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CHELENTIS v. LUCKENBACH S.S. CO. , 247 U.S. 372 (1918)

U.S. Supreme Court

CHELENTIS v. LUCKENBACH S.S. CO. , 247 U.S. 372 (1918)

247 U.S. 372

No. 657.

Argued and Submitted April 18, 1918.
Decided June 3, 1918.

[247 U.S. 372, 373]   Messrs. Silas B. Axtell and Arthur L. Burchell, both of New York City ( Fayette B. Dow, of Washington, D. C., of counsel), for petitioner.

[247 U.S. 372, 377]   Messrs. Peter S. Carter and William H. Carter, both of New York City, for respondent.

[247 U.S. 372, 378]  

Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In December, 1915, petitioner was employed by respondent, a Delaware corporation as fireman on board the steamship J. L. Luckenbach, which it then operated and controlled. While at sea, twenty-four hours out from New York, the port of destination, petitioner undertook to perform certain duties on deck during a heavy wind; a wave came aboard, knocked him down and broke his leg. He received due care immediately; when the vessel arrived at destination he was taken to the marine hospital, where he remained for three months; during that time it became necessary to amputate his leg. After discharge from the hospital, claiming that his injuries resulted from the negligence and an improvident order of a superior [247 U.S. 372, 379]   officer, he instituted a common-law action in Supreme Court, New York county, demanding full indemnity for damage sustained. The cause was removed to the United States District Court because of diverse citizenship. Counsel did not question seaworthiness of ship or her appliances, and announced that no claim was made for maintenance, cure, or wages. At conclusion of plaintiff's evidence the court directed verdict for respondent, and judgment thereon was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. 243 Fed. 536, 156 C. C. A. 234. The latter court said:

In The Osceola, 189 U.S. 158, 175 , 23 S. Sup. Ct. 483, 487 (47 L. Ed. 760), a libel in rem to recover damages for personal injuries to a seaman while on board and alleged to have resulted from the master's negligence, speaking through Mr. Justice Brown, we held:

After reference to article 1, 8, and article 3, 2, of the Constitution, we declared in Souther Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, 215 , 216 S., 37 Sup. Ct. 524, 528 (61 L. Ed. 1086, Ann. Cas. 1917E, 900):

Concerning extent to which the general maritime law may be changed, modified or affected by state legislation, this was said:

Among such quotations is the following:

The work about which petitioner was engaged is maritime in its nature; his employment was a maritime contract; the injuries received were likewise maritime and the parties' rights and liabilities were matters clearly within the admiralty jurisdiction. Atlantic Transportation Co. v. Imbrovek, 234 U.S. 52, 59 , 60 S., 34 Sup. Ct. 733, 51 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1157. And unless in some way there was imposed upon the owners a liability different from that prescribed by maritime law, petitioner could properly demand only wages, maintenance and cure. Under the doctrine approved in Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, no state has power to abolish the well-recognized maritime rule concerning measure of recovery and substitute therefor the full indemnity rule of the common law. Such a substitution would distinctly and definitely change or add to the settled maritime law; and it would be destructive of the 'uniformity and consistency at which the Constitution aimed on all subjects of a commercial character affecting the intercourse of the states with each other or with foreign states.'

Two acts of Congress are relied upon, and it is said that under each petitioner has the right to recover full indem- [247 U.S. 372, 383]   nity according to the common law. They are: (1) Section 9, Judiciary Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 76, 77, whereby District Courts of the United States were given exclusive original cognizance of all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, 'saving to suitors, in all cases, the right of a common-law remedy, where the common law is competent to give it' (Judicial Code, 24, 256 [Act March 3, 1911, c. 231, 36 Stat. 1092, 1160; Comp. St. 1916, 991(9), 1233]); and (2) section 20 of Act to Promote the Welfare of American Seamen, approved March 4, 1915, c. 153, 38 Stat. 1164, 1185, which provides:

The precise effect of the quoted clause of the original Judiciary Act has not been delimited by this court and different view have been entertained concerning it. In Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen we definitely ruled that it gave no authority to the several states to enact legislation which would work 'material prejudice to the characteristic features of the general maritime law or interfere with the proper harmony and uniformity of that law in its international and interstate relations.' In The Moses Taylor, 4 Wall. 411, 431 (18 L. Ed. 397), we said:

And in Knapp, Stout & Co. v. McCaffrey, 177 U.S. 638, 644 , 648 S., 20 Sup. Ct. 824, 827 (44 L. Ed. 921):

The distinction between rights and remedies is fundamental. A right is a well founded or acknowledged claim; a remedy is the means employed to enforce a right or redress an injury. Bouvier's Law Dictionary. Plainly, we think, under the saving clause a right sanctioned by the maritime law may be enforced through any appropriate remedy recognized at common law; but we find nothing therein which reveals an intention to give the complaining party an election to determine whether the defendant's liability shall be measured by common-law standards rather than those of the maritime law. Under the circumstances here presented, without regard to the court where he might ask relief, petitioner's rights were those recognized by the law of the sea.

Section 20 of the Seamen's Act declares 'seamen having command shall not be held to be fellow servants with those under their authority,' and full effect must be given this whenever the relationship between such parties becomes important. But the maritime law imposes upon a shipowner liability to a member of the crew injured at sea by reason of another member's negligence without regard to their relationship; it was of no consequence therefore to petitioner whether or not the alleged negligent order came from a fellow servant; the statute is irrelevant. The language of the section discloses no intention to impose upon shipowners the same measure of liability for injuries suffered by the crew while at sea as the common [247 U.S. 372, 385]   law prescribes for employers in respect of their employes on shore.

The judgment of the court below is


Mr. Justice HOLMES concurs in the result.

Mr. Justice PITNEY, Mr. Justice BRANDEIS, and Mr. Justice CLARKE, dissent.

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