Griffin v. Oceanic Contractors, Inc.

PETITIONER: Griffin
RESPONDENT: Oceanic Contractors, Inc.
LOCATION: A truck stop

DOCKET NO.: 81-614
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 458 US 564 (1982)
ARGUED: Apr 26, 1982
DECIDED: Jun 30, 1982

ADVOCATES:
Robert A. Chaffin - on behalf of Petitioner
Theodore Goller - on behalf of Respondent

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Griffin v. Oceanic Contractors, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 26, 1982 in Griffin v. Oceanic Contractors, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Griffin against Oceanic Contractors.

Mr. Chaffin, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Robert A. Chaffin:

Thank you, Your Honor.

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

This is a case involving the interpretation of a very old seaman's wage statute, a statute that had its origin first in 1790 and later came to be known as what is known now as the double wage penalty statute, which took its present form approximately in 1872.

That statute provides in essence, Your Honors, that if a seaman on a foreign voyage, such as the Petitioner was found to be by the trial court in this case, is not timely and properly paid his earned wages, those wages which are rightfully and uncontestedly due to him, one-third of those wages on the date of his discharge and the remainder within four days thereafter, that every master or owner who refuses or neglects to make payment without sufficient cause in the manner provided by the statute shall pay to the seaman a sum equal to two days pay for each and every day during which such delay shall continue.

Your Honors, that is the heart of the case here today.

In this particular case the trial court found uncontestedly that the seaman, the Petitioner, had been denied by the Respondent his wages, that he had made timely demand for his wages, and that even though demand had been timely made and with diligence he had pursued his demand, that the Respondent failed in an unreasonable manner, acted recalcitrantly, callously, willfully and wantonly and failed to pay the Petitioner his wages called for by the statute, Your Honor.

I got lost a little bit in the arithmetic here, counsel.

What was the... in dollars, what were the actual dollars he lost for the actual days, apart from all the penalty provisions?

Robert A. Chaffin:

Your Honor, if I may regress to the facts just a little bit, the Petitioner was actually due on his discharge $412.50, the amount of money which had been withheld from his pay check and was to be paid to him when he was discharged.

The actual facts are, Your Honor, that the Petitioner was at work as a seaman on board the Respondent's vessel, which was the Lay Barge 27.

He received injuries which were due solely to an unseaworthy condition of that vessel.

He had to leave the vessel to have minor surgery and to recuperate from his injuries.

He left the vessel, Your Honor, on April the 1st of 1976.

At that time the Respondent had withheld from his paycheck $412.50 that was to be paid to him on the date of his discharge.

He was not paid that money, Your Honor, and when he was discharged in the port of Rotterdam the trial court found that the Respondent acted unreasonably, callously, willfully and wantonly in disregard of his rights to receive those wages.

Subsequently, the Petitioner attempted with due diligence, as the trial court found, to collect those wages, but was denied the wages, Your Honor.

Now, the real thrust of this case, Your Honor, is not the validity nor the applicability of this statute, but the size of the penalty which the statute carries with it.

If I may read to the Court the one sentence in the statute which I believe is the heart of the case, it reads, Your Honors:

"Every master or owner who refuses or neglects to make payment in the manner herein before mentioned without sufficient cause shall pay to the seaman a sum equal to two days pay for each and every day during which payment is delayed beyond the respective period, which sum shall be recoverable as wages. "

Mr. Chaffin, I gather he got a judgment of $23,670.

Robert A. Chaffin:

He did, Your Honor.

And of that, only $6,881.60 is penalty wages?

Robert A. Chaffin:

That is true, Your Honor.

And is that the only item in issue before us?

Robert A. Chaffin:

That is, Your Honor.

He was awarded damages for injuries and for maintenance and cure.

Maintenance and cure, prejudgment interest, attorneys fees and recovery for pain and suffering.

Robert A. Chaffin:

That is correct, Your Honor.