RESPONDENT: Compagnie Generale Transatl.
LOCATION: John G. Osborne Elementary School
DOCKET NO.: 78-479
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
CITATION: 443 US 256 (1979)
ARGUED: Mar 19, 1979
DECIDED: Jun 27, 1979
Calvin W. Breit - for petitioner
Charles F. Tucker - for respondent
Facts of the case
Media for Edmonds v. Compagnie Generale Transatl.
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 19, 1979 in Edmonds v. Compagnie Generale Transatl.
Warren E. Burger:
We'll hear arguments next in 479, Edmonds against Compagnie Generale Transatlantique.
Mr. Breit, I think you may proceed whenever you're ready.
Calvin W. Breit:
Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.
This matter comes on out of the Fourth Circuit arising out of a decision which was then in conflict with the Ninth and now with the Second and Fifth Circuits as well concerning the rights of a longshoreman who was injured aboard the defendant's vessel as a result of the combined negligence of the longshoreman himself, the stevedore, and the shipowner.
The major issue before the Court is whether or not the longshoreman has a right to recover in full his damages under the longest established common law principal of joint and several liability from the various tortfeasors who caused his harm or whether that right has been abrogated by statute under the Longshoreman and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act.
The history of the right in both maritime and land-based law is extensive.
This Court has ruled in Halcyon versus Haenn.
It is ruled in Pope and Talbot versus Hawn.
It is more recently ruled in Cooper versus Fritz Kopke.
In ACL versus Uri (ph), numerous other cases that the injured party has an indivisible right of recovery in full.
The question now posed is whether Congress intended to abrogate that rule when it amended the Longshoreman and Harbor Workers Compensation Act in 1972.
Prior to 1972, it was clear that Halcyon and versus Haenn, Pope and Talbot versus Hawn, was the law on that particular issue.
Congress made no act which would suggest that it intended to change that law.
There is apparent but not actual discrepancy between two sentences in 905 (d) of the Act which has been taken to suggest that the Congress was intending proportionate fall.
Nothing could have been further from Congress' mind at the time.
Respondent in page 11 of his brief concedes that the purpose of the second sentence of 905 (b) was intended to preserve the doctrine established by this Court in Reed versus Yaka namely that a shipowner could not by hiring his own longshoreman and thus become the stevedore avoid the harm that he does of that stevedore.
It was in the context of Reed versus Yaka that the second sentence was passed in the 1972 Amendment and the purpose of it was solely to retain the doctrine as espoused by this Court in Reed versus Yaka.
On page 43 and 44 of respondent's brief, it is suggested that 933 of this same Act was passed so that the longshoreman could not effect a double recovery and received double compensation.
Well, it's inconceivable that he could have received double compensation unless in the first instance, he is compensated in full by the shipowner tortfeasor who has caused his harm.
An appellee in the Second Circuit, Anderson versus Iceland on the first both have stated that the purpose of that sentence in 905 (b) was to preserve the doctrine of Reed versus Yaka.
But more important than that Congress itself was not silent on the point.
Congress specifically stated that the longshoreman's right of action in negligence against the shipowner shall survive.
Now, that right of action against the shipowner is the right to recover 100% of his damages from the shipowner or any other person who independently or concurrently created the harm that he has suffered.
The congressional record is replete of literally dozens of cases that it intended to overrule that were in existence at the time.
This Court in an active role which it is permitted to do in matters of maritime under the doctrine of Seas Shipping versus Sieracki provided for the longshoreman a cause of action which created in effect an absolute right of recovery for any unseaworthy condition regardless of fault.
Interestingly enough, the seaworthy condition, the unseaworthy condition was almost always cause by the negligence of the stevedore.
The Court had held in Halcyon versus Haenn that there was no cause of action over against the stevedore for contribution in tort.
And this Court then went on to extend the Seas doctrine under a contract theory when in Ryan it held that there is not contribution but indemnity.
The Congress spent a great deal of time on those issues and in doing so in its reports, it clearly established when it was intending to do.
It set forth specifically the names of the cases that it intended to overrule particularly under the section of elimination of unseaworthiness remedy it cites Sea Shipping versus Sieracki as one of the cases.