Atlantic Container Service, Inc. v. Coleman

Decision Date27 June 1990
Docket NumberNo. 89-8587,89-8587
PartiesATLANTIC CONTAINER SERVICE, INCORPORATED and U.S. Fidelity and Guaranty Co., Employer/Carrier-Petitioners, v. Wallace COLEMAN, Claimant-Respondent, Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, United States Department of Labor, Benefits Review Board, United States Department of Labor, Respondents.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Charles W. Barrow, Gustave R. Dubus, III, Savannah, Ga., for employer/carrier-petitioners.

John Jeffrey Ross, U.S. Dept. of Labor, Office of the Sol., Washington, D.C., for Dir., Office of Workers' Compensation, U.S. Dept. of Labor.

Ralph R. Lorberbaum, Ashman & Zipperer, P.C., Savannah, Ga., for Coleman.

Petition for Review of an Order of the Department of Labor Benefits Review Board.

Before JOHNSON, Circuit Judge, HILL *, and HENLEY **, Senior Circuit Judges.

HILL, Senior Circuit Judge:

This case concerns a claim for disability benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. Secs. 901-950 (1982) ("the LHWCA"). The claimant, Wallace C. Coleman, asserts his entitlement to compensation under the LHWCA for a disability resulting from a back injury suffered on December 5, 1985. Coleman injured his back while changing a tire in the course of his employment with the Atlantic Container Service, Inc., ("Atlantic"), an appellant in this case. Atlantic denied the claim on grounds that Coleman's work did not qualify as maritime employment, and Coleman then brought his case to the appropriate administrative authorities.

A hearing regarding Coleman's claim was held before an Administrative Law Judge on September 16, 1986. The facts developed from that record demonstrate that Atlantic is in the business of maintaining and repairing equipment used to transport goods traveling from sea to land and back again. Such amphibious transport is referred to as the "intermodal trade." This case concerns two types of equipment used in the intermodal trade: containers and chassis.

Containers are essentially very large metal boxes which are used to store and transport cargo. While on board ship they serve to carry cargo. When the ship docks, the containers can be put to continued use in several different ways. Some are unloaded and emptied upon arrival, and the cargo sorted. Others are unloaded, then attached "as is" to a tractor/trailer, and hauled by land to their final destination. Or, the containers can be loaded directly onto railroad cars to continue their journey "piggy-back" style by rail.

A chassis is the wheeled support frame used to transport the container overland. In other words, a chassis is what most lay persons would call the "trailer" portion of a tractor/trailer rig, while the container is the load-carrying metal box that sits upon it.

As a mechanic for Atlantic, Coleman spent his work day making relatively minor repairs to chassis and containers at the Hapag Lloyd loading area of the Georgia Port Authority in Garden City, Georgia. At the time of his injury he worked exclusively on containers and chassis belonging to Hapag Lloyd Lines, a shipping company.

The loading area where Coleman worked is a large parking lot, approximately 500 yards from the Savannah River, on which numerous shipping and cargo companies park chassis and containers. Most of the containers parked in this lot have been taken off ships and loaded directly onto chassis. The chassis, carrying the containers, are then hauled up to the parking lot where Coleman worked. They are transported from dockside to the lot by tractor trucks called "hustlers." Hustlers are exactly like the tractor truck rigs used for overland transportation, except for the fact that they are not road worthy, i.e., they do not comply with the Department of Transportation standards for vehicles operating on public highways. Upon reaching the parking lot the container and chassis are unhitched from the hustler, and stay parked at the lot until picked up by a land based truck driver and his tractor rig for overland transport. In addition, at any given time the parking lot contains a number of empty inbound chassis/container rigs, which have been dropped off by truck drivers. These stay at the lot until hauled by the hustlers back down to the dock area for reloading.

Most of the work done by Coleman consisted of making the outbound, loaded chassis road worthy. He repaired tires, brakes, and lights. He also repaired doors on containers so that they could be opened properly. In addition, on rare occasions Coleman did repair work on hustlers. Although he was always available to do work on hustlers, this opportunity did not arise very often. Coleman also performed the necessary minor maintenance work on inbound chassis and containers, such as patching small holes in the empty containers or changing the tire on a chassis.

