MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
The petitioner was injured while working as a seaman for respondent on a vessel traveling between the United States and European ports, and spent a number of months in hospitals in Gdynia, Poland, and in the United States. He brought this suit in a Pennsylvania state court for damages pursuant to § 33 of the Merchant Marine (Jones) Act,
Petitioner attributed his condition to a blow by a hatch cover which allegedly fell on him through respondent's
The petitioner did execute a release for $100 several days after his return to this country. His testimony was that his discussion with respondent's claim agent took place while he was under the influence of drugs taken to allay the pain of his injury, that he was threatened with imprisonment if he did not sign as directed, and that he considered the $100 a payment of wages.
Upon this and much other evidence relating to the cause and extent of the injuries, the jury rendered a verdict for the petitioner for $3000 under the Jones Act, and $1000 for maintenance and cure.
Respondent made a motion for a new trial and judgment non obstante veredicto which under the Pennsylvania
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania took a somewhat different view. It held that in an action of this sort the Pennsylvania court was obligated "to apply the federal law creating the right of action in the same sense in which it would have been applied in the federal courts." However, it affirmed the judgment in the belief that the rule as to burden of proof on releases does not affect the substantive rights of the parties, but is merely procedural, and is therefore controlled by state law.
We do not have in this case an effort of the state court to enforce rights claimed to be rooted in state law. The petitioner's suit rested on asserted rights granted by federal law and the state courts so treated it. Jurisdiction of the state court to try this case rests solely upon § 33 of the Jones Act and upon statutes traceable to the Judiciary Act of 1789 which "in all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction" saves to suitors "the right of a common-law remedy where the common law is competent to give it."
There is no dearth of example of the obligation on law courts which attempt to enforce substantive rights arising from admiralty law to do so in a manner conforming to admiralty practice. Contributory negligence is not a barrier to a proceeding in admiralty or under the Jones Act, and the state courts are required to apply this rule in Jones
This Court has specifically held that the Jones Act is to have a uniform application throughout the country, unaffected by "local views of common law rules." Panama R. Co. v. Johnson, 264 U.S. 375, 392. The Act is based upon, and incorporates by reference, the Federal Employers' Liability Act, which also requires uniform interpretation. Second Employers' Liability Cases, 223 U.S. 1, 55 et seq. This uniformity requirement extends to the type of proof necessary for judgment. New Orleans & Northeastern R. Co. v. Harris, 247 U.S. 367.
In many other cases this Court has declared the necessary dominance of admiralty principles in actions in vindication of rights arising from admiralty law.
It must be remembered that the state courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the federal courts to try actions either under the Merchant Marine Act or in personam such as maintenance and cure. The source of the governing law applied is in the national, not the state, government.
II. A seaman in admiralty who attacks a release has no such burden imposed upon him as that to which the Pennsylvania rule subjects him. Our historic national policy, both legislative and judicial, points the other way. Congress has generally sought to safeguard seamen's rights. The first Congress, on July 20, 1790, passed a protective act for seamen in the merchant marine service, safeguarding wage contracts, providing summary remedies for their breach, and requiring shipowners to keep on board fresh medicines in condition for use. 1 Stat. 131. The fifth Congress, July 16, 1798, 1 Stat. 605, originated our present system of marine hospitals for disabled seamen. The language of Justice Story, sitting on Circuit in 1823, described the solicitude with which admiralty has traditionally viewed seamen's contracts:
"They are emphatically the wards of the admiralty; and though not technically incapable of entering into a valid contract, they are treated in the same manner as courts of equity are accustomed to treat young heirs, dealing with their expectancies, wards with their guardians, and cestuis que trustent with their trustees.. . . If there is any undue inequality in the terms, any disproportion in the bargain, any sacrifice of rights on one side, which are not compensated by extraordinary benefits on the other, the judicial interpretation of the transaction is that the bargain is unjust and unreasonable, that advantage has been taken of the situation of the weaker party, and that pro tanto the bargain ought to be set aside as inequitable. . . . And on every occasion the court expects to be satisfied, that the compensation for every material alteration is entirely adequate to the diminution
In keeping with this policy, Congress has itself acted concerning seamen's releases in respect to wages by providing that a release for wages must be signed by a seaman in the presence of a shipping commissioner, and that, even then, "any court having jurisdiction may on good cause shown set aside such release and take such action as justice shall require."
The analogy suggested by Justice Story, in the paragraph quoted above, between seamen's contracts and those of fiduciaries and beneficiaries remains, under the prevailing rule treating seamen as wards of admiralty, a close one. Whether the transaction under consideration is a contract, sale, or gift between guardian and ward or between trustee and cestui, the burden of proving its validity is on the fiduciary. He must affirmatively show that no advantage has been taken; and his burden is particularly heavy where there has been inadequacy of consideration.
The wardship theory has, as was recognized by the courts below, marked consequence on the treatment
This general admiralty rule applies not only to actions for maintenance and cure but also to actions under § 33 of the Merchant Marine Act. That law is to be liberally construed to carry out its full purpose, which was to enlarge admiralty's protection to its wards. Warner v. Goltra, 293 U.S. 155, 156, 162; The Arizona v. Anelich, 298 U.S. 110, 123. Being an integral part of the maritime law, rights fashioned by it are to be implemented by admiralty rules not inconsistent with the Act. Socony-Vacuum Co. v. Smith, 305 U.S. 424, 430.
III. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has concluded that in solving problems of procedural, as distinguished from substantive, law, the law court may apply its own doctrine; and that the locus of burden of proof presents a procedural rather than a substantive question.