Hellenic Lines Limited v. Rhoditis

Decision Date08 June 1970
Docket NumberNo. 661,661
Citation398 U.S. 306,26 L.Ed.2d 252,90 S.Ct. 1731
PartiesHELLENIC LINES LIMITED et al., Petitioners, v. Zacharias RHODITIS
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 91 S.Ct. 23.

James M. Estabrook, New York City, for petitioners.

Joseph B. Stahl, New Orleans, La., for respondent.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit under the Jones Act1 by a seaman who was injured aboard the ship Hellenic Hero in the Port of New Orleans. The District Court, sitting without a jury, rendered judgment for the seaman, 273 F.Supp. 248. The Court of Appeals affirmed, 412 F.2d 919. The case is here on petition for a writ of certiorari which we granted, 396 U.S. 1000, 90 S.Ct. 554, 24 L.Ed.2d 492, in light of the conflict between the decision below and Tsakonites v. Transpacific Carriers Corp., 368 F.2d 426, in the Second Circuit.

Petitioner2 Hellenic Lines Ltd. is a Greek corporation that has its largest office in New York and another office in New Orleans. More than 95% of its stock3 is owned by a United States domiciliary who is a Greek citizen—Pericles G. Callimanopoulos (whom we call Pericles). He lives in Connecticut and manages the corporation out of New York. He has lived in this coun- try since 1945. The ship Hellenic Hero is engaged in regularly scheduled runs between various ports of the United States and the Middle East, Pakistan, and India. The District Court found that its entire income is from cargo either originating or terminating in the United States.

Respondent, the seaman, signed on in Greece, and he is a Greek citizen. His contract of employment provides that Greek law and a Greek collective-bargaining agreement apply between the employer and the seaman and that all claims arising out of the employment contract are to be adjudicated by a Greek court. And it seems to be conceded that respondent could obtain relief through Greek courts, if he desired.

The Jones Act speaks only of 'the defendant employer' without any qualifications. In Lauritzen v. Larsen, 345 U.S. 571, 73 S.Ct. 921, 97 L.Ed. 1254, however, we listed seven factors to be considered in determining whether a particular shipowner should be held to be an 'employer' for Jones Act purposes:

(1) the place of the wrongful act; (2) the law of the flag; (3) the allegiance or domicile of the injured seaman; (4) allegiance of the defendant shipowner; (5) the place where the contract of employment was made; (6) the inaccessibility of a foreign forum; and (7) the law of the forum.

Of these seven factors it is urged that four are in favor of the shipowner and against jurisdiction: the ship's flag is Greek; the injured seaman is Greek; the employment contract is Greek; and there is a foreign forum available to the injured seaman.

The Lauritzen test, however, is not a mechanical one. 345 U.S., at 582, 73 S.Ct. 921. We indicated that the flag that a ship flies may, at times, alone be sufficient. Id., at 585—586, 73 S.Ct. 929—930. The significance of one or more factors must be considered in light of the national interest served by the assertion of Jones Act jurisdiction.4 Moreover, the list of seven factors in Lauritzen was not intended as exhaustive. As held in Pavlou v. Ocean Traders Marine Corp., 211 F.Supp. 320, 325, and approved by the Court of Appeals in the present case, 412 F.2d, at 923 n. 7, the shipowner's base of operations is another factor of importance in determining whether the Jones Act is applicable; and there well may be others.

In Lauritzen the injured seaman had been hired in and was returned to the United States, and the shipowner was served here. Those were the only contacts of that shipping operation with this country.

The present case is quite different.

Pericles became a lawful permanent resident alien in 1952. We extend to such an alien the same constitutional protections of due process that we accord citizens.5 Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding, 344 U.S. 590, 596, 73 S.Ct. 472, 477, 97 L.Ed. 576. The injury occurred here. The forum is a United States court. Pericles' base of operations is New York. The Hellenic Hero was not a casual visitor; rather, it and many of its sister ships were earning income from cargo originating or terminating here. We see no reason whatsoever to give the Jones Act a strained construction so that this alien owner, engaged in an extensive business operation in this country, may have an advantage over citizens engaged in the same business by allowing him to escape the obligations and responsibility of a Jones Act 'employer.' The flag, the nationality of the seaman, the fact that his employment contract was Greek, and that he might be compensated there are in the totality of the circumstances of this case minor weights in the scales compared with the substantial and continuing contacts that this alien owner has with this country. If, as stated in Bartholomew v. Universe Tankships Inc., 263 F.2d 437, the liberal purposes of the Jones Act are to be effectuated, the facade of the operation must be considered as minor, compared with the real nature of the operation and a cold objective look at the actual operational contacts that this ship and this owner have with the United States. By that test the Court of Appeals was clearly right in holding that petitioner Hellenic Lines was an 'employer' under the Jones Act.


