Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Stewart v Dutra Construction case brief

Stewart v Dutra Construction case brief summary
Supreme Court of the US, 2005, Justice Thomas

Facts
  • The commonwealth of Massachusetts undertook to extend the Massachusetts Trunpike through a tunnel running beneath South Boston and Boston Harbor to Logan Airport.
  • The commonwealth employed respondent Dutra Construction to assist in that undertaking.
  • Dutra owned the world’s larger dredge, The Super Scoop.
  • The Super Scoop is a massive floating platform from which a clamshell bucket is suspended beneath the water.
  • The Super Scoop has some common characteristics to seagoing vessels, such as a captain, crew, navigational lights, ballast tanks and a crew dining area, but it lacks others such as limited means of self-propulsion.
  • Dutra hired Willard Stewart, a marine engineer, to maintain the mechanical systems on the Super Scoop.
  • Stewart was feeding wires through an open hatch located about 10 feet above the engine area.
  • While Stewart was perched beside the hatch, the Super Scoop used its bucket to move the scow.
  • In the process, the scow collided with the Super Scoop, causing a jolt that plunged Stewart headfirst through the hatch to the deck below.
  • He was seriously injured.
  • Stewart sued on two grounds: as a Jones Act crew member and alternatively as a waterfront worker uner LHWCA.
Issue
Whether the Super Scoop was a vessel at the time of the accident?

Holding
  • Since the Super Scoop was engaged in maritime transportation at the time of Stewart’s injury, it was a vessel within the meaning of section 3.
Rationale
  • Seaman: the worker must have a relationship to a vessel in order to be a “master or member” of its crew.
    • Maritime worker under the Jones Act: in order to qualify as a “seaman” under the Jones act, a maritime worker must also prove that his duties contributed to the vessel’s function or mission and that his connection to the vessel was substantial both in nature and in duration.
  • Vessel: Jones Act didn’t define either seaman or the term vessel.
    • At the time of the LHWCA enactment, section 1 and 3 of the Revised Statutes of 1873 specified:
      • The word vessel includes every description of water-craft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.
      • A structure’s status under section 3 depended on whether the structure was a means of maritime transportation.
      • Section 3 wouldn’t sweep within its reach an array of fixed structures not commonly thought of as capable of being used for water transport.
      • Structures may loose their character as vessels if they have been withdrawn from water for extended periods of time.
    • Prior to LHWCA and the Jones Act, courts had concluded that a dredge was a vessel.
    • A watercraft is not capable of being used for maritime transport in any meaningful sense if it has been permanently moored or otherwise rendered practically incapable of transportation or movement.
    • Section 3 requires that a watercraft be “used or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water” to qualify as a vessel, it doesn’t require that the watercraft be used primarily for that purpose.
      • The Super Scoop was used to transport equipment on water.
      • It wasn’t taken out of service, permanently anchored or otherwise rendered practically incapable or maritime transport.
      • Also, a watercraft doesn’t need to be in motion to qualify as a vessel.
  • Even though Super Scoop is a vessel, workers injured on board of it are eligible for seaman status only if they are “masters or members” of the crew.
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