PURE OIL CO. v. SUAREZ.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT.
Argued April 19, 1966.
Decided May 16, 1966.
Provision fixing venue of actions under Jones Act in district where the defendant employer resides (i. e., in case of corporation, is incorporated) or his principal office is located held expanded by the later general venue statute, 28 U.S.C. 1391 (c), so that a corporation, in the absence of contrary statutory restrictions, may also be sued in district where it does business. Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Prods. Corp., 353 U.S. 222 , distinguished. Pp. 202-207.
346 F.2d 890, affirmed.
Eberhard P. Deutsch argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Rene H. Himel, Jr.
Arthur Roth argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were S. Eldridge Sampliner and Charlotte J. Roth.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
Respondent Suarez is a seaman who was employed on the S. S. Pure Oil, owned and operated by petitioner, Pure Oil Company. Suarez brought this action against the company in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida to recover damages for personal injuries allegedly suffered in the course of his employment. He sued in negligence under the Jones Act, 41 Stat. 1007, 46 U.S.C. 688 (1964 ed.), and alternatively on the theory that the vessel was unseaworthy. The Pure Oil Company moved to transfer the case to the Northern District of Illinois on the ground that venue was improper in Florida. The District Court [384 U.S. 202, 203] denied the motion, certifying the question of venue for interlocutory appeal to the Court of Appeals under 28 U.S.C. 1292 (b) (1964 ed.). That court affirmed the ruling of the District Court, 346 F.2d 890. Certiorari was granted, 382 U.S. 972 , in order to determine whether the decision below is inconsistent with this Court's decision in Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Prods. Corp., 353 U.S. 222 , and to resolve a conflict among the circuits on that score. 1 We do not find the Fourco case controlling, and affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
The Jones Act, which ultimately governs the venue issue before us, 2 contains the following provision:
The effect of 1391 (c) was to broaden the general venue requirements in actions against corporations by providing a forum in any judicial district in which the corporate defendant "is doing business." See Moore, Commentary on the Judicial Code 193-194 (1949); 1 Barron & Holtzoff, Federal Practice and Procedure 80, at 386 (Wright rev. 1960). It seems manifest that this change was made in order to bring venue law in tune with modern concepts of corporate operations. 3 The question here involves the reach of these changes. The redefinition of corporate residence clearly touches the general diversity and federal-question venue provisions of 1391 (a) and (b). Although there is no elucidation from statutory history as to the intended effect of 1391 (c) on special venue provisions, the liberalizing [384 U.S. 202, 205] purpose underlying its enactment and the generality of its language support the view that it applies to all venue statutes using residence as a criterion, at least in the absence of contrary restrictive indications in any such statute.
This view of 1391 (c) is basically consistent with the purposes and language of the Jones Act, whose thrust was not primarily directed at venue, but rather at giving seamen substantive rights and a federal forum for their vindication. In so doing, it provided a more generous choice of forum than would have been available at that time under the general venue statute. Compare Act of March 3, 1911, c. 231, 50, 51, 36 Stat. 1101. Though one aspect of the special venue provision was phrased in terms of "residence," which as applied to a corporate employer was then generally understood to mean the place of incorporation, see In re Keasbey & Mattison Co., 160 U.S. 221, 229 , the statute also permitted suit in the district where the principal office of the employer was located. See p. 203, supra. Moreover, there is nothing in the legislative history of this provision of the Jones Act 4 to indicate that its framers meant to use "residence" as anything more than a referent to more general doctrines of venue rules, which might alter in the future. 5 [384 U.S. 202, 206]
The sole authority that might be thought to stand in the way of reading the Jones Act to embrace the residence definition of 1391 (c) is Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Prods. Corp., 353 U.S. 222 . A consideration of the setting in which that decision was made reveals that it must be taken as limited to the particular question of statutory construction presented there. Fourco concerned the interrelation of 1391 (c) and the special venue provision governing patent infringement suits, 28 U.S.C. 1400 (b) (1964 ed.). The Court held that the new definition of residence in 1391 (c) was not carried over into 1400 (b). This holding, however, was based on factors inapplicable to the case before us today.
