369 U.S. 698 (1962), 358, Guzman v. Pichirilo

Docket Nº:No. 358
Citation:369 U.S. 698, 82 S.Ct. 1095, 8 L.Ed.2d 205
Party Name:Guzman v. Pichirilo
Case Date:May 21, 1962
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 698

369 U.S. 698 (1962)

82 S.Ct. 1095, 8 L.Ed.2d 205

Guzman

v.

Pichirilo

No. 358

United States Supreme Court

May 21, 1962

Argued March 27, 1962

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner, a longshoreman, brought suit in admiralty, in rem against a ship and in personam against her owner, to recover damages for injuries which he claimed resulted from unseaworthiness of the ship, which he was helping to unload. The defense was that the ship was under demise charter to petitioner's employer at all pertinent times, including the time when the unseaworthy condition arose. The District Court found that there was in fact no such demise charter, and awarded petitioner a judgment against the ship and its owner. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the ship was under a demise charter to petitioner's employer, that this relieved the owner of personal responsibility for unseaworthiness, and that the ship was not liable in rem because no personal responsibility could be visited upon either the owner or the charterer.

Held: the District Court's findings of fact relative to the existence of a demise charter were not clearly erroneous, and the Court of Appeals erred in reversing its judgment. Pp. 698-703.

290 F.2d 812, reversed.

CLARK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, a longshoreman, was injured while unloading the M/V Carib, of Dominican registry, when a shackle broke causing one of the ship's booms to fall upon and severely injure him. He brought this suit in admiralty to recover damages resulting from the unseaworthy condition of the ship. The libel was in rem against the Carib and in personam against respondent Pichirilo, her owner The defense was that the Carib

Page 699

had been demised to petitioner's employer, Bordas & Company at all times pertinent hereto, including the time when the unseaworthy condition arose. The United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, where the Carib lay, held against the ship and the respondent Pichirilo, finding there was no such demise, and judgment for $30,000 was awarded. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the Carib was under a demise to petitioner's employer, which relieved the owner of personal responsibility for unseaworthiness, and that the Carib was not liable in rem because no personal responsibility could be visited upon either the owner or the charterer.1 290 F.2d 812. There being a conflict on the latter point between the Courts of Appeals, see Grillea v. United States, 232 F.2d 919 (C.A.2d Cir. 1956), we granted certiorari, 368 U.S. 895.2 Concluding that the District Court's findings relative to the operative facts of a demise charter party were not clearly erroneous, we hold that the Court of Appeals erred in reversing its judgment.

To create a demise, the owner of the vessel must completely and exclusively relinquish "possession, command, and navigation" thereof to the demisee. United States v. Shea, 152 U.S. 178 (1894); Leary v. United States, 14 Wall. 607 (1872); Reed v. United States, 11 Wall. 591 (1871). See generally Gilmore & Black, The Law of Admiralty, 215-219; Robinson, Admiralty, 593-601; Scrutton, Charterparties (16th ed., McNair & Mocatta),

Page 700

4-7. It is therefore tantamount to, though just short of, an outright transfer of ownership. However, anything short of such a complete transfer is a time or voyage charter party or not a charter party at all. While a demise may bring about a change in the respective legal obligations of the owner and demisee, ibid., we need not decide here whether it relieves the owner of his traditional duty to maintain a seaworthy vessel, for, under our view of the record, the trial court's determination that there was no demise charter party must stand.3

[82 S.Ct. 1097] The owner who attempts to escape his normal liability for the unseaworthiness of his vessel on the ground that he has temporarily been relieved of this obligation has the burden of establishing the facts which give rise to such relief. Thus, assuming arguendo that a demise charter party would isolate the owner from liability, the owner has the burden of showing such a charter. This burden is heavy, for courts are reluctant to find a demise when the dealings between the parties are consistent with any lesser relationship. E.g., Reed v. United States, supra, at 601. To establish a demise, the owner in the instant case offered only the testimony of the director-partner of the claimed demisee, petitioner's employer.4 He testified that his company had complete control over and responsibility for the operation of the Carib, in consideration of which the owner was paid $200 monthly. He explained that his company's agreement with the owner was

a kind of charter, because it does not comply with the regular provisions of a charter party. I pay the seamen, food, repair, maintenance, drydocking, which, in a regular charter party, are excluded.

To negate the existence of a demise, the petitioner offered the deposition

Page 701

of the Captain of the Carib, who testified simply that he was employed by the owner. On the basis of this evidence, the trial court found that the owner "was at all times mentioned in the libel . . . in possession...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP