Moragne v. States Marine Lines, Inc.

RESPONDENT: States Marine Lines, Inc.
LOCATION: Dodge County Juvenile Court

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 398 US 375 (1970)
ARGUED: Mar 04, 1970
DECIDED: Jun 15, 1970

Facts of the case


Media for Moragne v. States Marine Lines, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 04, 1970 in Moragne v. States Marine Lines, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

Number 175, Petsonella Moragne against States Marines Lines.

Mr. Hardee, you may proceed whenever you're -- you and you're colleagues are ready.

Charles Hardee:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

Edward Moragne Sr. was a longshoreman employed in the Port of Tampa, by Gulf Florida Terminal Corporation, which is a respondent in this case, and was his employer, the stevedores.

On December 31, 1964, he was killed when a hedge beam fell, became lose and fell down in the bottom of the hole, where he was discharging cargo, on the SS Palmetto State, a vessel owned by the respondent States Marine Lines, Inc.

The vessel was docked up here in Tampa on navigable waters of United States.

His widow, the plaintiff Petsonella Moragne, or herself and her two minor children filed suit in the State Court in four counts.

Two counts under the States Wrongful Death Act and to claim damages under the Act.

One count in negligence to unseaworthiness.

And two counts under the States Survivor Act for damages of personal representative and for damages to the State.

The case was removed at the instance of States Marine Lines, Inc. to the Federal District Court in Tampa.

And then upon motions by both respondents, after a third party complaint was filed for indemnity by the ship owner against the stevedore.

The District Judge struck count two which had to with unseaworthiness and based his decision upon two cases of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the ground against A. Lusi Limited and Emerson against Holloway Concrete Products Company, which held that Florida common law applied and was applicable under the Florida Wrongful Death Statute.

One of these cases were decided in 1953, the other was decided with a vigorous dissent by Judge Brown in 1960, right after this Court came, issued its opinion in the Congress.

But the District Judge was concerned about the correctness of its ruling and pursuant to the appropriate rule, gave language in his opinion, which allowed us to petition for an interlocutory appeal to the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals granted our interlocutory appeal and then upon the request of the respondent States Marine Lines certified the question involved to the Florida Supreme Court.

The Florida Supreme Court held that the warranty of seaworthiness if that is not applicable under the Florida Wrongful Death Act.

We then requested the Court of Appeals to ignore this opinion on a certified question of the Florida Supreme Court and raise the constitutional questions which are here before this Court.

Argument was held, briefs were fully made to the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals took a considerable time working with the issue, and then finally in its opinion, said they felt nevertheless bound by the Tungus to accord to the Florida Supreme Court or the Florida Courts, the right to decide what substantive law was applicable to maritime deaths occurring on navigable waters of United States within the territorial limits of Florida.

Potter Stewart:

As I understand it, you brought your original action, the State Court.

Charles Hardee:

Yes sir.

Potter Stewart:

Under the State's Wrongful Death Act and under the State Survivor Act.

Charles Hardee:

Yes sir.

Potter Stewart:

And that it was removed by the defendant to the Federal Court solely on the basis of diversity jurisdiction.

Charles Hardee:

Yes sir, that's correct.

Potter Stewart:

Well, in view of that, I have a little trouble seeing what the Tungus or the Harrisburg or anything else, any of the those cases have, what bearing they have on this case, if this is a state action for a wrongful death, in the District Court only by reason of diversity and not by a reason of its admirably jurisdiction, doesn't Erie Railroad against Tompkins require that the District Court follow the state law, whatever it may be.

I'm aware of course, this Court asked you about the Harrisburg and asked the parties to brief it but -- so, if this is --

Charles Hardee:

Alright sir, let's assume that the injury had not resulted in death.

The case could -- would still had been removable for a personal injury not resulted in --