LAURITZEN V. LARSEN, 345 U. S. 571 (1953)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Lauritzen v. Larsen, 345 U.S. 571 (1953)

Lauritzen v. Larsen

No. 226

Argued January 6, 1953

Decided May 25, 1953

345 U.S. 571


1. In this suit in personam under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 688, in a federal district court in New York, by a foreign seaman against a foreign shipowner for an injury sustained in a foreign port, process was served on defendant in New York and defendant appeared generally and answered.

Held: the court had jurisdiction to determine whether the asserted cause of action was well founded. Pp. 345 U. S. 574-575.

2. While temporarily in New York, a Danish seaman joined the crew of a ship of Danish flag and registry owned by a Danish citizen. The seaman signed ship's articles providing that the rights of crew members would be governed by Danish law and by the employer's contract with the Danish Seamen's Union, of which the seaman was a member. He was negligently injured aboard the ship, in the course of his employment, while in Havana harbor. He sued the ship's owner in a federal district court in New York for damages under the Jones Act.

Held: the Jones Act was inapplicable. Pp. 345 U. S. 573-593.

(a) Allowance of an additional remedy under the Jones Act would conflict sharply with the policy and letter of Danish law. Pp. 345 U. S. 575-576.

(b) By usage as old as the Nation, shipping laws of the United States written in all-inclusive general terms have been construed to apply only to areas and transactions in which American law would be considered operative under prevalent doctrines of international law. Pp. 345 U. S. 576-579.

(c) The locality test affords no support for the application of American law in this case, since the injury occurred on a Danish ship in Cuban waters. Pp. 345 U. S. 583-584.

(d) It is settled American doctrine that the law of the flag governs all matters of discipline on a ship and all things done on board which affect only the ship and those belonging to her, and which do not involve the peace and dignity of the country or the tranquillity of the port. Pp. 345 U. S. 584-586.

(e) The seaman's presence in New York was transitory, and created no such national interest in, or duty toward, him as to justify application of the Jones Act. Pp. 345 U. S. 586-587.

Page 345 U. S. 572

(f) The utmost liberality in disregarding the formality of a ship's registration in a country other than that of the allegiance of its owner does not support application of American law in this case. Pp. 345 U. S. 587-588.

(g) That the contract of employment was made in New York does not require a different result, since the place of contract is not a substantial influence in the choice between competing laws to govern a maritime tort, and the contract itself validly provided for application of Danish law. Pp. 345 U. S. 587-589.

(h) Justice does not require adjudication of this case under American law to save this seaman expense and loss of time in returning to a foreign forum. Pp. 345 U. S. 589-590.

(i) That an American forum has perfected its jurisdiction over the parties and that the defendant does frequent and regular business in the forum state does not justify application of the law of the forum in this case. Pp. 345 U. S. 590-593.

196 F.2d 220, reversed.

A federal district court awarded respondent a judgment against petitioner for damages under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 688. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 196 F.2d 220. This Court granted certiorari. 344 U.S. 810. Reversed and remanded, p. 345 U. S. 593.

Page 345 U. S. 573

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