Crowell v. Benson Crowell v. Same

Decision Date23 February 1932
Docket NumberNos. 19,20,s. 19
Citation52 S.Ct. 285,76 L.Ed. 598,285 U.S. 22
PartiesCROWELL, Deputy Commissioner, v. BENSON. CROWELL, Deputy Commissioner, et al. v. SAME
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 22-25 intentionally omitted] The Attorney General, and Mr. Thomas D. Thacher, Sol. Gen., of Washington, D. C. (Messrs. Erwin N. Griswold and Wilbur H. Friedman, both of Washington, D. C., on the brief), for petitioner Crowell.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 25-31 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Alexis T. Gresham and Palmer Pillans, both of Mobile, Ala., for petitioner Knudsen.

[Argument of Counsel intentionally omitted] Messrs. Harry T. Smith and Vincent Kilborn, both of Mobile, Ala., for respondent.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 32-36 intentionally omitted] Mr. Chief Justice HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This suit was brought in the District Court to enjoin the enforcement of an award made by petitioner Crowell, as Deputy Commissioner of the United States Employees' Compensation Commission, in favor of the petitioner Knudsen and against the respondent Benson. The award was made under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (Act of March 4, 1927, c. 509, 44 Stat. 1424, U. S. C. tit. 33, §§ 901-950 (33 USCA §§ 901-950)), and rested upon the finding of the deputy commissioner that Knudsen was injured while in the employ of Benson and prforming service upon the navigable waters of the United States. The complainant alleged that the award was contrary to law for the reason that Kundsen was not at the time of his injury an employee of the complainant and his claim was not 'within the jurisdiction' of the Deputy Commissioner. An amended complaint charged that the act was unconstitutional upon the grounds that it violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, the provision of the Seventh Amendment as to trial by jury, that of the Fourth Amendment as to unreasonable search and seizure, and the provisions of article 3 with respect to the judicial power of the United States. The District Judge denied motions to dismiss and granted a hearing de novo upon the facts and the law, expressing the opinion that the act would be invalid if not construed to permit such a hearing. The case was transferred to the admiralty docket, answers were filed presenting the issue as to the fact of employment, and, the evidence of both parties having been heard, the District Court decided that Knudsen was not in the employ of the petitioner and restrained the enforcement of the award. 33 F.(2d) 137; 38 F.(2d) 306. The decree was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals (45 F.(2d) 66) and this Court granted writs of certiorari. 283 U. S. 814, 51 S. Ct. 353, 75 L. Ed. 1430.

The question of the validity of the act may be considered in relation to (1) its provisions defining substantive rights and (2) its procedural requirements.

First. The act has two limitations that are fundamental. It deals exclusively with compensation in respect of disability or death resulting 'from an injury occurring upon the navigable waters of the United States' if recovery 'through workmen's compensation proceedings may not validly be provided by State law,' and it applies only when the relation of master and servant exists. Section 3.1 'Injury,' within the statute, 'means accidental injury or death arising out of and in the course of employment,' and the term 'employer' means one 'any of whose employees are employed in maritime employment, in whole or in part,' upon such navigable waters. Section 2(2)(4), 33 USCA § 902 (2, 4). Employers are made liable for the payment to their employees of prescribed compensation 'irrespective of fault as a cause for the injury.' Section 4 (33 USCA § 904). The liability is exclusive, unless the employer fails to secure payment of the compensation. Section 5 (33 USCA § 905). The employer is required to furnish appropriate medical and other treatment. Section 7 (33 USCA § 907). The compensation for temporary or permanent disability, total or partial, according to the statutory classification, and in case of the death of the employee, is fixed, being based upon prescribed percentages of average weekly wages, and the persons to whom payments are to be made are designated. Sections 6, 8, 9, 10 (33 USCA §§ 906, 908, 909, 910). Employers must secure the pay- ment of compensation by procuring insurance or by becoming self-insruers in the manner stipulated. Section 32 (33 USCA § 932). Failure to provide such security is a misdemeanor. Section 38 (33 USCA § 938).

