Chandris Inc. v. Latsis

Decision Date14 June 1995
Docket Number94325
Citation515 U.S. 347,132 L.Ed.2d 314,115 S.Ct. 2172
PartiesCHANDRIS, INC., et al., Petitioners, v. Antonios LATSIS
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus *

Respondent Latsis' duties as a superintendent engineer for petitioner Chandris, Inc., required him to take voyages on Chandris' ships. He lost substantial vision in one eye after a condition that he developed while on one of those voyages went untreated by a ship's doctor. Following his recuperation, he sailed to Germany on the S.S. Galileo and stayed with the ship while it was in drydock for refurbishment. Subsequently, he sued Chandris for damages for his eye injury under the Jones Act, which provides a negligence cause of action for "any seaman" injured "in the course of his employment." The District Court instructed the jury that Latsis was a "seaman" if he was permanently assigned to, or performed a substantial part of his work on, a vessel, but that the time Latsis spent with the Galileo while it was in drydock could not be considered because the vessel was then out of navigation. The jury returned a verdict for Chandris based solely on Latsis' seaman status. The Court of Appeals vacated the judgment, finding that the jury instruction improperly framed the issue primarily in terms of Latsis' temporal relationship to the vessel. It held that the "employment-related connection to a vessel in navigation" required for seaman status under the Jones Act, McDermott International, Inc. v. Wilander, 498 U.S. 337, 355, 111 S.Ct. 807, 817, 112 L.Ed.2d 866, exists where an individual contributes to a vessel's function or the accomplishment of its mission; the contribution is limited to a particular vessel or identifiable group of vessels; the contribution is substantial in terms of its duration or nature; and the course of the individual's employment regularly exposes him to the hazards of the sea. It also found that the District Court erred in instructing the jury that the Galileo's drydock time could not count in the substantial connection equation.

Held:

1. The "employment-related connection to a vessel in navigation" necessary for seaman status comprises two basic elements: the worker's duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission, id., at 355, 111 S.Ct., at 817, and the worker must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or an identifiable group of vessels) that is substantial in both its duration and its nature. Pp. ____.

(a) The Jones Act provides heightened legal protections to seamen because of their exposure to the perils of the sea, but does not define the term "seaman." However, the Court's Jones Act cases establish the basic principles that the term does not include land-based workers, id., at 348, 111 S.Ct., at 814, and that seaman status depends "not on the place where the injury is inflicted . . . but on the nature of the seaman's service, his status as a member of the vessel, and his relationship . . . to the vessel and its operation in navigable waters," Swanson v. Marra Brothers, Inc., 328 U.S. 1, 4, 66 S.Ct. 869, 870, 90 L.Ed. 1045. Thus, land-based maritime workers do not become seamen when they happen to be working aboard a vessel, and seamen do not lose Jones Act coverage when their service to a vessel takes them ashore. Latsis' proposed "voyage test"—under which any maritime worker assigned to a vessel for the duration of a voyage, whose duties contribute to the vessel's mission, would be a seaman for injuries incurred during that voyage—conflicts with this status-based inquiry. Desper v. Starved Rock Ferry Co., 342 U.S. 187, 190, 72 S.Ct. 216, 218, 96 L.Ed. 205, and Grimes v. Raymond Concrete Pile Co, 356 U.S. 252, 255, 78 S.Ct. 687, 689-690, 2 L.Ed.2d 737, distinguished. Pp. ____.

(b) Beyond the basic themes outlined here, the Court's cases have been silent as to the precise relationship a maritime worker must bear to a vessel in order to come within the Jones Act's ambit, leaving the lower federal courts the task of developing appropriate criteria to distinguish "ship's company" from land-based maritime workers. Those courts generally require at least a significant connection to a vessel in navigation (or to an identifiable fleet of vessels) for a maritime worker to qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act. Pp. ____.

