American Export Lines, Inc v. Alvez, 79-1

Citation446 U.S. 274,64 L.Ed.2d 284,100 S.Ct. 1673
Decision Date12 May 1980
Docket NumberNo. 79-1,79-1
PartiesAMERICAN EXPORT LINES, INC., Petitioner, v. Gilberto ALVEZ et al
CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Syllabus

After filing suit in a New York state court against petitioner shipowner to recover damages, on grounds of negligence and unseaworthiness, for personal injuries sustained while working aboard petitioner's vessel in New York waters, respondent husband sought leave to amend his complaint to add his spouse as a plaintiff for loss of society. The trial court denied the motion to amend, but the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court reversed and granted the motion to amend, reasoning that the case was controlled by Sea-Land Services, Inc. v. Gaudet, 414 U.S. 573, 94 S.Ct. 806, 39 L.Ed.2d 9, which held that, under the nonstatutory maritime wrongful-death remedy, the widow of a longshoreman mortally injured aboard a vessel in state territorial waters could recover damages for the loss of her deceased husband's society. The New York Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held : The judgment is affirmed. Pp. 277-286 (opinion of BRENNAN, J.); P. 286 (opinion of POWELL, J.).

46 N.Y.2d 634, 415 N.Y.S.2d 979, 389 N.E.2d 461, affirmed.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN, joined by Mr. Justice WHITE, Mr. Justice BLACKMUN, and Mr. Justice STEVENS, concluded:

1. The Court of Appeals' judgment upholding the legal tenability of the wife's claim for loss of society, although not "final" or within a categorical exception to strict finality when originally entered, will, as a practical matter, be treated as falling within such exception, where, after certiorari was granted in this Court, the case, including the loss-of-society claim was tried and respondent husband prevailed, the appeal from the trial verdict will not challenge the element thereof awarding damages for loss of society, and no federal issue other than whether the wife has a cause of action under general maritime law for loss of society remains. Pp. 277-279.

2. General maritime law authorizes the wife of a harbor worker injured nonfatally aboard a vessel in state territorial waters to maintain an action for damages for the loss of her husband's society. Although Sea-Land Services, Inc. v. Gaudet, supra, upheld a claim for loss of society in the context of a wrongful-death action, it provides the conclusive decisional recognition of a right to recover for such loss, there being no apparent reason to differentiate between fatal and nonfatal injuries in authorizing the recovery of damages for loss of society. Nor is the reach of Gaudet § principle limited by the fact that no right to recover for loss of society due to maritime injury has been recognized by Congress under the Death on the High Seas Act or the Jones Act. Neither statute embodies an "established and inflexible" rule foreclosing recognition of a claim for loss of society by judicially crafted general maritime law. Pp. 279-286.

Mr. Justice POWELL, while believing that Sea-Land Services, Inc. v. Gaudet, supra, was decided wrongly, concurred in the judgment because he saw no rational basis for drawing a distinction between fatal and nonfatal injuries. P. 286.

Stephen K. Carr, New York City, for petitioner.

Paul C. Matthews, New York City, for respondents.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which Mr. Justice WHITE, Mr. Justice BLACKMUN, and Mr. Justice STEVENS joined.

Sea-Land Services, Inc. v. Gaudet, 414 U.S. 573, 94 S.Ct. 806, 39 L.Ed.2d 9 (1974), held that under the nonstatutory maritime wrongful-death action fashioned by Moragne v. States Marine Lines, 398 U.S. 375, 90 S.Ct. 1772, 26 L.Ed.2d 339 (1970), the widow of a longshoreman mortally injured aboard a vessel in state territorial waters could recover damages for the loss of her deceased husband's "society." 1 The question in this case is whether general maritime law authorizes the wife of a harbor worker injured nonfatally aboard a vessel in state territorial waters to maintain an action for damages for the loss of her husband's society. We conclude that general maritime law does afford the wife such a cause of action.

I

Respondent Gilberto Alvez lost an eye while working as a lasher aboard petitioner's vessel §§ Export Builder in New York waters. He commenced an action for damages against petitioner in the New York Supreme Court on grounds of negligence and unseaworthiness.2 Leave to amend respondent's complaint to add his spouse as a plaintiff for loss of society was denied by the New York Supreme Court, Special Term, on the authority of Igneri v. Cie. de Transports Oceaniques, 323 F.2d 257 (CA2 1963), cert. denied, 376 U.S. 949, 84 S.Ct. 965, 11 L.Ed.2d 969 (1964), in which the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that an injured longshoreman's wife was not entitled to compensation for loss of her husband's society. App. to Pet. for Cert. A1. The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court reversed, and granted Alvez' motion to amend, reasoning that Gaudet, rather than Igneri, was controlling authority. 59 App.Div.2d 883, 399 N.Y.S.2d 673 (1st Dept. 1977). Upon certification (App. to Pet. for Cert. A6-A7), the New York Court of Appeals agreed that the vitality of Igneri had been sapped by Gaudet and by other developments in the law, and held that Mrs. Alvez should be permitted to maintain her claim for loss of society under maritime law. 46 N.Y.2d 634, 389 N.E.2d 461, 415 N.Y.S.2d 979 (1979).3 We granted certiorari. 444 U.S. 924, 100 S.Ct. 261, 62 L.Ed.2d 180 (1979). We affirm.

II

At oral argument, the Court raised, sua sponte, the question whether this case fell within the Court's statutory jurisdiction to review "[f]inal judgments or decrees rendered by the highest court of a State in which a decision could be had . . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 1257.

The question is a close one. The New York Court of Appeals order granting leave to amend the complaint was only the predicate to a decision on the merits of the claim for loss of society; that order, therefore, is not "final" in the strict sense of a decree that leaves nothing further to be addressed by the state courts. Nor does the Court of Appeals judgment, as originally entered, readily fit into any of the categorical exceptions to strict finality which the Court has developed in construing § 1257. See Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn, 420 U.S. 469, 476-487, 95 S.Ct. 1029, 1036, 1042, 43 L.Ed.2d 328 (1975).4 Thus, were the case in the posture in which it stood when the petition for certiorari was filed, we might well determine that the judgment lacked sufficient characteristics of finality to warrant an assertion of our appellate jurisdiction.

Since the writ of certiorari was granted, however, this case including the claim for loss of society—has been tried and respondent Alvez has prevailed. Tr. of Oral Arg. 7-8. Counsel for petitioner American Export Lines has informed the Court at oral argument that petitioner's appeal from the trial verdict against it will not challenge that element of the verdict which awarded damages for loss of society to Mrs Alvez. Id., at 10, 41-42.5 Furthermore, it is conceded that no federal question, except that which we are now asked to resolve, remains in the litigation. Id., at 6.6

So far as respondent's wife's claim for loss of society is concerned, it thus appears that "the federal issue, finally decided by the highest court in the State, will survive and require decision regardless of the outcome of future state-court proceedings." Cox Broadcasting, supra at 480, 95 S.Ct. at 1038, see Radio Station WOW v. Johnson, 326 U.S. 120, 123-127, 65 S.Ct. 1475, 1477-1480, 89 L.Ed.2d 92 (1945). As a practical matter, then, we conclude that the judgment below upholding the legal tenability of Mrs. Alvez' claim falls—at present—within a categorical exception to strict finality.7 "[N]ow that the case is before us . . . the eventual costs, as all the parties recognize, will certainly be less if we now pass on the questions presented here rather than send the case back with those issues undecided." Gillespie v. United States Steel Corp., 379 U.S. 148, 153, 85 S.Ct. 308, 311, 13 L.Ed.2d 199 (1964).

III

In Igneri v. Cie. de Transports Oceaniques, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected the loss-of-society claim of a longshoreman's wife in a maritime personal injury action. The Igneri opinion was carefully constructed within the framework of then-applicable doctrines governing maritime remedies. At the time, there was no clear decisional authority sustaining a general maritime law right of recovery for loss of society. 323 F.2d, at 265-266; compare Savage v. New York, N. & H. S. S. Co., 185 F. 778, 781 (CA2 1911) (adopting opinion of Hough, District Judge) (dictum), with New York & Long Branch Steamboat Co. v. Johnson, 195 F. 740 (CA3 1912). It was also thought established, as Igneri stated, "that the damages recoverable by aeaman'an's widow suing for wrongful death under the Jones Act do not include recovery for loss of consortium," 323 F.2d, at 266 (emphasis added); see Michigan Central R. Co. v. Vreeland, 227 U.S. 59, 33 S.Ct. 192, 57 L.Ed. 417 (1913). Too, it was far from evident that the rule of Seas Shipping Co. v. Sieracki, 328 U.S. 85, 66 S.Ct. 872, 90 L.Ed. 1099 (1946), entitling a longshoreman to maintain an action for unseaworthiness, would extend to permit recovery for loss of society by his spouse. 323 F.2d, at 267-268. Thus, the principles of maritime law prevalent in 1963 militated against, rather than supported, the creation of a right to recover for loss of society in Igneri.

