Patterson v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

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

CITATION: 359 US 495 (1959)
ARGUED: Apr 21, 1959
DECIDED: May 18, 1959

Facts of the case


Media for Patterson v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 21, 1959 in Patterson v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 429, James S. Patterson, General Administrator for Mobile County Alabama, et al, versus United States of America.

Mr. Rassner.

Jacob Rassner:

Mr. Chief Justice, Associate Justices, the Supreme Court.

I'm indebted to this Court for the privilege of coming here to present a problem which has played the merchant marine industry for many years with the hope that the expression by this Court may help us meet some of the problems which meet -- meets our -- our everyday lives not only those representing the seamen but also representing the shipowners and the U.S. Government.

Mindfully aware of the fact that this problem has been presented to this Court some 10 years ago in the Johansen and the Mendel cases.

But at that time, it seems that a reading of the cases and the opinions from the District Courts up including this Honorable nor these body's reports on the various items that were considered that the problem was considered as separate, unilateral matters instead of taking the entire field, entire material, in determining where are we heading and are we adding confusion to turmoil?

We must consider the problem from its very beginning.

The United States Government when it first started to operate vessels did so solely for the purpose of creating a -- an auxiliary to its defense.

But it went beyond that and went into business, the same as the man who was selling dresses on the corner store.

We are now concerned with the question of whether the Government having gone into the business of merchandizing or manufacturing shall receive special privileges over and beyond that accorded to the man next door.

If the Government opens the store on one corner, does the Government get special privilege over and beyond that of the man who is opening the same identical store on the adjourning corner?

And if this Court says yes, that's the end of it.

And if this Court says no, that also was the end of it but at least we are entitled to know how this Court feels about it.

The Clarification Acts of Congress in dealing with these problems have seemed to add confusion rather than help us by --

Felix Frankfurter:

You don't want us to take over their job, do you?

Jacob Rassner:

I certainly wish we could, the answer to Your Honor's question is, yes, (Inaudible) which has mean nothing.

But I'm answering, Mr. Justice Frankfurter, your question directly, I wish you could.

At least, we get some -- some idea of what is meant by the words of the English language as used to be so-called.

And I use the expression so-called advisedly Clarification Acts.

Now, where do we start?

With the United States Government first went into the business of the merchant marine back in 1916 with the Shipping Act pursuant to the provisions of which the Emergency Fleet Corporation was created then we had all the troubles that this Court was fully aware of where our vessels were seized and then we have the flag case where this Court held that an action in rem would lie against the vessels although the Government had not waived sovereign immunity.

Then we had the Public Vessels Act, the suits in Admiralty Act followed by the Public Vessels Act which took away the right to libel the vessels in rem but did create a new light, that is an action in personam against the government.

We went from there to various corporations, companies, and entities which were formed like the mechanical division of the Panama Canal.

Then we have the Inland Waterways Corporation, the War Shipping Administration, all makeshift means and methods of meeting sudden emergencies.

And all of these were created for a temporary time to meet an immediate need but never was it intended that the U.S. Government should go into the business permanently of being a merchant shipper.As these different entities were formed and then changed from one to the other, the mechanical division of the Panama Canal was taken over by the Panama Canal Corporation.

The Inland Waterways Corporation was taken over by the Department of Commerce in 1939.

The War Shipping Administration had -- was ended and its functions were taken over by the Maritime Commission for liquidation and the Department of Commerce.

And as -- they were changes from time to time, we have played their troubles.

Now, we didn't know -- we just don't know where to go that's why we're here.

We want to know what -- what are we to do?