396 U.S. 212 (1969), 9, Nacirema Operating Co., Inc. v. Johnson

Docket Nº:No. 9
Citation:396 U.S. 212, 90 S.Ct. 347, 24 L.Ed.2d 371
Party Name:Nacirema Operating Co., Inc. v. Johnson
Case Date:December 09, 1969
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 212

396 U.S. 212 (1969)

90 S.Ct. 347, 24 L.Ed.2d 371

Nacirema Operating Co., Inc.



No. 9

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 9, 1969

Argued March 25, 1969

Reargued October 20, 1969




One longshoreman was killed and two others were injured on piers permanently affixed to shore in accidents that occurred while they were attaching cargo from railroad cars to ships' cranes. The District Court upheld denial of compensation claims under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act of 1927. The Court of Appeals reversed.


1. The Longshoremen's Act, which covers injuries occurring "upon navigable waters," and furnishes a remedy only "if recovery . . . through workmen's compensation proceedings may not validly be provided by state law," does not provide compensation to workmen injured on a pier permanently affixed to the land, and hence clearly within the jurisdiction of the States. Pp. 214-221.

2. Though the Extension of Admiralty Jurisdiction Act extends admiralty tort jurisdiction to ship-caused injuries on a pier, it does not enlarge the coverage of the Longshoremen's Act. Pp. 221-223.

398 F.2d 90, reversed.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The single question of statutory construction presented by these cases is whether injuries to longshoremen occurring on piers permanently affixed to shore are compensable under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act of 1927 (Longshoremen's Act), 44 Stat. 1424, 33 U.S.C. §§ 901-950.

Johnson and Klosek were employed by the Nacirema Operating Company as longshoremen; Avery was similarly employed by the Old Dominion Stevedoring Corporation. All three men were engaged at the time of their accidents in performing similar operations as "slingers," attaching cargo from railroad cars located on piers1 to ships' cranes for removal to the ships. Klosek was killed, and each of the other men was injured, when cargo hoisted by the ship's crane swung back and knocked him to the pier or crushed him against the side of the

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railroad car. Deputy Commissioner of the United States Department of Labor denied claim for compensation in each case on the ground that the injuries had not occurred "upon the navigable waters of the United States" a required by the Act.2 The District Courts upheld the Deputy Commissioners' decisions. 243 F.Supp. 184 (D.C. Md.1965); 245 F.Supp. 51 (D.C.E.D. Va.1965). The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed.3 398 F.2d 900 (1968). We granted certiorari, 393 U.S. 976 (1968), to resolve the resulting conflict with decisions in other circuits holding that pier injuries are not covered by the Act.4 We have concluded from an examination of the language, purpose, and legislative history of the Act, as well as prior decisions of this Court, that the judgment of the Court of Appeals must be reversed.

Since long before the Longshoremen's Act was passed, it has been settled law that structures such as wharves

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and piers, permanently affixed to land, are extension of the land.5 Thus, literally read, a statute that cover injuries "upon the navigable waters" would not cover injuries on a pier even though the pier, like a bridge, extends over navigable waters.6

Respondents urge, however, that the 1927 Act, though it employs language that determines coverage by the "situs" of the injury, was nevertheless aimed at broader coverage: coverage of the "status" of the longshoreman employed in performing a maritime contract. We do not agree. Congress might have extended coverage to all longshoremen by exercising its power over maritime contracts.7 But the language of the Act is to the contrary

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and the background of the statute leaves little doubt that Congress' concern in providing compensation was a narrower one.

Ten years before the Act was passed, this Court, in Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205 (1917), held that a State was without power to extend a compensation remedy to a longshoreman injured on the gangplank between the ship and the pier. The decision left longshoremen injured on the seaward side of the pier without a compensation remedy, while longshoremen injured on the pier enjoyed the protection of state compensation acts. State Industrial Commission v. Nordenholt Corp., 259 U.S. 263 (1922).

