Panama Co v. Johnson

Decision Date07 April 1924
Docket NumberNo. 369,369
Citation44 S.Ct. 391,1924 A.M.C. 551,68 L.Ed. 748,264 U.S. 375
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Richard Reid Rogers, of New York City, for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 376-381 intentionally omitted] Mr. Wade H. Ellis, of Washington, D. C., for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This was an action by a seaman against his employer, the owner of the ship on which he was serving, to recover damages for personal injuries suffered at sea while he was ascending a ladder from the deck to the bridge in the course of his employment—the complaint charging that the injuries resulted from negligence of the employer in providing an inadequate ladder and negligence of the ship's officers in permitting a canvas dodger to be stretched and insecurely fastened across the top of the ladder and in ordering the seaman to go up the ladder. The employer was a New York corporation. The ship was a domestic merchant vessel which at the time of the injuries was returning from an Ecuadorian port. The action was brought on the common-law side of a District Court of the United States, and the right of recovery was based expressly on section 20 of the Act of March 4, 1915, c. 153, 38 Stat. 1185, as amended by section 33 of the Act of June 5, 1920, c. 250, 41 Stat. 1007 (Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1923, § 8337a), which reads as follows 'Sec. 20. That 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 defendant unsuccessfully demurred to the complaint and then answered. The issues were tried to the court and a jury; a verdict for the plaintiff was returned, and a judgment was entered thereon, which the Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. 289 Fed. 964. The defendant prosecutes this writ of error.

1. Apparently the action was not brought in the district of the defendant's residence or principal office as provided in the act, and on this ground the defendant objected that the District Court could not entertain it. The objection was not made at the outset on a special appearance, but after the defendant had appeared generally and demurred to the complaint. The court thought the objection went to the venue only and was waived by the general appearance; so the objection was overruled. 277 Fed. 859. Error is assigned on the ruling; but we think it was right.

The case arose under a law of the United States and involved the requisite amount, if any was requisite;1 so there can be no doubt that the case was within the general jurisdiction conferred on the District Courts by section 24 of the Judicial Code (Comp. St. § 991), unless, as the defendant contends, it was excluded by the concluding provision of the act, which says:

'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.'

Although not happily worded, the provision, taken alone, gives color to the contention. But as a general rule, where existing legislation on a particular subject has been systematically revised and restated in a comprehensive general statute, such as the Judicial Code, subsequent enactments touching that subject are to be construed and applied in harmony with the general statute, save as they clearly manifest a different purpose. An intention to depart from a course or policy thus deliberately settled is not lightly to be assumed. See United States v. Barnes, 222 U. S. 513, 520, 32 Sup. Ct. 117, 56 L. Ed. 291; United States v. Sweet, 245 U. S. 563, 572, 38 Sup. Ct. 193, 62 L. Ed. 473. The rule is specially pertinent here. Beginning with Judiciary Act of 1789 (1 Stat. 73), Congress has pursued the policy of investing the federal courts—at first the Circuit Courts, and later the District Courts—with a general jurisdiction expressed in terms applicable alike to all of them and of regulating the venue by separate provisions designating the particular district in which a defendant shall be sued, such as the district of which he is an inhabitant or in which he has a place of business—the purpose of the venue provisions being to prevent defendants from being compelled to answer and defend in remote districts against their will. This policy was carried into the Judicial Code, and is shown in sections 24 and 51 (Comp. St. §§ 991, 1033); one embodying general jurisdictional provisions applicable to rights under subsequent laws as well as laws then existing, and the other containing particular venue provisions. A reading of the provision now before us with those sections, and in the light of the policy carried into them, makes it reasonably certain that the provision is not intended to affect the general jurisdiction of the District Courts as defined in section 24, but only to prescribe the venue for actions brought under the new act of which it is a part. No reason why it should have a different purpose has been suggested, nor do we perceive any. Its use of the owrd 'jurisdiction' seems inapt, and therefore not of special significance. The words 'shall be' are stressed by the defendant, but as they are found also in the earlier provisions, which uniformly have been held to relate to venue only, they afford no ground for a distinction.

By a long line of decisions, recently reaffirmed, it is settled that such a provision merely confers on the defendant a personal privilege, which he may assert, or may waive, at his election, and does waive if, when sued in some other district, he enters a general appearance before or without claiming his privilege. Interior Construction & Improvement Co. v. Gibney, 160 U. S. 217, 16 Sup. Ct. 272, 40 L. Ed. 401; United States v. Hvoslef, 237 U. S. 1, 11, 35 Sup. Ct. 459, 59 L. Ed. 813, Ann. Cas. 1916A, 286; General Investment Co. v. Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Ry. Co., 260 U. S. 261, 272, 275, 43 Sup. Ct. 106, 67 L. Ed. 244; Lee v. Chesapeake & Ohio Ry. Co., 260 U. S. 653, 655, 43 Sup. Ct. 230, 67 L. Ed. 443.

2. The defendant objects that the statute whereon the plaintiff based his right of action is in conflict with section 2 of article 3 of the Constitution, which extends the judicial power of the United States to 'all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.' Before coming to the particular grounds of the objection, it will be helpful to refer briefly to the purpose and scope of the constitutional provision as reflected in prior decisions.

As there could be no cases of 'admiralty and maritime jurisdiction,' in the absence of some maritime law under which they could arise, the provision presupposes the existence in the United States of a law of that character. Such a law or system of law existed in colonial times and during the Confederation, and commonly was applied in the adjudication of admiralty and maritime cases. It embodied the principles of the general maritime law, sometimes called the law of the sea, with modifications and supplements adjusting it to conditions and needs on this side of the Atlantic. The framers of the Constitution were familiar with that system and proceeded with it in mind. Their purpose was not to strike down or abrogate the system, but to place the entire subject—its substantive as well as its procedural features—under national control, because of its intimate relation to navigation and to interstate and foreign commerce. In pursuance of that purpose the constitutional provision was framed and adopted. Although containing no express grant of legislative power over the substantive law, the provision was regarded from the beginning as implicitly investing such power in the United States. Commentators took that view. Congress acted on it, and the courts, including this court, gave effect to it. Practically therefore the situation is as if that view were written into the provision. After the Constitution went into effect, the substantive law theretofore in force was not regarded as superseded or as being only the law of the several states, but as having become the law of the United States—subject to power in Congress to alter qualify or supplement it as experience or changing conditions might require. When all is considered, therefore, there is no room to doubt that the power of Congress extends to the entire subject and permits of the exercise of a wide discretion.

But there are limitations which have come to be well recognized. One is that there are boundaries to the maritime law and admiralty jurisdiction which inhere in those subjects and cannot be altered by legislation, as by excluding a thing falling clearly within them or including a thing falling clearly without. Another is that the spirit and purpose of the constitutional provision require that the enactments—when not relating to matters whose existence or influence is confined to a more restricted field, as in Cooley v. Board of Wardens, 12 How. 299, 319, 13 L. Ed. 996—shall be coextensive with and operate uniformly in the whole of the United States. Waring v. Clarke, 5 How. 441, 457, 12 L. Ed. 226; The Lottawanna, 21 Wall. 558, 574, 577, 22 L. Ed. 654; Butler v. Boston & Savannah Steamship Co., 130 U. S. 527, 556, 557, 9 Sup. Ct. 612, 32 L. Ed. 1017; In re...

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