Stewart v. Dutra Construction Co.
The Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. §(a) (1920) provides tort remedies for sea-based maritime workers against their employers for work-related injuries. Specifically, the 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." The Act did not define "seaman."
Congress provided further guidance in 1927 when it enacted the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), 33 U.S.C. §905(b), to cover land-based maritime workers, which excepted from coverage "a master or member of a crew of any vessel." The Act did not define "vessel."
In Stewart v. Dutra Construction Co. 543 U.S. __, 125 S.Ct. 1118, 160 L.Ed.2d 932 (2005), the U.S. Supreme Court had to clarify the definitions and meanings of terms in order to determine whether plaintiff Willard Stewart was covered under either act for severe work-related injuries.
Stewart had been hired as a marine engineer for Dutra, a dredging company. He maintained the mechanical systems of the "Super Scoop" dredge owned by Dutra, which was being used to dredge the bottom of Boston Harbor for the city's "Big Dig" construction project. The Super Scoop was essentially a floating platform, equipped with clamshell bucket dredges that would sink, scoop up material from the floor of the harbor, lift it, and transfer it to a "scow," which would then depart to the open sea to dump its load. The Super Scoop itself had limited means of self-propulsion, for the most part moving every few hours by tugboat. It could, however, self-propel for short distances by manipulating its anchors and cables.
Stewart was seriously injured while helping a contractor repair an engine on Scow No. 4, which collided with the Super Scoop and pitched Stewart headlong to the deck hatch below. He filed suit against Dutra in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, alleging that under the Jones Act, alleging that he was a seaman injured by Dutra's negligence. In the alternative, he filed a second claim under the LHWCA, §905(b), allowing third-party claims for negligence against vessel-owners.
Dutra moved for summary judgment on the Jones Act claim, arguing that Stewart was not a "seaman" under the statute because the Super Scoop was not a "vessel" according to DiGiovanni v. Traylor Bros, 959 F.2d 1119 (1st Cir. 1992). That case held that "if a barge…or other float's purpose or primary business is not navigation or commerce, then workers assigned thereto for its shore enterprise are to be considered seamen only when it is in actual navigation or transit" at the time of plaintiff's injury. The district court granted judgment for Dutra on this claim, basing its ruling on the fact that the Super Scoop's primary purpose was dredging and not transportation; further, it was stationary at the time of Stewart's injury. The decision was affirmed on interlocutory appeal by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
Back on remand, the district court next granted summary judgment in favor of Dutra on Stewart's alternate third-party claim under LHWCA. Dutra argued that the Super Scoop also was not a "vessel" for purposes of LHWCA's §905(b). The district court again ruled in its favor. This time, on appeal, the First Circuit disagreed, finding that LHWCA's definition of a vessel "is significantly more inclusive than that used for evaluating seaman status under the Jones Act." Nevertheless, it affirmed in favor of Dutra, as the district court had also found that Dutra's alleged negligence was committed in its capacity as an employer rather than as an owner of the vessel under §905(b). The case moved to the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of whether such a watercraft was a "vessel" for purposes of the LHWCA.
Writing for an unanimous Court (excepting Chief Justice Rehnquist, who was still recovering from an illness), Justice Thomas delivered an opinion noting that, prior to the enactment of either statute, Congress had always treated dredges as vessels. In Revised Statutes of 1873, §§1 and 3, Congress clearly indicated that in any act passed after 1871, "'vessel' includes every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water."
The Court expressly disagreed with the First Circuit's reasoning that the Super Scoop was not a vessel either because its primary purpose was not navigation or commerce, or because it was not in transit at the time of Stewart's injury. Neither prong of that test was consistent with Revised Statutes of 1873, §3 nor with general maritime law's established meaning of "vessel."
The Court also rejected the First Circuit's analysis of whether the Super Scoop was in motion when Stewart sustained his injuries. That approach had previously been rejected in Chandris v. Latis, 515 U.S. 347, 115 S.Ct. 2172, 132 L.Ed.2d 314 (1997). The requirement that a vessel be "in navigation" does not indicate the structure's locomotion at any particular moment, but rather a general acknowledgment that a structure may lose its character if withdrawn from the water for extended periods of time. The relevant inquiry, instead, is whether a craft is "used, or capable of being used" for maritime transportation as required by §3 of the Revised Statutes of 1873 (recodified in 1947 as part of the Rules of Contruction Act, 1 U.S.C. §§1 and 3. Accordingly, the decision of the First Circuit was reversed, and the case was remanded.