First, the patent venue section at issue in Fourco was itself revised in 1948 6 in the same Act that contained 1391 (c). Fourco did not directly concern itself with the scope of 1391 (c). Rather, the Court inquired into the evidence revealing congressional purpose with respect to changes in 1400 (b), and concluded that Congress wished it to remain in substance precisely as it had been before the revision. This legislative background of 1400 (b) is of no relevance of course to a determination of the effect of 1391 (c) on the Jones Act, for the latter's venue provision was not re-enacted contemporaneously with 1391 (c). Thus, there is nothing to show a congressional purpose negativing the more natural reading of the two venue sections together. [384 U.S. 202, 207]
Second, the decision in Fourco relied heavily on the revisers' purpose to maintain 1400 (b) as it had been interpreted in Stonite Prods. Co. v. Melvin Lloyd Co., 315 U.S. 561 . In Stonite this Court recognized that there were particular reasons why Congress had passed the predecessor of 1400 (b). Confusion had been engendered by judicial decisions holding that patent infringers could be sued wherever they might be found, even though a newly enacted general venue statute of 1887 provided more limited venue. See 315 U.S., at 563 -565. The patent infringement venue statute was enacted in 1897, 29 Stat. 695, specifically to narrow venue in such suits. This Court in Fourco, after determining that the 1948 revision of 1400 (b) was meant to introduce no substantive change in the provision, was merely following the purpose and letter of the original enactment.
The Jones Act venue provision presents quite a different history. As a minor provision in a major substantive enactment, no particular attention was directed to its terms; indeed, the venue provision was first presented in the report of the House-Senate Conference Committee, see H. R. Rep. No. 1107, 66th Cong., 2d Sess., 19-20 (1920), and was apparently never discussed in committee reports or on the floor of either House. Thus, it is unlikely that the Congress meant to infuse the concept of corporate residence with any special meaning that should remain impervious to changes in standards effected by more general venue statutes. Moreover, it can be said with reasonable certainty that the provision was intended to liberalize venue, see supra, p. 205, unlike the patent infringement rule which was meant to constrict it. We conclude that here, in contrast to the situation dealt with in Fourco, the basic intent of the Congress is best furthered by carrying the broader residence definition of 1391 (c) into the Jones Act.
[ Footnote 2 ] The Court of Appeals stated that the Jones Act venue provision must be met if, as here, an action is based on both unseaworthiness and the Jones Act, 346 F.2d, at 891. Because of our disposition of the case we find no occasion to pass upon this issue, which was not raised in this Court.
[ Footnote 3 ] As the Court of Appeals stated in Transmirra Prods. Corp. v. Fourco Glass Co., 233 F.2d 885, 887, "The rationale of this sharp break with ancient formulae is quite obviously a response to a general conviction that it was `intolerable if the traditional concepts of "residence" and "presence" kept a corporation from being sued wherever it was creating liabilities.'" Although this Court reversed in Fourco, supra, for reasons discussed later (infra, pp. 206-207), the validity of this general observation was in no way questioned.
[ Footnote 4 ] Section 688 was enacted as 33 of the Merchant Marine Act, 1920, 41 Stat. 1007. The Act was primarily concerned with the creation and maintenance of a national merchant marine fleet. The substantive part of 33, dealing with seamen's relief, was introduced in the Senate as an amendment to the House bill, and was passed without discussion. 59 Cong. Rec. 7044 (1920). The venue provision was added by the House-Senate Conference Committee, see H. R. Rep. No. 1107, 66th Cong., 2d Sess., 19-20 (1920).
[ Footnote 5 ] We do not think these conclusions are vitiated by the fact that application of the wider residence definition of 1391 (c) to the Jones Act makes the alternative "principal office" venue provision [384 U.S. 202, 206] of the latter statute superfluous as regards corporate employers. That provision continues to serve its original purpose when the defendant employer is not a corporation. Nor does the 1391 (c) provision come into conflict with "principal office," unless that provision is deemed to have been restrictive in its origins, a proposition for which no support can be found.
[ Footnote 6 ] It reads: "Any civil action for patent infringement may be brought in the judicial district where the defendant resides, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business." [384 U.S. 202, 208]