Romero v. International Terminal Operating Co

Decision Date24 February 1959
Docket NumberNo. 3,3
PartiesFrancisco ROMERO, Petitioner, v. INTERNATIONAL TERMINAL OPERATING CO., Compania Trasatlantica, also known as Spanish Line, Garcia & Diaz, Inc., and Quin Lumber Co., Inc. Re
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Narciso Puente, Jr., and Silas Blake Axtell, New York City, for petitioner.

Mr. John L. Quinlan, New York City, for respondents, Compania Trasatlantica and Garcia & Diaz, Inc.

Mr. Sidney A. Schwartz, New York City, for respondent, Quin Lumber Co., Inc.

Submitted on brief by Mr. John P. Smith, New York City, for respondent, Internatl. Terminal Operating Co.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner Francisco Romero, a Spanish subject, signed on as a member of the crew of the S. S. Guadalupe for a voyage beginning about October 10, 1953. The Guadalupe was of Spanish registry, sailed under the Spanish flag and was owned by respondent Compania Trasatlantica (also known as Spanish Line), a Spanish corporation. At the completion of the voyage for which he signed, Romero continued uninterruptedly to work on the Guadalupe. Thereby, under the law of Spain, the terms and conditions of the original contract of hire remained in force. Subsequently the S. S. Guadalupe departed from the port of Bilbao in northern Spain, touched briefly at other Spanish ports, and sailed to the port of New York at Hoboken. From here the ship made a brief trip to the ports of Vera Cruz and Havana returning to Hoboken where, on May 12, 1954, Romero was seriously injured when struck by a cable on the deck of the Guadalupe. Thereupon petitioner filed suit on the law side of the District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The amended complaint claimed damages from four separate corporate defendants. Liability of Compania Trasatlantica and Garcia & Diaz, Inc., a New York corporation which acted as the husbanding agent for Compania's vessels while in the port of New York, was asserted under the Jones Act, 41 Stat. 1007, 46 U.S.C. § 688, 46 U.S.C.A. § 688, and under the general maritime law of the United States for unseaworthiness of the ship, maintenance and cure1 and a maritime tort. Liability for a maritime tort was alleged against respondents International Terminal Operating Co. and Quin Lumber Co. These two companies were working on board the S. S. Guadalupe at the time of the injury pursuant to oral contracts with Garcia & Diaz, Inc. Quin, a New York corporation, was engaged in carpentry work preparatory to the receipt of a cargo of grain. International Terminal, incorporated in Delaware, was employed as stevedore to load the cargo. The jurisdiction of the District Court was invoked under the Jones Act and §§ 13312 and 13323 of the Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C., 28 U.S.C.A. §§ 1331, 1332.

Following a pre-trial hearing the District Court dismissed the complaint. 142 F.Supp. 570.4 The court held that the action under the Jones Act against Compania Trasatlantica must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction since that Act provided no right of action for an alien seaman against a foreign shipowner under the circumstances detailed above. The claims under the general maritime law against Compania also were dismissed since the parties were not of diverse citizenship and 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1331, did not confer jurisdiction on the federal law courts over claims rooted in federal maritime law. The District Court dismissed the Jones Act claim against Garcia & Diaz, Inc., pursuant to its finding that Garcia was not the employer of Romero nor, as a husbanding agent for Compania, did it have the operation and control of the vessel. The remaining claims, including those against the other respondents, were dismissed because of lack of the requisite complete diversity under the rule of Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 3 Cranch 267, 2 L.Ed. 435. Upon examination of the Spanish law the district judge also declined jurisdiction 'even in admiralty as a matter of discretion.' 142 F.Supp. at page 574. The Spanish law provides Romero with a lifetime pension of 35% to 55% of his seaman's wages which may be increased by one-half if the negligence of the shipowner is established; it also allows the recovery of the Spanish counterpart of maintenance and cure. These rights under the Spanish law may be enforced through the Spanish consul in New York.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the complaint, 244 F.2d 409. We granted certiorari, 355 U.S. 807, 78 S.Ct. 55, 2 L.Ed.2d 27, because of the conflict among Courts of Appeals as to the proper construction of the relevant provision of the Judiciary Act of 1875 (now 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1331) and because of questions raised regarding the applicability of Lauritzen v. Larsen, 345 U.S. 571, 73 S.Ct. 921, 97 L.Ed. 1254, to the situation before us. The case was argued during the last Term and restored to the calendar for reargument during the present Term. 356 U.S. 955, 78 S.Ct. 991, 2 L.Ed.2d 1064 I. Jurisdiction.

