Garrett v. Cormack Co

Decision Date14 December 1942
Docket NumberMOORE-M,No. 67,67
Citation317 U.S. 239,63 S.Ct. 246,87 L.Ed. 239
PartiesGARRETT v. cCORMACK CO., Inc., et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Abraham E. Freedman, of Philadelphia, Pa., for petitioner.

Mr. Rowland C. Evans, Jr., of Philadelphia, Pa., for respondents.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner was injured while working as a seaman for respondent on a vessel traveling between the United States and European ports and spent a number of months in hospitals in Gdynia, Poland, and in the United States. He brought this suit in a Pennsylvania State Court for damages pursuant to Section 33 of the Merchant Marine (Jones) Act,1 and for maintenance and cure.2 The Pennsylvania courts, as this litigation evidences, are apparently quite willing to make themselves available for the enforcement of these rights.

Petitioner attributed his condition to a blow by a hatch cover which allegedly fell on him through respondent's negligence. Respondent joined issue generally, contested the extent of any injuries received and further contended that if serious injuries did exist they were caused by a fight in Copenhagen or by accidents prior to the voyage. As an additional defense the respondent also alleged that for a consideration of $100 petitioner had executed a full release. Denying that he had any knowledge of having signed such an instrument the petitioner asserted that if his name appeared on it, his signature was obtained through fraud and misrepresentation, and without 'legal, binding and valid consideration.'

The petitioner did execute a release for $100 several days after his return to this country. His testimony was that his discussion with respondent's claim agent took place while he was under the influence of drugs taken to allay the pain of his injury, that he was threatened with imprisonment if he did not sign as directed, and that he considered the $100 a payment of wages.3 The respondent's evidence was that the $100 was paid not for wages but to settle all claims growing out of the petitioner's injuries, that the petitioner had not appeared to be under the influence of drugs, and that no threats of any kind were made.

Upon this and much other evidence relating to the cause and extent of the injuries, the jury rendered a verdict for the petitioner for $3000 under the Jones Act, and $1000 for maintenance and cure.

Respondent made a motion for a new trial and judgment non obstante veredicto which under the Pennsylvania practice was submitted to the trial court enbanc. 4 That court gave judgment to the defendant non obstante veredicto, not upon an appraisal of disputed questions of fact concerning the accident, but because of a conclusion that petitioner had failed to sustain the burden of proof required under Pennsylvania law to invalidate the release. It conceded that 'in Admiralty cases, the responsibility is on the defendant to sustain a release rather than on a plaintiff to overcome it', but concluded that since petitioner had chosen to bring his action in a state rather than in an admiralty court, his case must be governed by local, rather than admiralty principles. Under the Pennsylvania rule one who attacks the validity of a written release has the burden of sustaining his allegation by 'clear, precise, and indubitable' evidence; meaning evidence 'that is not only found to be credible but of such weight and directness as to make out the facts alleged beyond a reasonable doubt.' Witnesses who testify against the release must not only be credible, but 'distinctly remember the facts to which they testify and narrate the details exactly.' The court held that since the petitioner had not sustained this burden of proof, the trial judge should have withdrawn the case from the jury.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania took a somewhat different view. It held that in an action of this sort the Pennsylvania court was obligated 'to apply the federal law creating the right of action in the same sense in which it would have been applied in the federal courts.' (344 Pa. 69, 23 A.2d 503, 506.) However, it affirmed the judgment in the belief that the rule as to burden of proof on releases does not affect the substantive rights of the parties, but is merely procedural, and is therefore controlled by state law.

I. Respondent's argument that the Pennsylvania court should have applied state rather than admiralty law in measuring the rights of parties cannot be sustained.

