Braen v. Pfeifer Oil Transportation Company, Inc.

RESPONDENT: Pfeifer Oil Transportation Company, Inc.
LOCATION: Dry Docks at Reed, WV

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 361 US 129 (1959)
ARGUED: Nov 16, 1959
DECIDED: Dec 14, 1959

Facts of the case


Media for Braen v. Pfeifer Oil Transportation Company, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 16, 1959 in Braen v. Pfeifer Oil Transportation Company, Inc.

Earl Warren:

Number 32, Christian F. Braen, Petitioner, versus Pfeifer Oil Transportation Company.

Mr. Seiff you may proceed.

Benjamin H. Seiff:

May it please the Court.

In this Jones Act case, the petitioner had obtained a jury verdict in the District Court in the Eastern District of New York.

It was undisputed that he was a seaman and had been a seaman for some four months prior to the accident.

It was undisputed that he was a member of a crew and that had -- had been such for -- four months prior to the accident.

It was also undisputed that he was injured while performing work that his superiors had ordered him to do, and it was undisputed that the injury occurred aboard of vessel that was own by his employer and where you had to be in order to perform what he had been commanded to perform and it is also undisputed that it was a negligent maintenance of the vessel that had caused his injury.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed and dismissed his action on a ground that the nature of the work that he had been ordered to do was such as to -- as to -- as a matter of law, hold -- or that the injury that he sustained was not in the course of his employment as a member of the crew and as a seaman.

In other words, the case presents the reverse of the usual situation where a person not in general maritime employment claims that -- he has become a seaman and a member of the crew when injured by reason of the nature of the work he was doing.

In this case, a seaman and a member of the crew is held to be disestablished on status by reason of the nature of the work that he'd been ordered to do.

And the basic question in this case is what ingredient was there in this work that as a matter of law vitiated his Jones Act remedy?

Now, the facts briefly are these.

The respondent was in a business of transporting petroleum products by oil -- the by barges and tows and vessels of that kind and one of its vessels was a barge by the name of Pfeifer number two.

It had a crew of three and the petitioner was a mate aboard of vessel and had been a mate for some four months prior to the accident.

His duties were various, they included handling the lines and the cables, loading and unloading, hamming the hose, preparing food, setting up navigation lights, and included among his duties was also a duty of maintaining the barge which involved painting, scraping and as was called minor repairs, defined as with pairs which required two men, no more than two men to perform.

About two days before the accident, one the pumps of the vessel had become out of order and the vessel was ordered to the repair yard of the respondent in west -- in new and the West New Brighton, Staten Island.

The defendant or rather the respondent maintained at that yard a floating repair barge called the Winisook, which was secure to dock by cables and lines.

Now, between the dock and the Winisook, the respondent maintained a further facility, a floating raft.

This raft is used by the respondent for the chipping, and painting, and repair work of such of its vessels as needed to such to work to be done at such time when it was needed.

And when the Pfeifer number two arrived, it was moored at the open water side of the Winisook so you have this situation.

Here was a dock, the raft, the Winisook, the Pfeifer number two and it was conceded that in order for any crew men of the Pfeifer number two to get -- to go to shore, he would have to go by way of the Winosook, by way the catwalk, alleged that was man around the side of the Winisook and thereby get on to the dock by way of a – of a plank runway.

When the Pfeifer number two arrived, this -- this raft had been undergoing moon decking -- was being placed on it and a that the time of his accident about three quarters of a decking had been installed.

So when it arrived, the petitioner began to work aboard the Pfeifer number two, disassembling the pump and he worked from eight o'clock in the morning till four in the afternoon and when he got through, we – the board the vessel, he slept aboard the vessel and in the next morning he resumed work again.

It was the intention that he work until four o' clock in the afternoon at that day or sooner if the vessel left sooner and as the matter of fact, it was anticipated that the Pfeifer number two wouldn't leave on that date.

He had been working about an hour, when a man by the name Edward Smith, who is the overall repair boss for the respondent, came aboard the ship and he said that -- that the two men were too many to do the work of disassembling the pump and he told the petitioner, he gave him the following order which Your Honors will find at page 23 of the record.

He says that, "I would like you to finish putting this top deck of plank for this raft over there, so that we can use it, get it done."

At the trial incidentally, there was a claim that the petitioner had been discharged and then immediately rehired as a compensate to give him a chance to make a day's pay for working on this raft, as described, but that was categorically denied and my friend here has abandoned any implications that flow from that claimed discharge which in any event was for the jury to decide.

Braen, the petitioner having received his orders from his superior proceeded to obey him.

He got his tools together, he got his materials together, went over to the side of Winisook which was nearer to the raft, put his tools and materials down, and started to release the lines, so he could pull up the raft a little closer, in order to get to work on it – ultimately to get work on it.

And while his pulling on his line, the catwalk or ladder on which he necessary have to stand and which was part of the Winisook, gave way and he fell to the raft and sustained the injuries for which the jury had awarded him a judgment.