Twice Congress attempted to fill this gap by passing legislation that would have extended state compensation remedies beyond the line drawn in Jensen.8 Each time, this Court struck down the statute as an unlawful delegation of congressional power. Washington v. Dawson Co., 264 U.S. 219 (1924); Knickerbocker Ice Co. v. Stewart, 253 U.S. 149 (1920). Finally, responding to this Court's suggestion that what Congress could not empower the States to do, it could do itself,9 Congress passed the Longshoremen's Act. The clear implication is that, in enacting its own compensation statute, Congress

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was trying to do what it had failed to do in earlier attempts: to extend a compensation remedy to workmen injured beyond the pier and hence beyond the jurisdiction of the States. This purpose was clearly expressed in the language limiting coverage to injuries occurring "upon the navigable waters," and permitting recovery only "if recovery . . . through workmen's compensation proceedings may not validly be provided by State law."10

This conclusion is fully supported by the legislative history. As originally drafted, § 3 extended coverage to injuries

on a place within the admiralty jurisdiction of the United States, except employment of local concern and of no direct relation to navigation and commerce.11 During the hearings, it was repeatedly emphasized and apparently assumed by representatives from both the shipping industry and the unions that a "place within the admiralty jurisdiction" did not include a dock or pier.12 In fact, a representative of the Labor Department

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objected to the bill precisely for that reason, urging the Committee to extend coverage to embrace the contract, "and not the man simply when he is on the ship."13 If Congress had intended to adopt that suggestion, it could not have chosen a more inappropriate way of expressing its intent than by substituting the words "upon the navigable waters" for the words "within the admiralty jurisdiction."14 Indeed, the Senate Report that accompanied the revised bill, containing the [90 S.Ct. 352] language of the present Act, makes clear that the suggestion was rejected, rather than adopted:

[I]njuries occurring in

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loading or unloading are not covered unless they occur on the ship or between the wharf and the ship so as to bring them within the maritime jurisdiction of the United States.

S.Rep. No. 973, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., 16. We decline to ignore these explicit indications of a design to provide compensation only beyond the pier where the States could not reach. "That is the gap that we are trying to fill."15 In filling that gap Congress did not extend coverage to longshoremen like those respondents whose injuries occurred on the landward side of the Jensen line,

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clearly entitling them to protection under state compensation Acts.16

Decisions of this Court have more than once embraced this interpretation. Swanson v. Marra Bros., Inc., 328 U.S. 1 (1946), held that neither the Jones Act nor the Longshoremen's Act covered a longshoreman injured on the dock in the course of his employment even if the injury was caused by a vessel on navigable waters. Parker v. Motor Boat Sales, 314 U.S. 244, 249 (1941), concluded that the purpose of the Act "was to provide for federal compensation in the area which the specific decisions referred to placed beyond the reach of the states." Davis v. Dept. of Labor Industries, 317 U.S. 249, 256 (1942), noted that, in passing the Longshoremen's Act, Congress had specifically adopted the Jensen line. The interpretation endorsed by these cases is also reflected in a consistent course of administrative construction commencing immediately after the enactment of the Act. Employees' Compensation Commission Opinions Nos. 5 and 16, 1927 A.M.C. 1558 and 1855; No. 30, 1928 A.M.C. 417.

It is true that, since Jensen, this Court has permitted recovery under state remedies in particular situations [90 S.Ct. 353] seaward of the pier, Parker v. Motor Boat Sales, supra, and in Calbeck v. Travelers Insurance Co., 370 U.S. 114 (1962), approved recovery under the Longshoremen's Act for injuries occurring on navigable waters which might also have been compensable under state law. Calbeck made it clear that Congress intended to exercise its full jurisdiction seaward of the Jensen line

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and to cover all injuries on navigable waters, whether or not state compensation was also available in particular situations. The proviso to § 3(a) conditioning coverage on the unavailability of state remedies was not meant to deny federal relief where the injury occurred on navigable waters. But removing uncertainties as to the Act's coverage of injuries occurring on navigable waters is a far cry from construing the Act to reach injuries on land traditionally within the ambit of state compensation acts.

Indeed, Calbeck freely cited the Parker and Davis declarations that the Longshoremen's Act adopted the Jensen line, and Calbeck's holding rejected the notion that the line should advance or recede simply because decisions of this Court had permitted state remedies in narrow areas seaward of that line. Otherwise, the reach of the federal Act would be subject to uncertainty, and its coverage would

expand and recede in harness with developments in constitutional interpretation as to the scope of state power to compensate injuries on navigable waters,

with the result "that every...

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