Gutierrez v. Waterman Steamship Corp, No. 229

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtWHITE
Citation10 L.Ed.2d 297,83 S.Ct. 1185,373 U.S. 206
PartiesFrederico Marin GUTIERREZ, Petitioner, v. WATERMAN STEAMSHIP CORP
Decision Date13 May 1963
Docket NumberNo. 229

373 U.S. 206
83 S.Ct. 1185
10 L.Ed.2d 297
Frederico Marin GUTIERREZ, Petitioner,

v.

WATERMAN STEAMSHIP CORP.

No. 229.
Argued March 21, 1963.
Decided May 13, 1963.
Rehearing Denied June 17, 1963.

See 374 U.S. 858, 83 S.Ct. 1863.

Page 207

Harvey B. Nachman, San Juan, P.R., for petitioner.

Antonio M. Bird, San Juan, P.R., for respondent.

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, a longshoreman unloading the S.S. Hastings at Ponce, Puerto Rico, slipped on some loose beans spilled on the dock and suffered personal injuries. He subsequently filed a libel against the Hastings, claiming damages for injuries caused by the ship's unseaworthiness and by the negligence of its owner, the respondent corporation. The case was tried in admiralty before the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, and the court found the following facts relevant in the present posture of the case. 193 F.Supp. 894.

The cargo of beans was packed in broken and defective bags, some of which were being repaired by coopers aboard the ship during unloading. Beans spilled out of the bags during unloading, including some from one bag which broke open during unloading, and the scattering of beans about the surface of the pier created a dangerous condition for the longshoremen who had to work there. The shipowner knew or should have known that injury was likely to result to persons who would have to work around the beans spilled from the defective bags, and it was negligent in allowing cargo so poorly stowed or laden to be unloaded. Petitioner fell on the beans and injured himself, and such injuries were proximately caused by the respondent's negligence and the unseaworthiness of its cargo or cargo containers.

Page 208

Although petitioner filed his libel over a year after the analogous Puerto Rican statute of limitations ran,1 the court found that the delay was excusable and that no prejudice to respondent was occasioned by the delay, since it had access at all times to its and the stevedore's2 records which contained the relevant facts and since all the potential witnesses were available and produced at trial. Accordingly, the trial court entered a money judgment of some $18,000 for petitioner.

Respondent appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which reversed with directions to dismiss the action. 301 F.2d 415. It held that respondent had not been negligent, as a matter of law, because it 'had neither control of nor even a right to control' the pier. The court also stated that petitioner did not prove what particular beans he slipped on, and that the ones responsible for his fall might have come from a bag that 'for all that appears' may have been dropped and broken open due to some third party's negligence. As for seaworthiness, the court held that the shipowner was not responsible for the lading or cargo containers, stating: 'The very fact that unseaworthiness obligations are 'awesome,' * * * suggests that they should not be handled with prodigality. We are unwilling to recognize one here.' Finally, it reversed the conclusion below as to laches, since the availability to respondent of the witnesses when the libel was filed was not as advantageous to it as would have been an opportunity to examine them at an earlier date. That this was preju-

Page 209

dicial, the court concluded, was shown by the fact that the witnesses' testimony was at variance with respondent's records of the ship's unloading. Petitioner sought certiorari from this adverse judgment and we brought the case here, 371 U.S. 810, 83 S.Ct. 40, 9 L.Ed.2d 53, to resolve the apparently troublesome question as to the shipowner's liability for his torts which have impacts on shore. We have concluded that the judgment of the Court of Appeals must be reversed with respect to each of the three headings involved.

I.

At the outset we are met with an issue which is said to be jurisdictional. Counsel for respondent candidly admits failure to raise the point below, but as is our practice we will consider this threshold question before reaching the merits. McGrath v. Kristensen, 340 U.S. 162, 167—168, 71 S.Ct. 224, 228, 95 L.Ed. 173; Ford Motor Co. v. Department of Treasury, 323 U.S. 459, 467, 65 S.Ct. 347, 352, 89 L.Ed. 389; Matson Nav. Co. v. United States, 284 U.S. 352, 359, 52 S.Ct. 162, 165, 76 L.Ed. 336 (admiralty case); Grace v. American Cent. Ins. Co., 109 U.S. 278, 283, 3 S.Ct. 207, 209, 27 L.Ed. 932; Hope Ins. Co. of Providence v. Boardman, 5 Cranch 57, 3 L.Ed. 36; see Wheeldin v. Wheeler, 371 U.S. 812, 83 S.Ct. 58, 9 L.Ed.2d 54; Brown Shoe Co. v. United States, 370 U.S. 294, 305—306, 83 S.Ct. 1502, 1512—1513, 8 L.Ed.2d 510.