The Talmud discusses many laws concerning shipping, and sea and river journeys – such as the sale of ships, instances of shipwreck salvage and rescue, rules of passage at sea, lading and charter agreements, and also various details of the laws of the Sabbath and ritual purity applicable to ships. Such laws do not, however, serve to create a distinct branch of maritime law proper, since they are interwoven into the wider principles of the laws of *contract and *damages (contrary to the view expressed by J. Dauvillier, in Revue Internationale des Droits de l'Antiquité, 6 (1959), 33–63). Although in this field special shipping customs, if any, are followed, this is no more than an application of the general principle of contract law relating to local or trade customs (Rashba, Resp., vol. 2, no. 268).
With regard to the sale of ships, as with other sales, reference is made to accessories which are customarily sold with the ship and others which are considered as being independent and must therefore be purchased separately (bb 5:1). It is also stated that it was the practice of shipowners to receive not only the hire for the ship but also payment for its loss if shipwrecked (bm 70a). On arrangements for sea traffic it is stated: "Where two boats sailing on a river meet; if both attempt to pass simultaneously, they will sink; whereas if one makes way for the other, both can pass [without mishap]. Likewise if two camels met each other while on the ascent of Beth-Horon [which is a narrow pass; see Josh. 10:10 and 11]… if one is laden and the other unladen, the latter should give way to the former; if one is nearer [to its destination] than the other, the former should give way to the latter. If both are equally near or far, make a compromise between them, and the one [to go through] must compensate the other" (Tosef. bk 2:10; Sanh. 32b). If a person hires a ship for carriage of cargo and it sinks in mid-journey, he must pay for half the journey; if, however, he hires a specific ship for shipping a specific cargo, he loses the hire if he has already paid for it but is not obliged to pay if he has not already done so (bm 79b and Tos.). In a case where a man hired boatmen to deliver goods, stipulating that they guarantee against any accident (see *Ones) occurring on the way, and the river dried up during the journey, it was held that the boatmen had not guaranteed against this possibility since such an accident was not foreseeable (Git. 73a).
Various halakhot were decided with regard to shipwrecks. Thus when a boat is in danger of sinking and part of the cargo is thrown overboard to lighten the vessel, the resulting loss is not apportioned equally amongst the cargo owners, nor is it calculated according to the value of the goods of each owner, but the loss is apportioned according to the weight of the cargo of each owner – provided that this does not conflict with local maritime customs (bk 116b). In one instance a donkey being transported threatened to sink the boat and was thrown overboard, whereupon it was decided that no compensation was payable to its owner, since the deed was justified on the grounds of self-defense, the donkey being considered as pursuing with intent to kill (bk 117b). An interesting halakhah concerning maritime insurance is related: "The sailors can stipulate that whoever loses a ship shall get another one, but if the boat was lost due to his own negligence or if he sailed to a place to which boats would not normally sail, he would not be provided with another boat." The same rule applies also to carriers on land (Tosef. bm 11:26; bk 116b).
In the post-talmudic period many responsa dealt with trade customs (see e.g., Rashba, Resp., vol. 2, no. 268), some of them marine customs. Solomon b. Abraham *Adret (Rashba), who lived in Barcelona, where the well-known collection of marine customs Consulat de Mar was compiled, records the custom of depositing goods with a merchant traveling by sea for the latter to trade therein at the risk of the depositor – leaving the sailor exempt from liability for accident (his resp. vol. 2, no. 325; vol. 1, no. 930 and cf. no. 924). Also mentioned is the custom of paying the full wages, even if the journey for which the employee was hired was not completed due to accident overtaking the employer (Rashba, Resp., vol. 6, no. 224).
In the State of Israel maritime law is based on Israeli legislation, conforming with the law of the maritime nations in those matters and also with Ottoman-French laws and English law.
Krauss, Tal Arch, 2 (1911), 338–49; Herzog, Instit, 2 (1939), 252–4, 268–70. add. bibliography: M. Elon, Ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri (1988), 1:452, 560, 752; idem, Jewish Law (1994), 2:552, 681, 927.