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GRANT SMITH-PORTER SHIP CO. v. ROHDE, 257 U.S. 469 (1922)

U.S. Supreme Court

GRANT SMITH-PORTER SHIP CO. v. ROHDE, 257 U.S. 469 (1922)

257 U.S. 469

GRANT SMITH-PORTER SHIP CO.
v.
ROHDE.
No. 35.

Argued December 7, 1920.
Decided January 3, 1922.

[257 U.S. 469, 470]   Mr. Charles A. Hart, of Portland, Or., for Grant Smith-Porter Ship Co.

[257 U.S. 469, 473]   Mr. Harry A. Hegarty, of Washington, D. C., for Rohde.

Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Asking for instruction, the court below has sent up the following certificate and questions. Judicial Code, 239 (Comp. St. 1216).

The contract for constructing 'The Ahala' was nonmaritime, and although the incompleted structure upon which the accident occurred was lying in navigable waters, [257 U.S. 469, 476]   neither Rohde's general employment, nor his activities at the time, had any direct relation to navigation or commerce. Thames Towboat Co. v. Schooner Francis McDonald, 254 U.S. 242 , 41 Sup. Ct. 65. The injury was suffered within a State whose positive enactment prescribed an exclusive remedy therefor. And as both parties had accepted and proceeded under the statute by making payments to the Industrial Accident Fund it cannot properly be said that they consciously contracted with each other in contemplation of the general system of maritime law. of the general system of maritime law. Sup. Ct. 112. Under such circumstances regulation of the rights, obligations and consequent liabilities of the parties, as between themselves, by a local rule would not necessarily work material prejudice to any characteristic feature of the general maritime law, or interfere with the proper harmony or uniformity of that law in its international or interstate relations. Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205 , 37 Sup. Ct. 524, L. R. A. 1918C, 451, Ann. Cas. 1917E, 900; Western Fuel Co. v. Garcia (decided December 5, 1921) 257 U.S. 233 , 42 Sup. Ct. 89.

The general doctrine that in contract matters admiralty jurisdiction depends upon the nature of the transaction and in tort matters upon the locality, has been so frequently asserted by this Court that it must now be treated as settled. Waring et al. v. Clarke, 5 How. 441, 459; R. R. Co. v. Towboat Co., 23 How. 209, 215; The Propeller Commerce, 1 Black, 574, 579; The Plymouth, 3 Wall. 20, 33; Leathers v. Blessing, 105 U.S. 626 , 630; Martin v. West, 222 U.S. 191, 197 , 32 S. Sup. Ct. 42, 36 L. R. A. (N. S.) 592. See Atlantic Transportation Co. v. Imbrovek, 234 U.S. 52, 59 , 34 S. Sup. Ct. 733, 51 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1157, and Hughes on Admiralty (2d Ed.) p. 195.

The Workmen's Compensation Law of Oregon declares that when a workman subject to its terms is accidentally injured in the course of his employment he 'shall be entitled to receive from the Industrial Accident Fund [257 U.S. 469, 477]   hereby created the sum or sums hereinafter specified and the right to receive such sum or sums shall be in lieu of all claims against his employer on account of such injury or death. ...'

In Western Fuel Co. v. Garcia we recently pointed out that as to certain local matters regulation of which would work no material prejudice to the general maritime law, the rules of the latter might be modified or supplemented by state statutes. The present case is controlled by that principle. The statute of the State applies and defines the rights and liabilities of the parties. The employee may assert his claim against the Industrial Accident Fund to which both he and the employer have contributed as provided by the statute, but he cannot recover damages in an admiralty court.

This conclusion accords with Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205 , 37 Sup. Ct. 524, L. R. A. 1918C, 451, Ann. Cas. 1917E, 900; Chelentis v. Luckenback Steamship Co., 247 U.S. 372 , 38 Sup. Ct. 501; Union Fish Co. v. Erickson, 248 U.S. 308 , 39 Sup. Ct. 112; and Knickerbocker Ice Co. v. Stewart, 253 U.S. 149 , 40 Sup. Ct. 438, 11 A. L. R. 1145. In each of them the employment or contract was maritime in nature and the rights and liabilities of the parties were prescribed by general rules of maritime law essential to its proper harmony and uniformity. Here the parties contracted with reference to the state statute; their rights and liabilities had no direct relation to navigation, and the application of the local law cannot materially affect any rules of the sea whose uniformity is essential.

As pointed out in the Ira M. Hedges, 218 U.S. 264, 270 , 31 S. Sup. Ct. 17, 18 (54 L. Ed. 1039, 20 Ann. Cas. 1235)

The certified questions are not wholly free from uncertainty of that nature and we therefore state our view of their real intendment.

Construing the first question as meaning to inquire whether the general admiralty jurisdiction extends to a [257 U.S. 469, 478]   proceeding to recover damages resulting from a tort committed on a vessel in process of construction when lying on navigable waters within a State, we answer, yes.

Assuming that the second question presents the inquiry whether in the circumstances stated the exclusive features of the Oregon Workmen's Compensation Act would apply and abrogate the right to recover damages in an admiralty court which otherwise would exist, we also answer, yes.

Mr. Justice CLARKE concurs in the result.

The CHIEF JUSTICE took no part in the decision of this cause.

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