West v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Fleetwood Paving Co.

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

CITATION: 361 US 118 (1959)
ARGUED: Nov 12, 1959
DECIDED: Dec 07, 1959

Facts of the case


Media for West v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 12, 1959 in West v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 11 Edgar, Allen West, Petitioner, versus United States of America, et al.

Mr. Freedman you may commence or then whenever you're ready.

Abraham E. Freedman:

Thank you.

Thank you, sir.

Earl Warren:

So it's clear, really?

Abraham E. Freedman:

May it please the Court, there are two basic issues in -- in this case.

The first is whether or not the warranty of seaworthiness attaches so an injured maritime worker working on a vessel which is being prepared for sea.

There are some facets to that, but that basically is the first issue which relates to the maritime -- with the warranty of seaworthiness.

The second issue relates to negligence and it's whether or not the shipowner, when he lets out his barge or his vessel for repairs or for any overhauling, anything of that sort whether he is under a duty under his nondelegable duty to see that the work is carried on safely or if he leaves it to the contractor whether under that same nondelegable duty, he is responsible for the negligence of the contractor, so that we have in this case the two issues; one, based on the warranty and the other in terms of negligence.

Coupled with either or both of these theories, there is the duty to provide a safe place to work and we say that it is embraced primarily in the warranty of seaworthiness although it is also a part of the duty with respect to negligence also.

I will touch on those as we come to them, sir.

Briefly, the important facts in the case are these.

The Government had a vessel called the Mary Austin laid up in what they called a “moth-ball fleet” in Norfolk, Virginia.

In 1951, the Government decided to take the vessel out of the laid-up status, and to prepare it for sea.

Those were the words in the contract.

There was no doubt about the fact that the vessel was to be prepared for sea.

And it drew up a series of specifications which are of importance in determining the nature of the work which is to be done because that basically determines the duties which are to be attached here.

The work involved not in any respect any major structural repairs.

Indeed, they involved no structural repairs whatever.

They involved overhauling of the vessel, cleaning, and maintenance cleaning out the pipes and so on which had been drained of water during this period of lay-up.

This vessel, the Mary Austin was taken from its laid-up status in Norfolk, taken out and then towed or I should say navigated.

It's just as much navigated when it's towed as a dead vessel as it is when it's -- when it proceeds under its power over the high seas.

It was navigated under tow from Norfolk, Virginia out the Chesapeake Bay, then along the East Coast and up the Delaware Bay into Philadelphia where it was moored to a pier.

There were two or three piers where it was shipped but it went to another but that's not -- it's not important that we demonstrate that at this point because we have already demonstrated, she was in navigation.

She was towed all the way up from Norfolk and then put at this pier for these repairs.

The repairs were extensive only in the sense that they involved a great deal of the same type of repairs.

There was, I think $142,000 bid for the contract.

That was the contractor, bid that and got the contract.

However, as Your Honors will see from a -- an examination of the contract itself which is in evidence that there was not -- that were not in any respect any structural repairs as I -- and as I said let alone major structural repairs which is an important aspect of this case.

Now, the vessel was manned from the time she left Norfolk with a crew of six men, a captain, two mates, two engineers, and a steward who apparently did the cooking for the others.