We do not have in this case an effort of the state court to enforce rights claimed to be rooted in state law. The petitioner's suit rested on asserted rights granted by federal law and the state courts so treated it. Jurisdiction of the state court to try this case rests solely upon Sec. 33 of the Jones Act and upon statutes traceable to the Judiciary Act of 1789 which in 'all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction' saves to suitors 'the right of a common-law remedy where the common law is competent to give it.'5 These statutes authorize Pennsylvania courts to try cases coming within the defined category.6 Whether Pennsylvania was required by the acts to make its courts available for those federal remedies, or whether it could create its own remedy as to maintenance and cure based on local law, we need not decide;7 for having voluntarily opened its courts to petitioner, the questions are whether Pennsylvania was thereupon required to give to petitioner the full benefit of federal law and if so whether it failed to afford that benefit.

There is no dearth of example of the obligation on law courts which attempt to enforce substantive rights arising from admiralty law to do so in a manner conforming to admiralty practice. Contributory negligence is not a barrier to a proceeding in admiralty or under the Jones Act, and the state courts are required to apply this rule in Jones Act actions. Beadle v. Spencer, 298 U.S. 124, 56 S.Ct. 712, 80 L.Ed. 1082. Similarly state courts may not apply their doctrines of assumption of risk in actions arising under the Act. The Arizona, 298 U.S. 110, 56 S.Ct. 707, 80 L.Ed. 1075; Socony-Vacuum Co. v. Smith, 305 U.S. 424, 59 S.Ct. 262, 83 L.Ed. 265. State courts, whether or not applying the Jones Act to actions arising from maritime torts, have usually attempted, although not always with complete success, to apply admiralty principles.8 The federal courts when treating maritime torts in actions at law rather than as suits in admiralty have also sought to preserve admiralty principles whenever consonant with the necessities of common law procedure.9

This Court has specifically held that the Jones Act is to have a uniform application throughout the country unaffected by 'local views of common law rules.' Panama R. Co. v. Johnson, 264 U.S. 375, 392, 44 S.Ct. 391, 396, 68 L.Ed. 748. The Act is based upon and incorporates by reference the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C.A. § 51 et seq., which also requires uniform interpretation. Second Employers Liability Cases (Mondou v. New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Co.), 223 U.S. 1, 55 et seq., 32 S.Ct. 169, 177, 56 L.Ed. 327, 38 L.R.A.,N.S., 44. This uniformity requirement extends to the type of proof necessary for judgment. New Orleans & N.E.R. Co. v. Harris, 247 U.S. 367, 38 S.Ct. 535, 62 L.Ed. 1167.

In many other cases this Court has declared the necessary dominance of admiralty principles in actions in vindication of rights arising from admiralty law.10 Belden v Chase, 150 U.S. 674, 14 S.Ct. 264, 37 L.Ed. 1218, an 1893 decision which respondent relies upon as establishing a contrary rule, has never been thus considered in any of the later cases cited.

It must be remembered that the state courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the federal courts to try actions either under the Merchant Marine Act or in personam such as maintenance and cure. The source of the governing law applied is in the national, not the state, governments.11 If by its practice the state court were permitted substantially to alter the rights of either litigant, as those rights were established in federal law, the remedy afforded by the state would not enforce, but would actually deny, federal rights which Congress, by providing alternative remedies, intended to make not less, but more secure. The constant objective of legislation and jurisprudence is to assure litigants full protection for all substantive rights intended to be afforded them by the jurisdiction in which the right itself originates. Not so long ago we sought to achieve this result with respect to enforcement in the federal courts of rights created or governed by state law.12 And admiralty courts, when invoked to protect rights rooted in state law, endeavor to determine the issues in accordance with the substantive law of the State.13 So here, in trying this case the state court was bound to proceed in such manner that all the substantial rights of the parties under controlling federal law would be protected. Whether it did so, raises a federal question reviewable here under § 237(b) of the Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. § 344(b), 28 U.S.C.A. § 344(b).14

II. A seaman in admiralty who attacks a release has no such burden imposed upon him as that to which the Pennsylvania rule subjects him. Our historic national policy, both legislative and judicial, points the other way. Congress has generally sought to safeguard seamen's rights. The first Congress, on July 20, 1790, passed a protective act for seamen in the merchant marine service, safeguarding wage contracts, providing summary remedies for their breach, and requiring shipowners to keep on board fresh medicines in condition for use. 1 Stat. 131. The fifth Congress, July 16, 1798, 1 Stat. 605, originated our present system of marine hospitals for disabled seamen. The language of Justice Story, sitting on Circuit in 1823, described the solicitude with which admiralty has traditionally viewed seamen's contracts:

'They are emphatically...

