493 U.S. 40 (1989), Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company v. Schwalb

Citation:493 U.S. 40, 110 S.Ct. 381, 107 L.Ed.2d 278, 58 U.S.L.W. 4015
Party Name:Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company v. Schwalb
Case Date:November 28, 1989
Court:United States Supreme Court

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493 U.S. 40 (1989)

110 S.Ct. 381, 107 L.Ed.2d 278, 58 U.S.L.W. 4015

Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company



United States Supreme Court

Nov. 28, 1989



Respondents, employees of petitioner railroads, were injured while working at petitioners' Virginia terminals, where coal was being loaded from railway cars to ships on.navigable waters. The injuries to respondents in No. 87-1979, who were laborers doing housekeeping and janitorial services, occurred while they were undertaking one of their duties: cleaning spilled coal from loading equipment to prevent fouling. The injury to respondent in No. 88-127, a pier machinist, occurred when he was engaged in his primary duty of repairing coal loading equipment. Each respondent brought suit in state [110 S.Ct. 382] court under the Federal Employers' Liability Act. Petitioners challenged jurisdiction under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA or Act), which, inter alia, provides the exclusive remedy for an employee injured at a relevant situs while

engaged in maritime employment, including any longshoreman or other person engaged in longshoring operations, and any harbor-worker including a ship repairman, shipbuilder, and ship-breaker.

33 U.S.C. § 902(3). The trial courts dismissed the suits, concluding that each respondent was an employee covered by the LHWCA. The Supreme Court of Virginia consolidated the appeals of respondents in No. 87-1979 and reversed the dismissal of their cases, stating that the key question was whether an employee's activities had a realistically significant relationship to the loading of cargo on ships, and ruling that the activities of employees performing purely maintenance tasks did not. On the basis of this decision, the court then reversed the dismissal of the suit by respondent repairman in No. 88-127.

Held: Respondents were engaged in maritime employment within the meaning of § 902(3). Pp. 45-48.

(a) Since employment that is maritime within the meaning of § 902(3) includes not only the specified occupations or employees who physically handle cargo, but also land-based activity occurring within the relevant situs if it is an integral or essential part of loading or unloading a vessel, Northeast Marine Terminal Co. v. Caputo, 432 U.S. 249; P.C. Pfeiffer

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Co. v. Ford, 444 U.S. 69; Herb's Welding, Inc. v. Gray, 470 U.S. 414, employees who are injured while maintaining or repairing equipment essential to the loading or unloading process are covered by the Act. Someone who repairs or maintains such equipment is just as vital to and as integral a part of the loading process as the operator of the equipment, since, when machinery breaks down or becomes clogged because of the lack of cleaning, the loading process stops until the difficulty is cured. It is irrelevant that an employee's contribution to that process is not continuous, that he has other duties not integrally connected with the process, or that repair or maintenance is not always needed. The conclusion that the Act covers essential repair and maintenance is buttressed by the fact that every Federal Court of Appeals to have addressed the issue has reached this result, as has the Department of Labor, the agency charged with administering the Act. Pp. 45-48.

(b) Each of the respondents is covered by the LHWCA. It makes no difference that the particular kinds of repairs being done by respondent in No. 88-127 might be considered traditional railroad work or might be done by railroad employees wherever railroad cars are unloaded, since the determinative consideration is that the shiploading process could not continue unless the equipment respondent worked on was operating properly and loading was, in fact, stopped while he made the repairs. Respondents in No. 87-1979 were also performing duties essential to the overall loading process, in light of testimony that, if coal which spills onto the loading equipment is not periodically removed, the equipment may become clogged and inoperable. Equipment cleaning that is necessary to keep machines operative is a form of maintenance and is only different in degree from repair work. P. 48.

No. 87-1979, 235 Va. 27, 365 S.E.2d 742, and No. 88-127, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which MARSHALL and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 49. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 50.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Nancy J. Schwalb and William McGlone, respondents in No. 87-1979, were employees of petitioner Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company (C & O), and were injured while working at petitioner's terminal in Newport News, Virginia, where coal was being loaded from railway cars to a ship on navigable waters. Robert T. Goode, respondent in No. 88-127, was injured while working for petitioner Norfolk and Western Railway Company (N & W) at its coal loading terminal in Norfolk, Virginia. If respondents' injuries are covered by the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA or Act), 44 Stat. 1424, 33 U.S.C. §§ 901-950, (1982 ed., and Supp. V), the remedy provided by that Act is exclusive and resort may not be had to the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 35 Stat. 65, 45 U.S.C. §§ 51-60 (1982 ed., and Supp. V), which provides a negligence cause of action for...

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