McAllister v. Magnolia Petroleum Company

RESPONDENT: Magnolia Petroleum Company
LOCATION: Philadelphia Board of Public Education

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 357 US 221 (1958)
ARGUED: Apr 01, 1958
DECIDED: Jun 23, 1958

Facts of the case


Media for McAllister v. Magnolia Petroleum Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 01, 1958 in McAllister v. Magnolia Petroleum Company

Earl Warren:

Number 83, Richard McAllister, Petitioner versus Magnolia -- Magnolia Petroleum Company.

Mr. Mandell.

Arthur J. Mandell:

May it please the Court.

This action was instituted in the District Court of Harris County, Texas on the 27th day of August 1953 in behalf of a (Inaudible) seaman and engineer on a motor vessel J.C. Stephens owned and operated by the respondent Magnolia Petroleum Company.

This action was removed by way of plea of privileged to the District Court of Dallas County where the trial was held.

The pleadings in sort of orthodox --

Earl Warren:

Where was it filed, Mr. Mandell?

Arthur J. Mandell:

In Houston.

Earl Warren:

In Houston.

Arthur J. Mandell:


Earl Warren:

In the state court?

Arthur J. Mandell:

The state court --

Earl Warren:


Arthur J. Mandell:

-- and removed to the State Court of Dallas County.

The pleadings in sort of orthodox fashion alleged unseaworthiness and negligence.

Before trial, the respondent interposed a plea of limitation both to the action under the Jones Act and to the action which petitioner here claims is also under the Jones Act but under the principles of the Maritime Law that proceeded the Jones Act.

The theory of the respondent and the court below was that when the Jones Act was enacted, a two-year limitation statute prevailed and when the Federal Employers' Liability Act limitation provisional was increased to three years, it did not apply because it was not specifically provided in the extension as to the Jones Act.

And also, stated and urged below that the cause of action for unseaworthiness has been barred by limitation because the two-year Texas Limitation Statute applied and not the two-year statute.

The trial court overruled after hearing both of these pleas and trial was held on the merits.

At the trial and conformity with the rules of civil procedure applicable in the State Court of Texas, special issues or interrogatories were submitted to the jury.

The jury found first that petitioner did receive any injury to his body while attempting to walk down a set -- a set of stairs leading from a lounge to the galley below which he had to go in order to reach the engine room where he was employed as an engineer.

The jury also found one of the allegations urged by the petitioner that the portholes over the stairs from which he fell were not watertight causing seawater to come in and making them dangerous causing his fall.

The jury found that the portholes or windows over these stairs were not watertight.

Petitioner insisted that the inquiry immediately following this inquiry should be was such on seaway the condition or was such failure to have these portholes watertight approximate cause of petitioner to the injuries on the theory of that.

Once the unseaworthy action or the effect has been found the unseaworthiness follows as a matter of law and the next one is just a question of approximate cause.

The Court refused to submit such an issue and instead asked the jury whether that failure to have these portholes or windows watertight rendered the vessel unseaworthy then gave a definition over the objections of petitioner stating you are instructed that by the term unseaworthy as used herein means that a vessel with it's appliances and the fittings is not reasonably fit for the purpose for which it is being used.

Petitioner objected first that there was an unnecessary question of the jury whether or not that led the vessel unseaworthy.

And secondly, stated that if the Court was to submit such an inquiry then the definition is erroneous because it emplaces a greater burden than the one upon petitioner, than the one required by law, because the definition requires the jury to find that by reason of that failure to have these portholes or windows watertight.

The vessel as a whole is unseaworthy whereas the burden upon us was to show that that particular port of the vessel was unseaworthy approximately causing injury.

The Court refused to do so and refused to do so on a similar issue inquiring about whether or not the deck above the galley was watertight, (Inaudible) shows that it wasn't and submitted the same type of issues.