Nacirema Operating Company, Inc. v. Johnson

PETITIONER: Nacirema Operating Co. Inc. and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company
RESPONDENT: William H. Johnson, Julia T. Kloseck, and Albert Avery
LOCATION: Bethlehem Steel Corp. High Pier

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1969-1970)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 396 US 212 (1969)
ARGUED: Mar 25, 1969 / Oct 20, 1696
REARGUED: Oct 20, 1969
DECIDED: Dec 09, 1969

Erwin N. Griswold - Solicitor General argued the case for the petitioners in No. 16
John J. O'Connor, Jr. - For the Respondents Johnson et al.
Randall C. Coleman - For the Petitioners in No. 9
Ralph Rabinowitz - For the Respondent Avery

Facts of the case

These are two consolidated cases involving the same Respondents. William Johnson and Jonathan Klosek (husband of Julia Klosek) were employed by Nacirema Operating Company as longshoremen and Albert Avery was employed by Old Dominion Stevedoring Company. Johnson and Avery were injured and Klosek was killed during separate accidents that occurred while on the dock unloading a ship. The Deputy Commissioners of the United States Department of Labor denied claims by the men and their families under the Longshoremen’s and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act (the Act) because the injuries did not occur “upon the navigable waters of the United States” as required under the Act. The district court upheld those decisions and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed.


Are injuries to longshoremen that occur on piers permanently affixed to shore compensable under the Longshoremen’s and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act?

Media for Nacirema Operating Company, Inc. v. Johnson

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 20, 1969 in Nacirema Operating Company, Inc. v. Johnson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 25, 1969 in Nacirema Operating Company, Inc. v. Johnson

Earl Warren:

Number 528, Nacirema Operating Company Inc., petitioners versus William H. Johnson et al case.

Yes, and number 663, John P. Traynor and Jerry C. Oosting, Deputy Commissioners, petitioners versus William H. Johnson.

Mr. Coleman?

Randall C. Coleman:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The issues before the Court today are whether pier injuries to longshoreman are injuries which occurred on navigable waters of the United States and are thus within the coverage of the Longshoreman's Act.

That question was answered in the affirmative by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and therefore as one of the reasons that the Fourth Circuit decided the case affirmatively was that the Admiralty Extension Act broadened and expanded the coverage of the Longshoreman's Act.

The Court will also have before it the Admiralty Extension Act and whether or not it did in fact extend the coverage to the Longshoreman's Act.

The facts in the case are undisputed and I will give them, Your Honors together with the history of the case.

These consolidated cases arose from pier injuries to three longshoremen.

One of the injuries resulted in the death of the longshoreman.

The cases arose, two of them, William Johnson and Joseph Klosek arose in Maryland and one Albert Avery arose in Virginia.

They were pier injuries under virtually identical circumstances because all three of the longshoremen involved were, what is known as slingers.

They worked and were working at the time of the injuries in gondola cars on piers.

They were slinging on cargo which was attached to ships' falls or cables which then loaded the cargo which was being slung on to the vessel.

The piers in the -- well the pier in the Maryland case was on the Patapsco River.

It extended out into that river approximately 600 feet, I believe, and there's no question that the Patapsco River is navigable waters of the United States.

The pier in the Virginia case, city piers of north of Virginia extended I think about a thousand feet into the Elizabeth River.

There's also no dispute that the Elizabeth River is on navigable waters of the United States.

It was found as a fact and not disputed that these longshoremen in both cases might have been working on the pier at one time.

They might also have gone aboard the vessel.

They sometimes switched positions.

It is also found as a fact and undisputed that these particular piers were piers which were erected on pilings.

And certain small craft could get under them, and I think canoes and rowboats were named. Large vessels could not because the piers instructed them.

The Deputy Commissioner Oosting in Virginia and Deputy Commissioner Traynor in Maryland both found that the injuries to these men which resulted when cargo swung against the men, in the case of Joseph Klosek, he was knocked out off the gondola car to the dock and sustained fatal injuries.

The other two men Johnson and Avery were pinned against the side of the railroad car.

The Deputy Commissioner found that those injuries, both Deputy Commissioners, found that those injuries were injuries which did not occur upon navigable waters.

The opinions of both the Deputy Commissioners were then appealed to the district courts first to the Eastern District of Virginia and to the District Court for the District of Maryland.

And the district judges, Judge Hoffman from the Eastern District of Virginia, Judge Watkins from the District of Maryland affirmed the findings of the Deputy Commissioner.

The cases were then appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

They were first, the Avery case and the Johnson and Klosek cases were first argued in separate panels, and after that they were consolidated and the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit en banc heard all three cases.