Parker v. Motor Boat Sales

Decision Date08 December 1941
Docket NumberNo. 46,46
Citation314 U.S. 244,62 S.Ct. 221,86 L.Ed. 184
PartiesPARKER, Deputy Commissioner, United States Employees' Compensation Commission, v. MOTOR BOAT SALES, Inc
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 314 U.S. 716, 62 S.Ct. 477, 86 L.Ed. —-.

Messrs. Francis Biddle, Atty. Gen., and Francis M. Shea, Asst. Atty. Gen., for petitioner.

Mr. Minitree Jones Fulton, of Richmond, Va., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

August 18, 1938, George Armistead was drowned when a motor boat in which he was riding capsized on the James River off Richmond, Virginia. The boat was navigated by one Johnnie Cooper. Both Armistead and Cooper were employees of the respondent, Motor Boat Sales, Incorporated, which sold small boats, maritime supplies, and outboard motors. The object of the illfated boat trip was to test one of the respondent's outboard motors, which it desired to sell, and later did sell, to the owner of the boat. The petitioner, Deputy Commissioner of the United States Employees' Compensation Commission, under authority of Section 19 of the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, 44 Stat. 1424, 1435, 33 U.S.C.A. § 919, after complaint, investigation, and hearings, ordered the respondent to pay compensation to Armistead's widow for the benefit of herself and three minor children. Among the findings on which the Deputy based his order were these: that Armistead's death by drowning, 'arose out of and in the course of his employment; that his death occurred upon navigable waters; and that at the time of his death he was engaged in maritime employment.' Section 21(b) of the Act, 33 U.S.C.A. § 921(b), provides that if a Deputy Commissioner's award is not made in accordance with law, Federal District Courts may enjoin enforcement of it upon petition of any party in interest. In proceedings initiated by the respondent under this section, the District Court sustained the award, dismissing the bill on the ground that the findings of fact were supported by evidence and were therefore conclusive, and that the Commissioner's conclusions and award were in accordance with law. The Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, advancing two reasons for its conclusion: (1) Armistead was not acting in the course of his employment at the time of the accident; and (2) even if he had been, recovery was barred by Section 3(a) of the Act, 33 U.S.C.A. § 903(a), making compensation payable 'only if * * * recovery for the disability or death through workmen's compensation proceedings may not validly be provided by State law.'

(1) The Circuit Court's conclusion that Armistead was not acting in the course of his employment rests upon a revaluation of the evidence before the Deputy Commissioner. It is true that the respondent's president testified that 'George was cautioned never to go into a boat or have anything to do with a boat or motor', but this rule was laid down 'prior to November 1937' and the accident occurred in August, 1938. Against whatever inferences to be drawn from testimony regarding this general and rather remotely announced rule are the inferences to be drawn from testimony that on the morning of the accident Armistead was sent to the river with specific instructions to help Cooper in placing the outboard motors on the boat: that there were no specific instructions as to whether or not Armistead was to stay out of the boat; that either Armistead or Cooper was told that Armistead was 'to go and help' Cooper; that Cooper, the superior of the two employees, at least acquiesced in Armistead's remaining in the boat to 'keep a lookout' for hidden objects in the muddy water; that Cooper regarded Armistead's acting as look out as 'helpful'; that employees of the respondent would sometimes make trips in boats for testing purposes, in furtherance of respondent's business; and that in one such instance an employee had taken a boat on a trip of at least fifty miles in respondent's behalf. Granting that more than one possible conclusion could have been reached upon the evidence, we think it was clearly sufficient to support the Deputy Commissioner's finding that Armistead was acting in the course of his employment. The Circuit Court of Appeals should therefore have accepted it as final. Voehl v. Indemnity Ins. Co., 288 U.S. 162, 53 S.Ct. 380, 77 L.Ed. 676, 87 A.L.R. 245.

(2) The Circuit Court (116 F.2d 789, 793), was of the opinion that even if Armistead had acted in the course of his employment, the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Act would not apply because his employment was 'so local in character' that Virginia could validly have included it under a state workmen's compensation act. This proposition cannot be rested on the ground that Armistead hired primarily as a janitor and porter, was predominantly a non-maritime employee. For habitual performance of other and different duties on land cannot alter the fact that at the time of the accident he was riding in a boat on a navigable river, and it is in connection with that clearly maritime activity1 that the award was here made. Cf. Northern Coal Co. v. Strand, 278 U.S. 142, 144, 49 S.Ct. 88, 73 L.Ed. 232; Employers' Liability Assurance Corp. v. Cook, 281 U.S. 233, 236, 50 S.Ct. 308, 309, 74 L.Ed. 823. Moreover, Section 2(4) of the Act, 33 U.S.C.A. § 902(4), expressly provides for its application to 'employees (who) are employed * * * in whole or in part, upon the navigable waters of the United States.'

If the conclusion of the Circuit Court can be supported at all, it must be on the basis that the employment, even though maritime and therefore within an area in which Congress could have established exclusive federal jurisdiction, is nevertheless subject to state regulation until Congress has exercised its paramount power. Cf. Employers' Liability Assurance Corp. v. Cook, supra, 281 U.S. page 237, 50 S.Ct. page 309, 74 L.Ed. 823. Congress having expressly kept out of the area in which 'recovery * * * may * * * validly be provided by State law,' the argument may be made that Virginia would have been unhampered in providing for compensation here.

The decision of this Court in Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, 37 S.Ct. 524, 61 L.Ed. 1086, L.R.A.1918C, 451, Ann.Cas.1917E, 900, however, severs a link in this chain of reasoning. For under the holding of that case, even in the absence of any Congressional action,2 federal jurisdic- tion is exclusive and state action forbidden in an area, which, although of shadowy limits,3 doubtless embraces the case before us. The basis of the decision, that Article III, § 2, of the Constitution extending the judicial power of the United States 'to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction' is tantamount to a command that no state may interfere with the harmony and uniformity of admiralty law, and that on the facts of that case recovery under a state statute would work such an interference, was rejected by four dissenting members of the Court. And when the doctrine of the Jensen case was reaffirmed in Knickerbocker Ice Co. v. Stewart, 253 U.S. 149, 40 S.Ct. 438, 64 L.Ed. 834, 11 A.L.R. 1145, and Washington v. W. C. Dawson & Co., 264 U.S. 219, 44 S.Ct. 302, 68 L.Ed. 646, sharp disagreement was again expressed in dissenting opinions. We have not been called upon here, however, to reconsider the constitutional principles announced in those cases, and we are convinced that such a reconsideration is not necessary for disposition of the case before us.

What we are called upon to decide is not of constitutional magnitude. For regardless of whether or not the limitation on the power of states set out in the Jensen case is to be accepted, it is not doubted that Congress could constitutionally have provided for recovery under a federal statute in this kind of situation. The question is whether Congress has so provided in this statute. The proviso of Section 3(a) aside, there would be no difficulty whatever in concluding it has. For the Act expressly includes within its ambit accidents 'arising out of and in the course of employment' in the case of employees engaged 'in maritime employment, in whole or in part, upon the navigable waters of the United States', and Armistead's death was the result of such an accident. While the proviso of Section 3(a) appears to be a subtraction from the scope of the Act thus outlined by Congress, we believe that, properly interpreted, it is not a large enough subtraction to place this case outside the coverage which Congress intended to provide.

In the report of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary accompanying the bill which was enacted as the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, S.R. 973, 69th Cong., 1st Sess. 16, this avowal of Congressional purpose appears:

'If longshoremen could avail themselves of the benefits of State compensation laws, there would be no occasion for this legislation; but, unfortunately, they are excluded from these laws...

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