Atlantic & Gulf Stevedores, Inc. v. Ellerman Lines, Ltd.

PETITIONER: Atlantic & Gulf Stevedores, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Ellerman Lines, Ltd.
LOCATION: Cleveland, Ohio

DOCKET NO.: 282
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 369 US 355 (1962)
ARGUED: Feb 20, 1962
DECIDED: Apr 02, 1962

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Atlantic & Gulf Stevedores, Inc. v. Ellerman Lines, Ltd.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 20, 1962 (Part 2) in Atlantic & Gulf Stevedores, Inc. v. Ellerman Lines, Ltd.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 20, 1962 (Part 1) in Atlantic & Gulf Stevedores, Inc. v. Ellerman Lines, Ltd.

Earl Warren:

Number 282, Atlantic and Gulf Stevedores, Incorporated, versus Ellerman Lines, Limited, et al.

Francis E. Marshall:

Mr. Chief Justice --

Earl Warren:

Mr. Marshall.

Francis E. Marshall:

-- and Justices.

This matter involves a claim by longshoreman against a shipping company for injury sustained during the course upon loading a vessel in the Port of Philadelphia and in which, the shipowner inflated Atlantic and Gulf Stevedores whom I represent as a third-party defendant claiming indemnity.

In briefest terms, these issues were tried in a 10-day trial before jury and the jury found in favor of the plaintiff, the injured longshoreman, against the shipowner on findings of unseaworthiness and also on findings of negligence and at the same time, in answer to a specific interrogatory found that the stevedore did not violate the terms of its contractual obligation to do its work in a reasonably safe, proper and workmanlike manner.

Finding in the amount of $100,000 in favor of the plaintiff, judgment by the lower court was entered in favor of the plaintiff and against the shipowner and at the same time, judgment with respect to the indemnity action was entered in favor of the Stevedore.

The shipowner appealed to the Third Circuit Court after its motions for judgment N.O.V. or for a new trial had been denied by the trial judge.

And the Third Circuit Court in an opinion, April 7, 1961, affirmed plaintiff's judgment against the shipowner, but as to the indemnity action reversed the judgment of the lower trial court which had been entered upon the specific findings of the jury that the shipowner's fault did not arise out of any failure on the part of the stevedore to perform its work in accordance with its contractual obligation.

The Third Circuit Court, therefore, reversed the judgment and in its opinion in three separate places, holds that indemnity as a matter of law lies against the stevedore.

A petition for rehearing was filed on behalf of Atlantic and Gulf and the Third Circuit Court without opinion denied that petition.

A petition for certiorari was filed to this Honorable Court and this Court on October 16, 1961, granted the stevedore's petition for certiorari.

I might say parenthetically that there was a companion petition for certiorari filed by the shipowner, challenging the validity of the Circuit Court's affirmance of the judgment in favor of the plaintiff and on the same day that this Honorable Court granted the stevedore's petition for certiorari, it denied the shipowner's petition for certiorari.

Petition for certiorari in this case, before your Honorable Court, was to consider three basic questions and the subsidiary questions encompassed therein. The first question was whether or not a matter tried to a jury under a full and complete charge by the trial court which encompassed all the issues in the case whether or not, the Circuit Court by reversing the judgment entered upon that verdict was a violation of the second sentence of the Seventh Amendment which states in positive terms and no fact applied by a jury shall be otherwise reexamined by any court of the United States except in accordance with the common law.

The second question we pose for consideration by this Honorable Court is whether or not in the presence of a contract, and I might say that in this case, starting on page 147 (a), Your Honors will see a contract which consumes seven printed pages prepared by the shipowner, entered into by the parties, a contract which spells out the intention intended by those parties, whether in the presence of such a contract, and in the presence of a jury finding, after a 10-day trial, after a full submission of all the issues by the trial court is charged to the jury, whether the Circuit Court erred in reversing the judgment entered in favor of the stevedore without reference to the contract and merely on the holding that if it was negligence for the shipowner and if the jury found negligence of the shipowner as a matter of law, the Court was bound to enter judgment for the shipowner on its indemnity action against the stevedore.

The third question we pose to this Honorable Court is whether or not under this same circumstances, a court may do what the Third Circuit Court has done, namely to set aside the findings of a jury and a judgment entered thereon, without a plain showing as this Honorable Court has imposed as a prerequisite in the McAlister case, a showing that the jury verdict was clearly erroneous.

Hugo L. Black:

What was the ground on which they've said it was clearly erroneous?

Francis E. Marshall:

If Your Honor please --

Hugo L. Black:

May I ask you just that --

Francis E. Marshall:

You certainly may.

Hugo L. Black:

You said in accordance with the rule for the common law, you first have to say what that means --

Francis E. Marshall:

Yes.

Hugo L. Black:

-- and then you have assumed, would tell us why -- what was the ground on which the Court said its there?

Francis E. Marshall:

If Your Honor please very briefly, the Circuit Court reviewed all the evidence and it had before the question of the shipowner and the question of the shipowner's right against us, reviewed the evidence and said, “There is enough evidence here to hold the shipowner on negligence,”

Hugo L. Black:

Of the shipowner?

Francis E. Marshall:

Yes.

He then said, in an opinion by Judge Kalodner, “If there is a finding by the jury that this accident was caused by the improper stowage on this vessel then as a matter of law, the ship -- the stevedore should have stopped its operation, and should not have proceeded to one load” and this was not a question for the jury.

This is a question which as a matter of law can be determined.

Charles E. Whittaker:

What are the facts?

What -- what happened?