Respondent contends that it is not liable, at least in admiralty, because the impact of its alleged lack of care or unseaworthiness was felt on the pier rather than aboard ship. Whatever validity this proposition may have had until 1948, the passage of the Extension of Admiralty Jurisdiction Act, 62 Stat. 496, 46 U.S.C. § 740, swept it away when it made vessels on navigable water liable for damage or injury 'notwithstanding that such damage or injury be done or consummated on land.' Respondent and the carrier amici curiae would have the statute limited to injuries actually caused by the physical agency of the vessel or a particular part of it—such as when the ship rams a bridge or when its defective winch drops some

Page 210

cargo onto a longshoreman. Cf. Strika v. Netherlands Ministry of Traffic, 185 F.2d 555 (C.A.2d Cir.); Hagans v. Farrell Lines, 237 F.2d 477 (C.A.3d Cir.). Nothing in the legislative history supports so restrictive an interpretation of the statutory language. There is no distinction in admiralty between torts committed by the ship itself and by the ship's personnel while operating it, any more than there is between torts 'committed' by a corporation and by its employees. And ships are libeled as readily for an unduly bellicose mate's assault on a crewman, see Boudoin v. Lykes Brothers Steamship Co., 348 U.S. 336, 339—340, 75 S.Ct. 382, 384—385, 99 L.Ed. 354; The Rolph, 299 F. 52 (C.A.9th Cir.), or for having an incompetent crew or master, see Keen v. Overseas Tankship Corp., 194 F.2d 515, 517 (C.A.2d Cir.), as for a collision. Various farfetched hypotheticals are raised, such as a suit in admiralty for an ordinary automobile accident involving a ship's officer on ship business in port, or for someone's slipping on beans that continue to leak from these bags in a warehouse in Denver. We think it sufficient for the needs of this occasion to hold that the case is within the maritime jurisdiction under 46 U.S.C. § 740 when, as here, it is alleged that the shipowner commits a tort3 while or before the ship is being unloaded, and the impact of which is felt ashore at a time and place not remote from the wrongful act.

II.

As indicated, supra, the trial court found respondent negligent in allowing the beans to be unloaded in their defective bagging, when it knew or should have known that injury was likely to result to persons having to work about the beans that might, and did, spill. There was substantial evidence to support these findings. Wit-

Page 211

nesses testified that beans spilled out of broken bags throughout unloading, and this is corroborated by respondent's records of the unloading which stated that bags of beans were found torn at the time of discharging and some of them were re-coopered. Moreover, the trial court was entitled to infer that respondent should have known of the defective condition of the bagging when the bean bags were leaking while still in the ship, when beans spilled out of the bags throughout unloading, and when coopers were sent aboard to repair the torn bagging. To be sure, there is some conflict between details of the testimony and respondent's records of the unloading, but the trial court was entitled to believe the one rather than the other. As for the possibility that the beans petitioner slipped on may have come from some other source, such as 'for all that appears' a third party, it is sufficient to note that the trial court was not plainly erroneous in not so believing.

The force of these fact findings is not lessened by the contention that respondent did not control the pier or have 'even a right to control that locus,' 301 F.2d, at 416. We doubt that respondent had no license to go upon the pier at which it was docked and clean up the loose beans, if it had wanted to; the beans were its cargo that it was unloading onto the pier. But we may put this aside, since control of the impact zone is not essential for negligence. The man who drops a barrel out of his loft need not control the sidewalk to be liable to the pedestrian whom the barrel hits. See Byrne v. Boadle, 2 H. & C. 722 (Exch.). And the same holds for the man who spills beans out his window, on which the pedestrian slips. Respondent allowed the cargo to be discharged in dangerous and defective bagging, from which beans were leaking before discharge of the cargo began. It had an absolute and nondelegable duty of care toward petitioner

Page 212

not to create this risk to him, which it failed to meet. When this lack of care culminated in petitioner's injury, respondent became legally liable to compensate him for the harm.

III.

