeuser Steamship Co.

v.

Nacirema Operating Co., Inc.

No. 75

United States Supreme Court

March 3, 1958

Argued January 6, 1958

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

A stevedoring company, which had contracted to unload a vessel in New York and Boston, permitted its Boston employees to use, without inspection, a temporary shelter erected by it in New York but not removed by the shipowner upon sailing for Boston. A longshoreman injured by a board which fell from the shelter sued the shipowner on claim of negligence and unseaworthiness. The shipowner impleaded the stevedoring company, claiming a right to indemnity. A jury in the main case found for the longshoreman on the issue of negligence and for the shipowner on the issue of seaworthiness, and the longshoreman was awarded a judgment against the shipowner. Concluding that the jury's verdict was also dispositive of the third-party action, the judge directed a verdict for the stevedoring company.

Held: the liability of the stevedoring company depended on principles different from those governing the liability of the shipowner; all issues of fact involved in the third-party action should have been submitted to the jury; and the court erred in directing a verdict for the stevedoring company based on the finding for the longshoreman. Pp. 564-569.

(a) The stevedoring company's contractual obligation to perform its duties with reasonable safety related not only to the handling of the cargo, but also to the use of equipment incidental thereto, such as the shelter involved here. P. 567.

(b) If, in that regard, the stevedoring company rendered a substandard performance which led to foreseeable liability of the shipowner, the latter was entitled to indemnity, absent conduct on its part sufficient to preclude recovery. P. 567.

(c) The evidence bearing on these issues was for jury consideration under appropriate instructions, and these issues were not encompassed by the instructions in the main case. Pp. 567-568.

(d) Since the liability of the stevedoring company depended on principles different from those governing liability of the shipowner, all issues of fact involved in the third-party case should have been submitted to the jury after the verdict in the main case. P. 568568.

Page 564

(e) The verdict for the longshoreman did not ipso facto preclude recovery of indemnity by the shipowner. Pp. 568-569.

(f) In the area of contractual indemnity, an application of the theories of "active" or "passive," as well as "primary" or "secondary" negligence, is inappropriate. P. 569.

236 F.2d 848 reversed and remanded.

CLARK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE CLARK, delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question here involves the right to trial by jury under principles of maritime liability enunciated in Ryan Stevedoring Co. v. Pan-Atlantic S.S. Corp., 350 U.S. 124 (1956). Respondent, a stevedoring company, contracted to furnish petitioner, a shipowner, with stevedoring services and a longshoreman employed by respondent was injured while unloading petitioner's vessel. When the longshoreman sued petitioner on claims of negligence and unseaworthiness, petitioner impleaded respondent, claiming a right to indemnity for any damages the longshoreman might recover. The main case, involving the longshoreman's claims, was submitted to the jury, which found for the longshoreman on the issue of negligence and for petitioner on the issue of seaworthiness. That judgment has since been satisfied, and is not before us. After receiving the verdict, the judge decided that it also was dispositive of the third-party action, and directed a

Page 565

verdict for respondent. A divided Court of Appeals affirmed, 236 F.2d 848, and we granted certiorari. 352 U.S. 1030 (1957). Petitioner contends, inter alia, that certain issues of fact should have been submitted to the jury. We agree with petitioner on this point.

Petitioner's claim for indemnity primarily rests on the contractual relationship [78 S.Ct. 440] between it and respondent. While the stevedoring contract contained no express indemnity clause,1 it obligated respondent "to faithfully furnish such stevedoring services as may be required," and to provide all necessary labor and supervision for "the proper and efficient conduct of the work." As this Court said in Ryan Stevedoring Co. v. Pan-Atlantic S.S. Corp., supra, such language constitutes "a contractual undertaking to [perform] `with reasonable safety,'" 350 U.S. at 130, and to discharge "foreseeable damages resulting to the shipowner from the contractor's improper performance." 350 U.S. at 129, footnote 3. Petitioner contends that a breach of this undertaking by respondent caused the injury to the longshoreman, and that petitioner's liability resulting from the breach was "foreseeable."

The F. E. Weyerhaeuser, the vessel upon which the accident occurred, had sailed from the West Coast with a cargo of lumber for New York and Boston, the ports where respondent was to perform the stevedoring operations. The vessel arrived in New York on January 25, 1952, and, in the ensuing five days, the deck load and part of the underdeck cargo was discharged. On January 30, the ship left New York, arriving in Boston the next day. Respondent's crews boarded the vessel, and the unloading continued. On the fifth day of the Boston operations, one Connolly, a longshoreman employed...

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