As the act relates solely to injuries occurring upon the navigable waters of the United States, it deals with the maritime law, applicable to matters that fall within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction (Const. Art. 3, § 2; Nogueira v. N. Y., N. H. & H. R. Co., 281 U. S. 128, 138, 50 S. Ct. 303, 74 L. Ed. 754), and the general authority of the Congress to alter or revise the maritime law which shall prevail throughout the country is beyond dispute. 2 In limiting the application of the act to cases where recovery 'through workmen's compensation proceedings may not validly be provided by State law,' the Congress evidently had in view the decisions of this Court with respect to the scope of the exclusive authority of the national Legislature.3 The pro- priety of providing by federal statute for compensation of employees in such cases had been expressly recognized by this Court,4 and within its sphere the statute was designed to accomplish the same general purpose as the Workmen's Compensation Laws of the states.5 In de- fining substantive rights, the act provides for recovery in the absence of fault, classifies disabilities resulting from injuries, fixes the range of compensation in case of disability or death, and designates the classes of beneficiaries. In view of federal power to alter and revise the maritime law, there appears to be no room for objection on constitutional grounds to the creation of these rights, unless it can be found in the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. But it cannot be said that either the classifications of the statute or the extent of the compensation provided are unreasonable. In view of the difficulties which inhere in the ascertainment of actual damages, the Congress was entitled to provide for the payment of amounts which would reasonably approximate the probable damages. See Chicago, B. & Q. R. Co. v. Cram, 228 U. S. 70, 84, 33 S. Ct. 437, 57 L. Ed. 734; compare Missouri Pacific R. Co. v. Tucker, 230 U. S. 346, 348, 33 S. Ct. 961, 57 L. Ed. 1507. Liability without fault is not unknown to the maritime law,6 and apart from this fact, considerations are applicable to the substantive provisions of this legislation, with respect to the relation of master and servant, similar to those which this Court has found sufficient to sustain workmen's compensation laws of the states against objections under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. New York Central R. Co. v. White, 243 U. S. 188, 37 S. Ct. 247, 61 L. Ed. 667, L. R. A. 1917D, 1, Ann. Cas. 1917D, 629; Mountain Timber Company v. Washington, 243 U. S. 219, 37 S. Ct. 260, 61 L. Ed. 685, Ann. Cas. 1917D, 642; Ward & Gow v. Krinsky, 259 U. S. 503, 42 S. Ct. 529, 66 L. Ed. 1033, 28 A. L. R. 1207; Lower Vein Coal Co. v. Industrial Board, 255 U. S. 144, 41 S. Ct. 252, 65 L. Ed. 555; Madera Sugar Pine Company v. Industrial Accident Commission, 262 U. S. 499, 501, 502, 43 S. Ct. 604, 67 L. Ed. 1091; Sheehan Company v. Shuler, 265 U. S. 371, 44 S. Ct. 548, 68 L. Ed. 1061, 35 A. L. R. 1056; Dahlstrom Metallic Door Company v. Industrial Board, 284 U. S. 594, 52 S. Ct. 202, 76 L. Ed. —, decided January 18, 1932. See Nogueira v. N. Y., N. H. & H. R. Co., supra, at pages 136, 137 of 281 U. S., 50 S. Ct. 303, 74 L. Ed. 754.

Second. The objections to the procedural requirements of the act relate to the extent of the administrative authority which it confers. The administration of the act-'except as otherwise specifically provided'-was given to the United States Employees' Compensation Commission,7 which was authorized to establish compensation districts, appoint deputy commissioners, and make regulations. Sections 39, 40 (33 USCA §§ 939, 940). Claimants must give written notice to the deputy commissioner and to the employer of the injury or death within thirty days thereafter; the deputy commissioner may excuse failure to give such notice for satisfactory reasons. Section 12 (33 USCA § 912). If the employer contests the right to compensation, he is to file notice to that effect. Section 14(d) 33 USCA § 914(d). A claim for compensation must be filed with the deputy commissioner within a prescribed period, and it is provided that the deputy commissioner shall have full authority to hear and determine all questions in respect to the claim. Sections 13, 19(a), 33 USCA §§ 913, 919(a). Within ten days after the claim is filed, the deputy commissioner, in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Commission, must notify the employer and any other person who is considered by the deputy commissioner to be an interested party. The deputy commissioner is required to make, or cause to be made, such investigations as he deems to be necessary, and upon application of any interested party must order a hearing, upon notice, at which the claimant and the employer may present evidence. Employees claiming compensation must submit to medical examination. Section 19 (33 USCA § 919). In conducting investigations and hearings, the deputy commissioner is not bound by common law or statutory rules of evidence, or by technical or formal rules or procedure, except as the act provides, but he is to proceed in such manner 'as to best ascertain the rights of the parties.' Section 23(a), 33 USCA § 923(a). He may issue subpoenas, administer oaths, compel the attendance and testimony of witnesses, the production of documents or other evidence or the taking of...

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