Stewart v. Dutra Construction Company

PETITIONER: Willard Stewart
RESPONDENT: Dutra Construction Company
LOCATION: Texas State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 03-814
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 543 US 481 (2005)
GRANTED: Feb 23, 2004
ARGUED: Nov 01, 2004
DECIDED: Feb 22, 2005

David B. Kaplan - argued the cause for Petitioner
Frederick E. Connelly, Jr. - argued the cause for Respondent
Lisa Schiavo Blatt -
Lisa S. Blatt - argued the cause for Petitioner, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae

Facts of the case

Willard Stewart was injured while working on a dredge (a machine for underwater digging) for Dutra, a dredging company. Stewart alleged Dutra was negligent and sued the company in federal district court under the Jones Act. The district court ruled a dredge is not a "vessel in navigation" as defined by the Jones Act and therefore Stewart could not sue under the act. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.


Is a dredge a "vessel" under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA)?

Media for Stewart v. Dutra Construction Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 01, 2004 in Stewart v. Dutra Construction Company

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 22, 2005 in Stewart v. Dutra Construction Company

Sandra Day O'Connor:

The opinion of the Court in Stewart versus Dutra Construction Company will be announced by Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

As part of the project to extend the Massachusetts Turnpike, respondent Dutra Construction Company dug a trench beneath the Boston Harbor using its dredge named the Super Scoop.

The Super Scoop is a floating platform with the bucket beneath it that removes silt from the ocean floor and dumps it onto adjacent scows.

The Super Scoop has limited means of self-propulsion but can navigate short distances using its anchors and cables.

When dredging the trench here it, it typically moved once every couple of hours, petitioner Willard Stewart worked for Dutra as a marine engineer aboard the Super Scoop.

Stewart was injured when the Super Scoop and one of its scows collided.

He sued Dutra under the Jones Act claiming that he was a seaman injure by Dutra’s negligence.

The District Court granted summary judgment to Dutra and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

In an opinion filed with Clerk today, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case with further proceedings.

The test for whether Stewart was a seaman under the Jones Act appears in the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act which defines a seaman as a master or member of a crew of any vessel.

There is no question that Stewart was a member of the Super Scoop crew.

The only question is whether the Super Scoop is a vessel.

We hold that it is.

At the time, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act was enacted in 1927 Section 3 of the Revised Statute of 1873 supplied a default definition of the term vessel.

Section 3's definition now codified as 1 U.S.C. Section 3 has remained virtually unchanged to the present day.

It defines a vessel as any watercraft used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.

Dredges have consistently been considered watercraft capable of maritime transportation.

Now, as in the past, dredges like the Super Scoop carried machinery, equipment, and a crew over water in performing their work.

Thus, for the past 120 years, this Court and lower courts have looked to Sections 3's definition when interpreting the maritime statutes, and they have uniformly treated dredges as vessels within the meaning of Section 3.

The Court of Appeals held that the Super Scoop was not a vessel because its primarily purpose was not navigation or commerce, and because it was not an actual transit at the time of Stewart’s injury.

Section 3 requires neither.

Section 3 requires only that a watercraft be used or capable of being used for maritime transportation not that it be used primarily for that purpose, nor that does a watercraft passed in and out of Jones Act coverage depending on whether it is motionless or moving at any given moment.

A vessel is no less capable of being used as a means of transportation when it is at anchored docked for loading or berthed for repairs.

Because the Super Scoop was engaged in maritime transportation when Stewart was injured it was a vessel and thus, Stewart was a seaman eligible for recovery under the Jones Act.

The opinion of the Court is unanimous.

The Chief Justice took no part in the decision of this case.