Amell v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: South Carolina General Assembly

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)

CITATION: 384 US 158 (1966)
ARGUED: Jan 24, 1966
DECIDED: May 16, 1966

Facts of the case


Media for Amell v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 24, 1966 in Amell v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 282, Harry J. Amell et al., petitioners versus the United States.

Mr. Scribner.

David Scribner:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

This case involves a number of government employees, albeit seamen on government vessels subject to civil service laws and subject to all the rules and regulations applicable to all government employees.

They made claims in the District Court for overtime pay which they alleged were due them, this is in three of the cases, pursuant to federal laws and regulations all pertaining to government employees.

In addition, they relied on the Classification Act, the Federal Employee Pay act, and as I said other regulations pertaining to the issues involved.

The Court of Claims on the motion of the government transferred each of the four cases to the District Courts, in this case the District Court of Florida, District Court in New York, southern district and to other appropriate courts, on the apparent ground, we have presumed this since the Court of Claims rendered no opinion made no statement except that it cited forming cases that it had transferred like without opinion like without in the same manner without any indication to us as to why they did it.

We must assume of course that that was done simply because it was the Court's opinion consonant with the approach made by the government that the suits in Admiralty Act applied and that therefore the cases were properly in admiralty and within the exclusive jurisdiction of those courts.

Of course here we have a relatively simple situation.

It doesn't raise many the complications that have been raised over the years and I frankly was surprised to learn of the difficulties that were involved in the general area of the application of the suits in Admiralty Act and the activity of this Court in connection with it, but this matter is a relatively simple matter in this sense.

The suits here are brought under legislation and under regulation which has literally no relationship to admiralty law.

The particular pieces of legislation, enactments relate wholly and exclusively to government employees albeit among those government employees necessarily as some who work on vessels.

It appears to be the position of the government that if any employee works on a vessel that's afloat and if waters are involved that somehow principles of admiralty or admiralty law are also necessarily involved.

The fact is that the basis of the claims made by the petitioners has no relationship to admiralty law.

Now any principle of admiralty law that would be involved here would be encompassed essentially by Title 46 of the code.

There is not one section in Title 46, which also encompasses the suits in Admiralty Act as well as the Public Vessels Act, which would in any way be determinative or which could be considered even in respect to a decision to be made on the claims in these cases, literally not one.

Now a lawyer in an argument seldom challenges his adversary to produce something because he might and it's too big a risk, but I'll venture to say that the government in addressing themselves to this Court could not point to a single enactment or provision of law under Title 46 or under any aspect of admiralty law that would in any way affect the determination of a court as to whether the petitioners should or should not prevail as government employees in their wage claims against the United States in this case.

There is literally nothing, I am confident there is nothing.

Now the government first makes the statement, and categorically by the way in their brief, that admiralty law is involved.

There is no admiralty law involved and they can't point to a piece of legislation which would affect it.

Then there is another approach to it and that is that principles of admiralty law apply.

Well, admiralty law would still have to be applied whether or not it embraces the principle or a -- an ad hoc approach.

Then they recede apparently from that position as they develop their argument in the brief and they talk in terms of something called a claim of a maritime nature or a claim of a maritime character, and of course that's meaningless because that could only relate to law.

It can only relate to principles of law which are expressed in law somewhere in Title 46, or in any other places they could find it if they can.

It is significant that in not in one place in their brief is there a citation to any law, admiralty law, which would apply in this case.

Now what I found rather curious, and I was rather disappointed in the office, that the government cites a series of some ten cases in two different places in the brief in support of a proposition that the courts have uniformly held that government employed seamen who sue for wages are relegated to the suits in Admiralty Act, or the Public Vessels Act as the case may be.

It's sad to say that those cases and I say that professionally, that those cases do no support that contention and that anybody who read the cases would know what they say.

And what they referred to are the cases, all the theories of cases I could cite another hundreds of them, which relate to the situation where under the Clarification Act which embraced the war shipping board type of situation during war time or war time or related activities where the government through the war shipping administration and through agents, private companies hired seamen as government employees on a temporary basis in order to carry out certain government merchant type of activity.

Hugo L. Black:

Why does the government want to change it?

Why does the government want them tried in the other courts?