PANAMA R. CO. V. JOHNSON, 264 U. S. 375 (1924)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Panama R. Co. v. Johnson, 264 U.S. 375 (1924)

Panama Railroad Company v. Johnson

No. 369

Argued December 7, 1923

Decided April 7, 1924

264 U.S. 375


1. As a general rule, where existing legislation on a particular subject has been systematically revised and restated in a comprehensive general statute such as the Judicial Code, subsequent enactments touching that subject are to be construed and applied in harmony with the general statute, save as they clearly manifest a different purpose. P. 264 U. S. 383.

2. Section 20 of the Act of March 4, 1915, as amended June 5, 1920, which allows a seaman suffering personal injury in his employment to sue his employer for damages, declares that "jurisdiction in such actions shall be under the court of the district in which the defendant employer resides or in which his principal office is located." Held that the quoted provision (construed with Jud.Code, §§ 24 and 51) relates only to venue, conferring a personal privilege which a defendant may waive if he enters a general appearance before or without claiming it. Id.

3. Section 2 of Art. III of the Constitution, in extending the judicial power of the United States to "all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction," by implication made the admiralty and maritime law the law of the United States subject to power in Congress to alter, qualify or supplement it as experience or changing conditions might require. P. 264 U. S. 385.

4. This power of Congress extends to the entire subject, substantive and procedural, and permits of the exercise of a wide discretion, though subject to well recognized limitations, one of which is that there are boundaries to the maritime law and admiralty jurisdiction which cannot be altered by legislation, and another, that the enactments, when not relating to matters whose existence or influence is confined to a more limited field, shall be coextensive with, and operate uniformly in, the whole of the United States. P. 264 U. S. 386.

5. The Act of March 4, 1915, § 20, as amended, provides that any seaman suffering personal injury in the course of his employment may, at his election, maintain an action at law, with the right of trial by jury,

"and, in such action, all statutes of the United States modifying or extending the common law right or remedy in cases of personal injury to railway employees shall apply. "

Page 264 U. S. 376


(a) The statute is not objectionable as an attempted withdrawal of subject matter from the reach of the maritime law, but is a permissible addition to that law of new rules concerning the rights and obligations of seamen and their employers. P. 264 U. S. 388.

(b) Congress has power to make maritime rules in relative conformity to the common law or its modifications, and to permit enforcement of rights thereunder through proceedings in personam, according to the course of the common law on the common law side of the courts. Id.

(c) The statute is not to be construed as restricting enforcement of the new rights to actions at law (which might mean an unconstitutional encroachment on the maritime jurisdiction), but as allowing the injured seaman to assert his right of action under it either on the common law side, with right of trial by jury, or on the admiralty side, with trial to the court. P. 264 U. S. 389.

(d) A statute may adopt the provisions of other statutes by reference. P. 264 U. S. 391.

(e) The reference in the above statute is to the Federal Employers Liability Act and its amendments. Id.

(f) The statute, with the legislation it incorporates by reference, has the uniformity required of maritime enactments. P. 264 U. S. 392.

(g) The statute does not conflict with the Fifth Amendment in permitting injured seamen to elect between varying measures of redress and different forms of action without according a corresponding right to their employers. Id.

289 F.9d 4 affirmed.

Error to a judgment of the circuit court of appeals affirming a judgment entered in the District Court for the Eastern District of New York on a verdict recovered by the plaintiff, Johnson, as damages resulting from personal injuries sustained at sea in the course of his employment by the defendant railroad company as a seaman. The action was based on § 20 of the Act of March 4, 1915, c. 153, 38 Stat. 1185, as amended by 33 of the Act of June 5, 1920, c. 250, 41 Stat. 1007.

Page 264 U. S. 382

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