To continue reading

Request your trial
536 cases
  • Dixon v. Grace Lines, Inc.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • August 17, 1972
    ...70 L.Ed. 813, 817 (1926)), but the substantive law to be applied in such actions is federal law. (Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co., 317 U.S. 239, 245, 63 S.Ct. 246, 87 L.Ed. 239, 243 (1942); Intagliata v. Shipowners & Merchants etc. Co., 26 Cal.2d 365, 371--372, 159 P.2d 1 (1945).) The doctri......
  • McHenry v. Asylum Entm't Del., LLC
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • March 12, 2020
    ...over lawsuits seeking recovery for torts committed on the high seas ( 28 U.S.C. § 1333 ; Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co. (1942) 317 U.S. 239, 245, 63 S.Ct. 246, 87 L.Ed. 239 ( Garrett )), the law applied in such lawsuits is federal substantive law, not state law. ( Garrett , at p. 245, 63 S.......
  • Mateo v. M/S KISO
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of California
    • November 19, 1991
    ...effected the settlement. 1 M. Norris The Law of Seamen (4th ed. 1985) § 24 at 673, 665 citing inter alia Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co, 317 U.S. 239 , 63 S.Ct. 246, 87 L.Ed. 239 (1942). Court's have refused to uphold seamens' releases where the shipowner or master failed to affirmatively ex......
  • Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Com'n v. Crawford
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • September 1, 1984
    ...Instead, the entire federal substantive law is applicable. As the Supreme Court pointed out in Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co., supra, 317 U.S. at 243, 63 S.Ct. at 249 [87 L.Ed. 239 (1942)] where a state court action is brought to enforce 'asserted rights granted by federal law,' the state c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
4 books & journal articles
  • Chapter §13.06 Patent Declaratory Judgment Actions
    • United States
    • Full Court Press Mueller on Patent Law Volume II: Patent Enforcement Title CHAPTER 13 Jurisdiction and Procedure
    • Invalid date
    ...512 U.S. 267, 271 (1994) ("[T]he assignment of the burden of proof is a rule of substantive law . . ."); Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co., 317 U.S. 239, 249 (1942) ("[T]he burden of proof . . . [is] part of the very substance of [the plaintiff's] claim and cannot be considered a mere incident......
  • State courts and the making of federal common law.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 153 No. 3, January 2005
    • January 1, 2005
    ...rights of the parties under controlling federal law [are] protected.'" (alteratino in original) (quoting Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co., 317 U.S. 239, 245 (1942))); Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386, 394 (1947) (holding that so long as state courts "have jurisdiction adequate and appropriate unde......
  • Admirality Law for the Land-side Alabama Lawyer
    • United States
    • Alabama State Bar Alabama Lawyer No. 71-4, July 2010
    • Invalid date
    ...and for this reason courts will scrutinize releases given by seaman to their employers. See Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co., Inc., 317 U.S. 239, 246, 248 (1942). "[T]he burden is upon one who sets up a seaman's release to show that it was executed freely, without deception or coercion, and t......
  • The Doctrine in the Shadows: Reverse-erie, Its Cases, Its Theories, and Its Future With Plausibility Pleading in Alaska
    • United States
    • Duke University School of Law Alaska Law Review No. 32, December 2015
    • Invalid date
    ...on conflict-of-law reasoning). [109] Bellia, supra note 87, at 978. [110]Dice, 342 U.S at 363. [111] Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co., 317 U.S. 239, 249 [112]317 U.S. 239 (1942). [113]338 U.S. 294 (1949). [114]342 U.S. 359 (1952). [115]238 U.S. 507 (1915). [116]Id. at 509-10. [117]Id. at 509.......

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