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U.S. Supreme Court

Cosmopolitan Shipping Co. v. McAllister, 337 U.S. 783 (1949)

Cosmopolitan Shipping Co. v. McAllister

No. 351

Argued February 1-2, 1949

Decided June 27, 1949

337 U.S. 783


A general agent employed by the United States under the terms of the war-time standard form of general agency agreement to manage certain phases of the business of a ship owned by the United States and operated by the War Shipping Administration is not liable under § 33 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, known as the Jones Act, to a member of the crew of the ship who suffered physical injury through the negligence of its master and officers, when the injury occurred after March 24, 1943, the date of enactment of the War Shipping Administration Act, known as the Clarification Act. Pp. 337 U. S. 785-801.

1. Rationale of Caldarola v. Eckert, 332 U. S. 155, followed; Hust v. Moore-McCormack Lines, 328 U. S. 707, overruled. Pp. 337 U. S. 787-794.

(a) The opinion in the Hust case misconceived the ruling of Brady v. Roosevelt S.S. Co., 317 U. S. 575, which decided no more, directly or by implication, than that an action could be maintained against agents of the United States at common law for the agents' own torts, and did not involve the right to recover against employers under the Jones Act. P. 337 U. S. 789.

(b) Neither the statutes relating to sailors' rights nor the history behind their enactment discloses any legislative purpose to create in seamen employees of the United States through the War Shipping Administration a right to enforce tort claims under the Jones Act against others than their employers, or any recognition that such right ever existed. Pp. 337 U. S. 789-790.

(c) A construction of the Jones Act carrying out the intention of Congress to grant certain new rights to seamen against their employers does not require or permit a holding that a general agent under the standard form of war-time general agency agreement is an employer under the Jones Act. Pp. 337 U. S. 790-791.

(d) Nothing in the Clarification Act of March 24, 1943, or its legislative history indicates a congressional purpose to do anything other than to extend existing rights of merchant seamen to all seamen employed through the War Shipping Administration. Pp. 337 U. S. 791-793.

Page 337 U. S. 784

2. The conclusion here reached is supported by a reexamination of the terms of the present standard service agreements, the actual conduct of the parties thereunder, and the purpose and effect of the agreements. Pp. 337 U. S. 794-801.

(a) An examination of the terms of the general agency agreement and the actual conduct of the parties thereunder demonstrates that the United States had retained for the entire voyage the possession, management, and navigation of the vessel and control of the ship's officers and crew to the exclusion of the general agent. Pp. 337 U. S. 795-796.

(b) The duties of the general agent were expressly and intentionally limited to those of a ship's husband, who has been engaged to take care of the shoreside business of the ship and who has no part in the actual management or navigation of the vessel. P. 337 U. S. 796.

(c) Under the standard service agreements, the shoreside services and administration of the merchant fleet were to be handled by existing private companies while the United States, through the master of the ship, retained full control over the navigation and physical operation of the vessel. Pp. 337 U. S. 796-798.

169 F.2d 4, reversed.

A member of the crew of a ship owned by the United States and operated by the War Shipping Administration obtained a judgment in a Federal District Court against a general agent employed by the United States to manage certain phases of the ship's business, for injuries sustained through the negligence of its master and officers. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 169 F.2d 4. This Court granted certiorari. 335 U.S. 870. Reversed, p. 337 U. S. 801.

Page 337 U. S. 785

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