Coleman testified that 90% of his repair work involved getting containers and chassis ready to leave the Georgia Port Authority by making sure that all the equipment functioned in a manner consistent with Department of Transportation's standards for vehicles operating on public highways. Only five to ten percent of Coleman's maintenance work was done on chassis and containers dropped off by inbound truck drivers, or on hustlers.

Based on these facts, the Administrative Law Judge found that Coleman's work as a maintenance mechanic was "integrally related to the loading and unloading procedures, connected with and vital to the movement of maritime cargo on navigable waters," and he was therefore covered by the LHWCA. The judge concluded that Coleman's land-bound status did not preclude coverage under the LHWCA because "his repair duties facilitate the loading/unloading of cargo and, a fortiori, fall within the broad concept of maritime employment."

Atlantic and its insurer, United States Fidelity & Guaranty Corporation ("USF & G") appealed this decision to the Benefits Review Board. The Board upheld the administrative law judge's findings that Coleman was a covered employee. The Board found that "claimant's overall employment facilitates the movement of cargo between ship and land transportation and is maritime in nature." The Board also found that "Claimant's specific work on containers coming into the port to be put on ships and on equipment used solely to move cargo within the port area is directly integral to the loading and unloading process and, thus, is clearly covered employment." The Board concluded that since Coleman spent "at least some of his time on indisputably maritime activities," he was covered under the Act. Atlantic and USF & G now appeal the Board's decision to this court.

The LHWCA should be liberally construed in favor of injured workers and, in reviewing the Board's decision, an award should not be set aside so long as it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Banks v. Chicago Grain Trimmers Ass'n., 390 U.S. 459, 88 S.Ct. 1140, 20 L.Ed.2d 30 (1968); Presley v. Tinsley Maintenance Service, 529 F.2d 433, 436 (5th Cir.1976). While issues of statutory construction would not fall within the presumption of coverage mandated by the LHWCA, resolution of those issues by the Benefits Review Board should be affirmed if a reasonable legal basis supports the Board's decision. Alabama Dry Dock & Shipbuilding Co. v. Kininess, 554 F.2d 176 (5th Cir.) cert. denied, 434 U.S. 903, 98 S.Ct. 299, 54 L.Ed.2d 190 (1977).

The LHWCA provides a special scheme of federal compensation for maritime workers. As has been frequently discussed in many cases interpreting the LHWCA, 1 Congress amended the Act in 1972 in order to extend coverage to more workers by having a two-part "situs" and "status" standard for determining whether an employer was covered. Atlantic does not contest the fact that the situs test is met here. 2 The only issue appealed is whether Coleman meets the status test. This criterion defines a maritime employee as "any person engaged in maritime employment, including any longshoremen or other person engaged in longshoring operations, and any harbor worker including a ship repairman, shipbuilder, and ship breaker...." 33 U.S.C. Sec. 902(3).

The Supreme Court has interpreted the status requirement of the 1972 amendments three times in contexts relevant to this case. In Northeast Marine Terminal Co., Inc. v. Caputo, 432 U.S. 249, 97 S.Ct. 2348, 53 L.Ed.2d 320 (1977), the Supreme Court determined that two different types of employees performing land based activities were covered under the LHWCA. The first operated as a "checker," the person responsible for checking and recording cargo as it was either loaded into a container or unloaded. The checker involved in Northeast was injured at the bonded warehouse where cargo was unloaded and awaiting inspection by U.S. Custom officials. The cargo had been taken to the warehouse from the pier by an independent overland trucking company, but not removed from the container until it reached the warehouse. A second employee, Caputto, had been injured while helping a consignee's truckmen load cargo that had been discharged from ships at the shipping company's terminal.

In determining that these employees were covered under the LHWCA, the Supreme Court explained that:

One of the primary motivations for Congress' decision to extend the coverage shoreward was the recognition that "the advent of modern cargo handling techniques" had moved much of the longshoremen's work off the vessel and onto land. S.Rep. 13; H.R.Rep. 10, U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1972, p. 4707. Noted specifically was the impact of containerization. Unlike traditional break-bulk cargo handling, in which each item of cargo must be handled separately and stored individually in the hold of the ship as it waits in port, containerization permits the time consuming work of stowage and unstowage to be performed on land in the absence of the vessel ... In effect, the...

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