Mitchell v. H. B. Zachry Company

RESPONDENT: H. B. Zachry Company
LOCATION: Approximately half-way between Santa Marta, Colombia and Miami. Florida (by water)

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

CITATION: 362 US 310 (1960)
ARGUED: Feb 25, 1960
DECIDED: Apr 04, 1960

Facts of the case


Media for Mitchell v. H. B. Zachry Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1960 (Part 1) in Mitchell v. H. B. Zachry Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1960 (Part 2) in Mitchell v. H. B. Zachry Company

Bessie Margolin:

-- the scope of the production.

It also -- it went further and held that the 1949 amendment to production coverage was intended to exclude construction projects or as local enterprises.

We think it's significant that it's admitted here by respondent that if this were -- were just simply to repair or maintain the existing water system that it would still be within the coverage of the Act, as closely related and directly essential.

At least, I don't understand them to deny that and as I shall later point out the -- the cases, the decisions have long since settled that and the legislative history shows that Congress expressly approved the coverage of -- of maintenance and repair of this type of utility.

Respondents also assert that they -- they don't put any special -- attach any special importance to the new construction doctrine.

I think it's fair to say that they come pretty close to abandoning the Fifth Circuit's reliance on that doctrine.

They say that certainly, the language, at least the language of Vollmer and Alstate and Lublin should be applied as much to production coverage as in commerce coverage.

And that in general, the liberal construction doctrine should apply.

But they also say that if -- if this were a case where the water -- the dam and reservoir were being constructed solely or primarily for interstate producers and interstate instrumentalities, then they concede that there would be a forceful case for holding that the employees here were closely related and directly essential to production of goods by the producers within the area.

Their argument turns largely, if not entirely, on their construction of the amendment to the production coverage of the Act in 1949.

And respondent like the Court of Appeals below doesn't spend much time on the other grounds on which the District Court upheld coverage the Alstate ground.

The Court of Appeals dismissed that as -- said -- assumed that the Government wasn't relying on it mistakenly and their only comment was that the employees here certainly weren't producing any goods for commerce when they were construction the dam that they were -- they were simply producing the dam.

Our -- our answer to that is that this is the way you produce waters to construct the dam.

It's an engineering fact that you produce water by constructing a dam and a reservoir.

Just like --

You gather water, don't you?

Bessie Margolin:

You impound it and they've -- and -- and producing is very broadly defined in the Act, actual producing it's -- is like you drill -- drill wells for oil or you mine -- dig and mine for coal and that this is as much producing water as the mining of coal is producing coal of a digging -- drilling of oil wells is producing oil so that the -- we don't need to minimize that ground of coverage when we direct most of our brief in answering the arguments of the Court of Appeals and respondents.

They do not give any answer to that and that is still, we think, a -- a sufficient basis of coverage.

Coming though to there -- in -- to the interpretation of the legislative history of the 1949 amendment to production, the Court of Appeals said that it didn't have to look to the legislative history to decide that Congress intended to expand the local enterprises that it was removing from the Act and it obviously assumed that what it did was to extract a part of the reasoning from this Court's office building case in Callus and relating to the performing activities of -- of rendering services for a miscellany of customers.

And relying heavily on -- on that reference to Callus, the Court said that this type of service to a miscellany of customers was intended to be excluded as local enterprise.

And this, in effect, is respondents' argument as I think is evident from their -- from their admission that if -- if this facility was designed primarily as solely deserved interstate producers and interstate instrumentalities, then it could forcefully be contended that the employees were covered as closely related and directly essential.

Both the Court of Appeals and respondents' argument rest on the assumption that it was a legislative intent in 1949 to very substantially curtail the scope of coverage.

They -- respondents said so in so many words.

Now, he -- respondent does look to some of the legislative history just the House Report and only parts of the House Report.

The Court of Appeals below didn't look at any of the legislative history.

Respondents, however, interpret what legislative history they looked at in the same way that apparently the court below interpreted it.

And I did want to say a word in answer to the Court of Appeals reliance on the new construction doctrine since the Court clearly relied pretty heavily on it.

It was the only basis on which it differed from the Eighth Circuit in the Chambers case, where the Eighth Circuit had pointed out that the Vollmer decision didn't establish anything new, it was just asserting the principle that had applied generally to the Act's coverage, and that this type of improvement are enlargement of an existing facility.

It had always been ruled within the coverage of the Act.

That original construction which had previously been thought to be by some outside the scope of that -- of the Act in which the administrator had earlier thought might be a basis for determining coverage on this Act meant something quite different from improvement and enlargement or expansion.