Michalic v. Cleveland Tankers, Inc.

PETITIONER: Michalic
RESPONDENT: Cleveland Tankers, Inc.
LOCATION: Mapp's Residence

DOCKET NO.: 31
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 364 US 325 (1960)
ARGUED: Oct 20, 1960
DECIDED: Nov 07, 1960

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Michalic v. Cleveland Tankers, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 20, 1960 in Michalic v. Cleveland Tankers, Inc.

Earl Warren:

Number 31, Thomas Michalic, Petitioner, versus Cleveland Tankers.

Mr. Goldstein.

Harvey Goldstein:

Mr. Chief Justice, members of this Court.

This is a case concerning a seaman suing under the provisions of the Jones Act and for the unseaworthiness of the vessel upon which he was employed under the general maritime law.

A jury trial was held and after the plaintiff's case was ended, a motion for a directed verdict was denied in informal language by the trial judge in saying “let's go ahead”.

The motion for the directed verdict was again renewed at the end of the entire case, and it was granted.

The decision was affirmed by the Sixth Circuit and of course, we are here on a petition for writ of certiorari.

I don't believe there's any point in belaboring what must be well-known to all of us, and that is that, in cases of this type, when we are here to determine whether a district judge was correct in granting a directed verdict that the only question that should arise to that District Court Judge is whether or not there is a material issue of fact, upon which, the jury could have found in favor of the plaintiff.

All of the evidence, that is, both the plaintiff's and in this particular case, because the directed verdict was granted at the end of the entire case, also the defendant's evidence must be considered by the District Judge.

That evidence must also be considered in a light most favorable to the plaintiff and in addition, all inferences which may be reasonably drawn from that evidence must be considered in a light most favorable to the plaintiff.

And so, the situation becomes a comparatively easy one, and that is whether or not, considering all the evidence in this case, there was a material issue of fact which should have caused the District Judge to submit this case to the jury for its consideration.

There is no question but that this case concerned conflicting testimony.

I am not here to state that the plaintiff would have won his case had the case been submitted to the jury.

The only question here is whether or not it should have been submitted for the jury's consideration rather than the District Judge's consideration.

Michalic was a fireman.

He had worked for three years prior to the date of the accident for the very, very same shipping company.

He had had Buerger's disease but for that three-year period, he claim that he was in good health, that he was able to work and in fact, some of the defendant's witnesses testified that his work was good, that he completed his work without any particular difficulty.

In addition, testimony showed that the officers of the vessel knew that he had the Buerger's disease condition and that they employed him in spite of that fact evidently because, and certainly we could draw the inference that he was a good workman and able to do his duties.

The lay-up period had just started.

This was a ship on the Great Lakes and as Your Honors well know, ships in the beginning of the winter season, that is the end of December, are laid up for the entire winter season to start their sailing again in the spring.

Michalic was a fireman and his area of duty was in the fire hole.

But during this lay-up period, he was ordered by his superior officer to go for the first time, he said, into the pumproom in order to help the pumpman do some work that was involved in the lay-up period.

He went into the pumproom.

He said that he was given a wrench, and I will go into the description of the wrench in a moment, a wrench and a mallet and was told what to do.

The pumpman testified pointblank that he never showed Michalic how to do the work nor did he watch him do the work, but he told him about the casing.

The casing was the machinery.

The particular pump covering that was to be taken off by Michalic loosening these 20 or so nuts from the casing itself.

Michalic stated that he worked for about an hour.

That the pumpman later came back or came back at that point from another job which he was doing and that Michalic told and complained to the pumpman about the condition of the mallet -- I'm sorry, about the condition of the wrench.

And the pumpman told him, "Never mind that.