Victory Carriers, Inc. v. Law

PETITIONER: Victory Carriers, Inc.
LOCATION: Bay Marchand Area

DOCKET NO.: 70-54
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1971-1972)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 404 US 202 (1971)
ARGUED: Oct 18, 1971 / Oct 19, 1971
DECIDED: Dec 13, 1971

Ross Diamond, Jr. - for the respondent
W. Boyd Reeves - for the petitioners

Facts of the case


Media for Victory Carriers, Inc. v. Law

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 19, 1971 in Victory Carriers, Inc. v. Law

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 18, 1971 in Victory Carriers, Inc. v. Law

William O. Douglas:

Number 70-54, Victory Carriers Incorporate versus Law.

Mr. Reeves.

W. Boyd Reeves:

Mr. Justice Douglas, may it please the Court.

The issue presented in this case is whether a vessel of warranty of seaworthiness extends to a forklift machine which is operated explicitly upon the dock by an operator who does go aboard the vessel and who is injured by reason of some defect or fault in the lift machine as opposed to any part of the vessel, its gear or personnel causing the accident.

The facts of this case are not in serious dispute and are relatively simple.

The respondent Bill Law who was an employee, a petitioner, Gulf Stevedore Corporation, was operating a forklift machine on the dock moving a cargo of airplane landing match from the dockside storage point to a point approximately –- to a point along side the vessel where he would put them down and they would subsequently be loaded on board the vessel.

When Mr. Law was approximately 50 feet away from the vessel on the dock, the overhead protection rack or as the longshoreman commonly referred to it as the headache rack became loose and struck him on the back of his head.

Now, there is no question but none of the vessel’s gear or its equipment or cargo caused the rack become loose.

It fell because of some defect within the rack.

However, the District Court did not consider whether it was defective or not to be determitive or material to the question presented because after Mr. Law’s deposition was taken, all parties moved for summary judgment in their flavor.

The vessel and stevedore that was impleaded by the vessel and also the plaintiff, longshoreman himself.

The District Court granted the summary judgment motion of the vessel and of the stevedore and denied the motion of plaintiff.

And on appeal, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal reversed and held that Mr. Law was in the service of the vessel that the lift machine was in fact in appurtenance of the vessel although it was not used on the vessel.

And that Mr. Law was therefore entitled to the warranty of seaworthiness.

Now, the Appellate Court made no consideration of the extension of Admiralty Jurisdiction Act and as the respondent has pointed out in this brief, this issue was not raised in the Court of Appeals until the time of oral argument and then again after the ruling in the petition for a rehearing which was denied by the Lower Court.

One of the reasons it was not raised was because of some question as to exactly what the extension of Admiralty Jurisdiction Act meant.

The -- after briefs were filed in this case in the Fifth Circuit and before the Court’s opinion came out, this Court decided Nacirema Operating Company versus Johnson which admittedly was concerned with the question of whether the Longshoremen and Harbor Workers' Act extended to an injury which occurred on the dock.

There the Court discussed the Extension Act and said that there is much to be said but a uniform treatment of longshoreman injured while loading or unloading the ship.

But even construing the Extension Act to amend the Longshoreman’s Act would not affect this result since the longshoreman injured on the pier by pier-based equipment would still remain outside the Act.

Now, in Gutierrez versus Waterman, this Court also considered the Extension Act and concluded there that there was maritime jurisdiction under the act when the ship owner committed a tort while the ship was being unloaded and the impact of that tort was still ashore, at the time and place not remote from the Act.

If the Court will remember, Gutierrez involved defective containers, their bean bags was permitted, beans to be spilled out onto the dock as they were being discharged.

The Court concluded that the act of the vessel was its defective cargo containers and this was felt ashore and caused the injury.

That case is understandable, but in our case, the vessel played no part in the plaintiff’s injury as he was injured solely on the dock by this shore-based equipment which never went aboard the vessel.

Now, there is one question and I will get into this as part of the other argument as to -- if in fact the lift machine became an appurtenance of the vessel, if in fact it was defective, then would it not come on to the Extension Act.

I submit to the Court that this lift machine never became an appurtenance of this vessel or severally there is a -- well, let me back up just for minute because the Fifth Circuit said that the lift machine became an appurtenance of the vessel relying on this Court’s decisions of Alaska Steamship Company versus Petterson.

Whereas where this Court held that when the stevedore brings equipment aboard the vessel to be used in the discharging, the loading operation, it becomes an integral part of the ship’s equipment and if it is defective then the vessel was responsible for it.

Alright, subsequent Lower Court decisions, the Deffes versus Federal Barge Lines case out of the Fifth Circuit held that a marine leg that was shore based and ran into a barge, if it was defective, then that made the barge defective.

The Ninth Circuit in Huff versus Matson, the Third Circuit in Spann versus Lauritzen has held similarly.

But in all of those cases, there was involved gantries or conveyors or (Inaudible) or something that connected the vessel with the shore-based equipment.

In our case, there was nothing to connect the lift machine with the vessel.