[ Stevens ]
|Syllabus ||Opinion |
[ O'Connor ]
NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
CHANDRIS, INC., et al.
certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the second circuit
Respondent Latsis' duties as a superintendent engineer for petitioner Chandris, Inc., required him to take voyages on Chandris' ships. He lost substantial vision in one eye after a condition that he developed while on one of those voyages went untreated by a ship's doctor. Following his recuperation, he sailed to Germany on the S. S. Galileo and stayed with the ship while it was in drydock for refurbishment. Subsequently, he sued Chandris for damages for his eye injury under the Jones Act, which provides a negligence cause of action for "any seaman" injured "in the course of his employment." The District Court instructed the jury that Latsis was a "seaman" if he was permanently assigned to, or performed a substantial part of his work on, a vessel, but that the time Latsis spent with the Galileo while it was in drydock could not be considered because the vessel was then out of navigation. The jury returned a verdict for Chandris based solely on Latsis' seaman status. The Court of Appeals vacated the judgment, finding that the jury instruction improperly framed the issue primarily in terms of Latsis' temporal relationship to the vessel. It held that the "employment related connection to a vessel in navigation" required for seaman status under the Jones Act, McDermott International, Inc. v. Wilander, 498 U.S. 337, 355, exists where an individual contributes to a vessel's function or the accomplishment of its mission; the contribution is limited to a particular vessel or identifiable group of vessels; the contribution is substantial in terms of its duration or nature; and the course of the individual's employment regularly exposes him to the hazards of the sea. It also found that the District Court erred in instructing the jury that the Galileo's drydock time could not count in the substantial connection equation.
1. The "employment related connection to a vessel in navigation" necessary for seaman status comprises two basic elements: the worker's duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission, id., at 355, and the worker must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or an identifiable group of vessels) that is substantial in both its duration and its nature. Pp. 6-25.
(a) The Jones Act provides heightened legal protections to seamen because of their exposure to the perils of the sea, but does not define the term "seaman." However, the Court's Jones Act cases establish the basic principles that the term does not include land based workers, id., at 348, and that seaman status depends "not on the place where the injury is inflicted . . . but on the nature of the seaman's service, his status as a member of the vessel, and his relationship . . . to the vessel and its operation in navigable waters," Swanson v. Marra Brothers, Inc., 328 U.S. 1, 4. Thus, land based maritime workers do not become seamen when they happen to be working aboard a vessel, and seamen do not lose Jones Act coverage when their service to a vessel takes them ashore. Latsis' proposed "voyage test"--under which any maritime worker assigned to a vessel for the duration of a voyage, whose duties contribute to the vessel's mission, would be a seaman for injuries incurred during that voyage--conflicts with this status based inquiry. Desper v. Starved Rock Ferry Co., 342 U.S. 187, 190, and Grimes v. Raymond Concrete Pile Co, 356 U.S. 252, 255, distinguished. Pp. 6 16.
(b) Beyond the basic themes outlined here, the Court's cases have been silent as to the precise relationship a maritime worker must bear to a vessel in order to come within the Jones Act's ambit, leaving the lower federal courts the task of developing appropriate criteria to distinguish "ship's company" from land based maritime workers. Those courts generally require at least a significant connection to a vessel in navigation (or to an identifiable fleet of vessels) for a maritime worker to qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act. Pp. 16-20.
(c) The test for seaman status adopted here has two essential requirements. The first is a broad threshold requirement that makes all maritime employees who do the ship's work eligible for seaman status. Wilander, supra, at 355. The second requirement determines which of these eligible maritime employees have the required employment related connection to a vessel in navigation to make them in fact entitled to Jones Act benefits. This requirement gives full effect to the remedial scheme created by Congress and separates sea based maritime employees entitled to Jones Act protection from land based workers whose employment does not regularly expose them to the perils of the sea. Who is a "member of a crew" is a mixed question of law and fact. A jury should be able to consider all relevant circumstances bearing on the two requirements. The duration of a worker's connection to a vessel and the nature of the worker's activities, taken together, determine whether he is a seaman, because the ultimate inquiry is whether the worker is part of the vessel's crew or simply a land based employee who happens to be working on the vessel at a given time. Although seaman status is not merely a temporal concept, it includes a temporal element. A worker who spends only a small fraction of his working time aboard a vessel is fundamentally land based and therefore not a crew member regardless of his duties. An appropriate rule of thumb is that a worker who spends less than about 30 percent of his time in the service of a vessel in navigation should not qualify as a seaman. This figure is only a guideline that allows a court to take the question from the jury when a worker has a clearly inadequate temporal connection to the vessel. On the other hand, the seaman status inquiry should not be limited exclusively to an examination of the overall course of a worker's service with a particular employer, since his seaman status may change with his basic assignment. Pp. 20-25.
2. The District Court's drydock instruction was erroneous. Whether a vessel is in navigation is a fact intensive question that can be removed from the jury's consideration only where the facts and the law will reasonably support one conclusion. Based upon the record here, the trial court failed adequately to justify its decision to remove that question from the jury. Moreover, the court's charge to the jury swept too broadly in prohibiting the jury from considering the time Latsis spent with the vessel while in drydock for any purpose. Pp. 25-29.
O'Connor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Thomas and Breyer, JJ., joined.