The trial court also found unseaworthiness in the condition of the bagging. Two questions are raised in this connection: (1) whether the use of defective cargo containers constitutes unseaworthiness, and (2) whether the shipowner's warranty of seaworthiness extends to longshoremen on the pier who are unloading the ship's cargo.

The first question is not one of first impression, for it was decided in petitioner's favor in Atlantic & Gulf Stevedores, Inc. v. Ellerman Lines, Ltd., 369 U.S. 355, 82 S.Ct. 780, 7 L.Ed.2d 798. There a longshoreman was injured when a bale of burlap cloth fell on him because the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
333 practice notes
  • Lowe v. Ingalls Shipbuilding, a Div. of Litton Systems, Inc., No. 82-4361
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • January 30, 1984
    ...46 U.S.C. Sec. 740, longshoremen on the dock injured by the vessel could claim unseaworthiness, Gutierrez v. Waterman Steamship Corp., 373 U.S. 206, 83 S.Ct. 1185, 10 L.Ed.2d 297 (1963), but, again, they remained outside the "seaman" exception to the "situs" requirement. Victory Carriers v.......
  • Hagans v. Ellerman & Bucknall Steamship Company, No. 13881
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • May 17, 1963
    ...doctrines. Since the preparation of this opinion and before its filing the Supreme Court has decided in Gutierrez v. Waterman S.S. Corp., 373 U.S. 206, 83 S.Ct. 1185, 1188, 10 L.Ed.2d 297, that the Extension of Admiralty Jurisdiction Act of 1948 grants maritime jurisdiction in a case wherei......
  • Hogge v. SS YORKMAR, Civ. No. 73-233-Y
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • March 11, 1977
    ...injury on land to sue in admiralty if his injury is caused by a vessel on navigable waters. Gutierrez v. Waterman Steamship Corp., 373 U.S. 206, 83 S.Ct. 1185, 10 L.Ed.2d 297 (1963); Garrett v. Gutzeit O/Y, 491 F.2d 228 (4th Cir. 1974). In the instant case the damage was clearly caused by a......
  • Padgett v. Stein, No. 72-487 Civil.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • December 16, 1975
    ...31; Czaplicki v. The Hoegh Silvercloud, 1956, 351 U.S. 525, 76 S.Ct. 946, 100 L.Ed. 1387; Gutierrez v. Waterman Steamship Corp., 1963, 373 U.S. 206, 83 S.Ct. 1185, 10 L.Ed.2d 297. The consent decree was approved by the court on May 31, 1973. The motion for enforcement of the consent decree ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
333 cases
  • Lowe v. Ingalls Shipbuilding, a Div. of Litton Systems, Inc., No. 82-4361
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • January 30, 1984
    ...46 U.S.C. Sec. 740, longshoremen on the dock injured by the vessel could claim unseaworthiness, Gutierrez v. Waterman Steamship Corp., 373 U.S. 206, 83 S.Ct. 1185, 10 L.Ed.2d 297 (1963), but, again, they remained outside the "seaman" exception to the "situs" requirement. Victory Carriers v.......
  • Hagans v. Ellerman & Bucknall Steamship Company, No. 13881
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • May 17, 1963
    ...doctrines. Since the preparation of this opinion and before its filing the Supreme Court has decided in Gutierrez v. Waterman S.S. Corp., 373 U.S. 206, 83 S.Ct. 1185, 1188, 10 L.Ed.2d 297, that the Extension of Admiralty Jurisdiction Act of 1948 grants maritime jurisdiction in a case wherei......
  • Hogge v. SS YORKMAR, Civ. No. 73-233-Y
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • March 11, 1977
    ...injury on land to sue in admiralty if his injury is caused by a vessel on navigable waters. Gutierrez v. Waterman Steamship Corp., 373 U.S. 206, 83 S.Ct. 1185, 10 L.Ed.2d 297 (1963); Garrett v. Gutzeit O/Y, 491 F.2d 228 (4th Cir. 1974). In the instant case the damage was clearly caused by a......
  • Padgett v. Stein, No. 72-487 Civil.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • December 16, 1975
    ...31; Czaplicki v. The Hoegh Silvercloud, 1956, 351 U.S. 525, 76 S.Ct. 946, 100 L.Ed. 1387; Gutierrez v. Waterman Steamship Corp., 1963, 373 U.S. 206, 83 S.Ct. 1185, 10 L.Ed.2d 297. The consent decree was approved by the court on May 31, 1973. The motion for enforcement of the consent decree ......
  • 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