(a) Jurisdiction under the Jones Act.—The District Court dismissed petitioner's Jones Act claims for lack of jurisdiction. 'As frequently happens where jurisdiction depends on subject matter, the question whether jurisdiction exists has been confused with the question whether the complaint states a cause of action.' Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. v. Northwestern Public Service Co., 341 U.S. 246, 249, 71 S.Ct. 692, 694, 95 L.Ed. 912. Petitioner asserts a substantial claim that the Jones Act affords him a right of recovery for the negligence of his employer. Such assertion alone is sufficient to empower the District Court to assume jurisdiction over the case and determine whether, in fact, the Act does provide the claimed rights. 'A cause of action under our law was asserted here, and the court had power to determine whether it was or was not well founded in law and in fact.' Lauritzen v. Larsen, 345 U.S. 571, 575, 73 S.Ct. 921, 924.

(b) Jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1331. Petitioner, a Spanish subject, asserts claims under the general maritime law against Compania Trasatlantica, a Spanish corporation. The jurisdiction of the Federal District Court, sitting as a court of law, was invoked under the previsions of the Judiciary Act of 1875 which granted jurisdiction to the lower federal courts 'of all suits of a civil nature at common law or in equity, * * * arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States, * * *.' (now 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1331).5 Whether the Act of 1875 permits maritime claims rooted in federal law to be brought on the law side of the lower federal courts has recently been raised in litigation and has become the subject of conflicting decisions among Courts of Appeals. Jurisdiction has been sustained in the First Circuit, Doucette v. Vincent, 194 F.2d 834, and denied in the Second and Third, Jordine v. Walling, 1 Cir., 185 F.2d 662; Paduano v. Yamashita Kisen Kabushiki Kaisha, 2 Cir., 221 F.2d 615. See also Jenkins v. Roderick, D.C., 156 F.Supp. 299. Such conflict in the construction of an old and important statute calls for a full exposition of the problem.

Abstractly stated, the problem is the ordinary task of a court to apply the words of a statute according to their proper construction. But 'proper construction' is not satisfied by taking the words as if they were self-contained phrases. So considered, the words do not yield the meaning of the statute. The words we have to construe are not only words with a history. They express an enactment that is part of a serial, and a serial that must be related to Article III of the Constitution, the watershed of all judiciary legislation, and to the enactments which have derived from that Article. Moreover, Article III itself has its sources in history. These give content and meaning to its pithy phrases. Rationally construed, the Act of 1875 must be considered part of an organic growth—part of the evolutionary process of judiciary legislation that began September 24, 1789, and projects into the future.

Article III, § 2, cl. 1 (3d provision) of the Constitution and section 9 of the Act of September 24, 1789, have from the beginning been the sources of jurisdiction in litigation based upon federal maritime law. Article III impliedly contained three grants. (1) It empowered Congress to confer admiralty and maritime jurisdiction on the 'Tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court' which were authorized by Art. I. § 8, cl. 9. (2) It empowered the federal courts in their exercise of the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction which had been conferred on them, to draw on the substantive law 'inherent in the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction,' Crowell v. Benson, 285 U.S. 22, 55, 52 S.Ct. 285, 294, 76 L.Ed. 598, and to continue the development of this law within constitutional limits. (3) It empowered Congress to revise and supplement the maritime law within the limits of the Constitution. See Crowell v. Benson, supra, 285 U.S. at page 55, 52 S.Ct. at page 294.

Section 9 of the First Judiciary Act6 granted the District Courts maritime jurisdiction. This jurisdiction has remained unchanged in substance to the present day.7 Indeed it was recognition of the need for federal tribunals to exercise admiralty jurisdiction that was one of the controlling considerations for the establishment of a system of lower federal courts.8 Such a system is not an inherent requirement of a federal government. There was strong opposition in the Constitutional Convention to any such inferior federal tribunals.9 No comprehensive system of lower federal courts has been established in Canada or Australia. Congress could leave the enforcement of federal rights to state courts,10 and indeed the state courts, in large measure, now exercise concurrent jurisdiction over a wide field of matters of federal concern, subject to review of federal issues by the...

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