(c) The test for seaman status adopted here has two essential requirements. The first is a broad threshold requirement that makes all maritime employees who do the ship's work eligible for seaman status. Wilander, supra, at 355, 111 S.Ct., at 817. The second requirement determines which of these eligible maritime employees have the required employment-related connection to a vessel in navigation to make them in fact entitled to Jones Act benefits. This requirement gives full effect to the remedial scheme created by Congress and separates sea-based maritime employees entitled to Jones Act protection from land-based workers whose employment does not regularly expose them to the perils of the sea. Who is a "member of a crew" is a mixed question of law and fact. A jury should be able to consider all relevant circumstances bearing on the two requirements. The duration of a worker's connection to a vessel and the nature of the worker's activities, taken together, determine whether he is a seaman, because the ultimate inquiry is whether the worker is part of the vessel's crew or simply a land-based employee who happens to be working on the vessel at a given time. Although seaman status is not merely a temporal concept, it includes a temporal element. A worker who spends only a small fraction of his working time aboard a vessel is fundamentally land-based and therefore not a crew member regardless of his duties. An appropriate rule of thumb is that a worker who spends less than about 30 percent of his time in the service of a vessel in navigation should not qualify as a seaman. This figure is only a guideline that allows a court to take the question from the jury when a worker has a clearly inadequate temporal connection to the vessel. On the other hand, the seaman status inquiry should not be limited exclusively to an examination of the overall course of a worker's service with a particular employer, since his seaman status may change with his basic assignment. Pp. ____.

2. The District Court's drydock instruction was erroneous. Whether a vessel is in navigation is a fact-intensive question that can be removed from the jury's consideration only where the facts and the law will reasonably support one conclusion. Based upon the record here, the trial court failed adequately to justify its decision to remove that question from the jury. Moreover, the court's charge to the jury swept too broadly in prohibiting the jury from considering the time Latsis spent with the vessel while in drydock for any purpose. Pp. ____.

20 F.3d 45 (CA2 1994), affirmed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which THOMAS and BREYER, JJ., joined.

David W. McCreadie, Tampa, FL, for petitioners.

Lewis Rosenberg, New York City, for respondent.

Justice O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case asks us to clarify what "employment-related connection to a vessel in navigation," McDermott International, Inc. v. Wilander, 498 U.S. 337, 355, 111 S.Ct. 807, 817, 112 L.Ed.2d 866 (1991), is necessary for a maritime worker to qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C.App. § 688(a). In Wilander, we addressed the type of activities that a seaman must perform and held that, under the Jones Act, a seaman's job need not be limited to transportation-related functions that directly aid in the vessel's navigation. We now determine what relationship a worker must have to the vessel, regardless of the specific tasks the worker undertakes, in order to obtain seaman status.

I

In May 1989, respondent Antonios Latsis was employed by petitioner Chandris, Inc., as a salaried superintendent engineer. Latsis was responsible for maintaining and updating the electronic and communications equipment on Chandris' fleet of vessels, which consisted of six passenger cruise ships. Each ship in the Chandris fleet carried between 12 and 14 engineers who were assigned permanently to that vessel. Latsis, on the other hand, was one of two supervising engineers based at Chandris' Miami office; his duties ran to the entire fleet and included not only overseeing the vessels' engineering departments, which required him to take a number of voyages, but also planning and directing ship maintenance from the shore. Latsis claimed at trial that he spent 72 percent of his time at sea, App. 58; his immediate supervisor testified that the appropriate figure was closer to 10 percent, id., at 180.

On May 14, 1989, Latsis sailed for Bermuda aboard the S.S. Galileo to plan for an upcoming renovation of the ship, which was one of the older vessels in the Chandris fleet. Latsis developed a problem with his right eye on the day of departure, and he saw the ship's doctor as the Galileo left port. The doctor diagnosed a suspected detached retina but failed to follow standard medical procedure, which would have been to direct Latsis to see an ophthalmologist on an emergency basis. Instead, the ship's doctor recommended that Latsis relax until he could see an eye specialist when the Galileo arrived in Bermuda two days later. No attempt was made to transport Latsis ashore for prompt medical care by means of a pilot vessel or helicopter during the 11 hours it took the ship to reach the open sea from Baltimore, and Latsis received no further medical care until after the ship arrived in Bermuda. In Bermuda, a doctor diagnosed a detached retina and recommended immediate hospitalization and surgery. Although the operation was a partial...

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