Mr. Justice HARLAN, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and Mr. Justice STEWART join, dissenting.

I dissent from today's decision holding that a Greek seaman who signs articles in Greece for employment on a Greek-owned, Greek-flag vessel may recover under the Jones Act for shipboard injuries sustained while the vessel was in American territorial waters. This result is supported neither by precedent, nor realistic policy, and in my opinion is far removed from any intention that can reasonably be ascribed to Congress.


Section 688 of Title 46, U.S.C., 41 Stat. 1007, the Jones Act, provides:

'Any seaman who shall suffer personal injury in the course of his employment may, at his election, maintain an action for damages at law, with the right of trial by jury, and in such action all statutes of the United States modifying or extending the common-law right or remedy in cases of personal injury to railway employees shall apply; and in case of the death of any seaman as a result of any such personal injury the personal representative of such seaman may maintain an action for damages at law with the right of trial by jury, and in such action all statutes of the United States conferring or regulating the right of action for death in the case of railway employees shall be applicable. Jurisdiction in such actions shall be under the court of the district in which the defendant employer resides or in which his principal office is located.'

The language of § 688 is, as Mr. Justice Jackson noted in Lauritzen v. Larsen, 345 U.S. 571, 73 S.Ct. 921, 97 L.Ed. 1254 (1953), all-embracing. By its terms it is not limited to American seamen nor to vessels bearing the American flag. Yet despite the sweeping language it can hardly be doubted that congressional concern stopped short of the lengths to which the literal terms of the statute carry the Jones Act. This was emphasized in Lauritzen which pointed out that Congress wrote against a backdrop of 'usage as old as the Nation,' that 'such statutes have been construed to apply only to areas and transactions in which American law would be considered operative under prevalent doctrines of international law.' 345 U.S., at 577, 73 S.Ct. at 926. This principle the Court reiterated in Romero v. International Terminal Co., 358 U.S. 354, 79 S.Ct. 468, 3 L.Ed.2d 368 (1959), where we reaffirmed the presumption that domestic legislation has been enacted with 'respect for the relevant interests of foreign nations in the regulation of maritime commerce as part of the legitimate concern of the international community.' 358 U.S., at 383, 79 S.Ct. at 486.

This Court only recently applied this principle in McCulloch v. Sociedad Nacional, 372 U.S. 10, 83 S.Ct. 671, 9 L.Ed.2d 547 (1963), where we were called upon to determine whether labor relations dealing with an alien crew on a foreign-flag vessel, beneficially owned by an American corporation, affected 'commerce' within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act. In holding that the Act was not 'intended to have any application to foreign registered vessels employing alien seamen,' the Court declined to rely on the beneficial ownership of the vessel and other 'substantial United States contacts,' including regular visits to the United States and the 'integrated maritime operation' of the United Fruit Company, the beneficial owner of the vessel, to override the well-settled principle that the law of the country whose flag a ship flies governs shipboard transactions, absent some 'clear expression' from Congress to the contrary. See Wildenhus's Case, 120 U.S. 1, 7 S.Ct. 385, 30 L.Ed. 565 (1887); United States v. Flores, 289 U.S. 137, 155—159, 53 S.Ct. 580, 584 585, 77 L.Ed. 1086 (1933); Cunard Steamship Co. v. Mellon 262 U.S. 100, 124, 43 S.Ct. 504, 507, 67 L.Ed. 894 (1923); cf. Murray v. The Charming Betsy, 2 Cranch 64, 118, 2 L.Ed. 208 (1804).1

The McCulloch case followed a course marked early in our jurisprudence, and, in fact, built upon Lauritzen which had announced that the law of the flag, 'the most venerable and universal rule of maritime law,' would in Jones Act cases 'overbear most other connecting events in determining applicable law * * * unless some heavy counterweight appears.' 345 U.S., at 584, 585—586, 73 S.Ct. at 929—930.

Such a counterweight would exist only in circumstances where the application of the American rule of law would further the purpose of Congress. While some legislation in its purpose obviously requires extension beyond our borders to achieve national policy, this is not so, in my opinion, with an Act concerned with...

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