The Court recognizes that the Government has the burden of proving that Ms. Mendenhall consented to accompany the officers, but it nevertheless holds that the "totality of evidence was plainly adequate" to support a finding of consent right to recover for loss of society that Igneri found lacking.

To be sure, Gaudet upheld a claim for loss of society...

To continue reading

Request your trial
172 cases
  • Barger v. Petroleum Helicopters, Inc., Civ. A. No. B-77-180-CA.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
    • May 21, 1981
    ...are recoverable where the injury or death is caused by unseaworthiness in territorial waters. American Export Lines, Inc. v. Alvez, 446 U.S. 274, 100 S.Ct. 1673, 64 L.Ed.2d 284 (1980); Sea-Land Services, Inc. v. Gaudet, 414 U.S. 573, 94 S.Ct. 806, 39 L.Ed.2d 9 28 Loss of society damages enc......
  • Newpark Shipbuilding & Repair, Inc. v. Roundtree, 81-4308
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • January 23, 1984
    ...that decision's continued viability for application to the present Board order is demonstrated by American Export Lines, Inc. v. Alvez, 444 U.S. 274, 100 S.Ct. 1673, 64 L.Ed.2d 284 (1980). There, citing Gillespie, the Court did not reject review of an interlocutory amendment ruling in a sta......
  • Sample v. Johnson, s. 84-4134
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 25, 1985
    ...that the decedent during his lifetime may have had for his own personal injuries. Finally, in American Export Lines, Inc. v. Alvez, 446 U.S. 274, 283, 100 S.Ct. 1673, 1678, 64 L.Ed.2d 284 (1980), the Court held that the wife of a harbor worker injured aboard a ship on state territorial wate......
  • Kelly v. Bass Enterprises Production Co.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana)
    • August 5, 1998
    ...nonpecuniary damage allowed by Gaudet was a widow's loss of society. Id. at 587, 94 S.Ct. 806. In American Export Lines, Inc. v. Alvez, 446 U.S. 274, 100 S.Ct. 1673, 64 L.Ed.2d 284 (1980), the claim for loss of society was extended to the wife of a harbor worker who sustained non-fatal inju......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 books & journal articles
  • Death at Sea: A Sad Tale of Disaster, Injustice, and Unnecessary Risk
    • United States
    • Louisiana Law Review No. 71-3, April 2011
    • April 1, 2011
    ...was on. Thereafter, 60. Moragne v. States Marine Lines, Inc., 398 U.S. 375 (1970). 61. 414 U.S. 573 (1974). 62. Id. at 588–89. 63. 446 U.S. 274 (1980). 64. 436 U.S. 618 (1978). 65. Of course, a similar sort of argument in Moragne itself might have gone something like this: In DOHSA, Congres......
  • The Curious Case of Tort Liability for a Defective Product That the Defendant Did Not Make, Sell, or Distribute.
    • United States
    • Missouri Law Review Vol. 88 No. 1, January 2023
    • January 1, 2023
    ...Gaudet, 414 U.S. 573, 583-88 (1974) (recovery of loss of society damages in wrongful death actions); American Export Lines, Inc. v. Alvez, 446 U.S. 274, 284-86 (1980) (recovery of loss of society damages in personal injury actions); Greene v. Vantage S.S. Corp., 466 F.2d 159, 167 (4th Cir. ......
  • PUNITIVE DAMAGES IN MARITIME BEFORE AND IN THE WAKE OF BATTERTON: THE FUTURE.
    • United States
    • Loyola Maritime Law Journal Vol. 22 No. 1, January 2023
    • January 1, 2023
    ...(189) Id. (190) Id. (191) Doyle v. Graske, 565 F. Supp. 2d 1069, 1088 (D. Neb. 2008); 579 F.3d at 902. (192) 579 F.3d at 905-906. (193) 446 U.S. 274 (194) 579 F.3d at 906. (195) Id. (196) Id. at 906-907. (197) Id. at 907. (198) Id. (199) 398 U.S. 375 (1970). (200) 492 U.S. 257 (1989). (201)......
  • Recoverable damages in wrongful death actions governed by the Warsaw Convention.
    • United States
    • Defense Counsel Journal Vol. 62 No. 3, July 1995
    • July 1, 1995
    ...holding that non-pecuniary damages for loss of society are not recoverable), Nos. 94-7208 and 94-7218 (2d Cir., argued April 5, 1995). (9.)446 U.S. 274 (10.)414 U.S. 573 (1974). (11.)498 U.S. 19 (1990). (12.)37 F.3d at 829. (13.)See Alvez, 446 U.S. at 276; Gaudet, 414 U.S. at 574; Miles v. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT