The question before us arises in an admiralty proceeding by a seaman against his employer to recover wages earned on a merchant vessel of United States registry. The question is whether the employer may set off against the seaman's wages its expenditures for the medical care and hospitalization of another member of the crew necessitated by injuries inflicted on him by the seaman, without justification, during the voyage on which the wages were earned. For the reasons hereafter stated we hold that it may not do so.
In 1948, respondent, Johnson, was employed by petitioner, Isbrandtsen Company, Inc., as a messman on a foreign voyage of a vessel of United States registry, chartered by petitioner. On April 21, while the vessel was on its course in the Pacific, Johnson, without justification, stabbed Brandon, another member of the crew. He injured Brandon so severely that petitioner found it necessary to divert its vessel from its course in order to hospitalize Brandon on the Island of Tonga. Johnson makes no claim for wages earned after April 21. However, when discharged in Philadelphia, May 31, 1948, Johnson claimed $439.27 as earned wages due him above all deductions, without making allowance for any expenditures made by petitioner for the care or hospitalization of Brandon. When petitioner refused to pay Johnson anything, he filed a libel and complaint in the United States District Court to recover the balance due on his earned wages, plus interest, transportation to Seattle (his port of signing on) and double wages for each day of unlawful delay in the payment of the sum due.
The District Court disallowed petitioner's counterclaim and entered judgment for respondent's earned wages and transportation allowance, plus interest and costs. It disallowed respondent's claim for double wages.
Petitioner cites several early lower court decisions which allowed a set-off against a seaman's suit for wages. These were largely rendered before the Shipping Commissioners Act of 1872 or rendered later without discussion of that or subsequent legislation.
For the purposes of this case, we may assume that petitioner owed Brandon the legal duty to provide him with the medical care and hospitalization which it provided and also owed him the duty to divert its vessel from its course to secure his hospitalization at Tonga. Aguilar v. Standard Oil Co., 318 U.S. 724, 730, 732-736. See Cortes v. Baltimore Insular Line, 287 U.S. 367, 375; Alpha S. S. Corp. v. Cain, 281 U.S. 642; Jamison v. Encarnacion, 281 U.S. 635. Also, we may assume, without deciding, that respondent owed petitioner an obligation to reimburse petitioner for the expense which he thus thrust upon it by his unjustified attack upon a fellow seaman.
Whenever congressional legislation in aid of seamen has been considered here since 1872, this Court has emphasized that such legislation is largely remedial and calls for liberal interpretation in favor of the seamen. The history and scope of the legislation is reviewed in Aguilar v. Standard Oil Co., 318 U.S. 724, 727-735, and notes. "Our historic national policy, both legislative and judicial, points the other way [from burdening seamen]. Congress has generally sought to safeguard seamen's rights." Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co., 317 U.S. 239, 246. "[T]he maritime law by inveterate tradition has made the ordinary seaman a member of a favored class. He is a `ward of the admiralty,' often ignorant and helpless, and so in need of protection against himself as well as others. . . . Discrimination may thus be rational in respect of remedies for wages." Warner v. Goltra, 293 U.S. 155,
Statutes which invade the common law or the general maritime law are to be read with a presumption favoring the retention of long-established and familiar principles, except when a statutory purpose to the contrary is evident. No rule of construction precludes giving a natural meaning to legislation like this that obviously is of a remedial, beneficial and amendatory character. It should be interpreted so as to effect its purpose. Marine legislation, at least since the Shipping Commissioners Act of June 7, 1872, 17 Stat. 262, should be construed to make effective its design to change the general maritime law so as to improve the lot of seamen. "The rule that statutes in derogation of the common law are to be strictly construed does not require such an adherence to the letter as would defeat an obvious legislative purpose or lessen the scope plainly intended to be given to the measure." Jamison v. Encarnacion, 281 U.S. 635, 640; Texas & P. R. Co. v. Abilene Cotton Oil Co., 204 U.S. 426, 437, 440.
In the specific area of a seaman's right to collect his earned wages promptly upon discharge, § 61 of the Shipping Commissioners Act provided that "no wages due or accruing to any seaman or apprentice shall be subject to attachment or arrestment from any court; . . . ." 17 Stat. 276, R. S. § 4536, 38 Stat. 1169, 46 U. S. C. § 601. The full force of this became evident when this Court, in 1908, interpreted "attachment" and "arrestment" to mean that the Act prohibits the seizure of a seaman's earned wages even by levying execution against them to collect valid judgments. Wilder v. Inter-Island Navigation Co., 211 U.S. 239; see 1 Norris, The Law of Seamen (1951), 347-350.
Congressional legislation now touches nearly every phase of a seaman's life. It concerns itself with his personal safety, comfort and health in many ways not necessary to review here. It deals specifically with his shipping articles and the payment to him of his wages. It insures generally a partial payment to him of his wages at each port where his vessel loads or delivers cargo. It
There is little substance to the suggestion that the expenses at issue can be brought within the statutorily recognized "forfeitures." Assuming that Johnson's attack amounted to a breach of general discipline, it hardly amounted to "willful disobedience to any lawful command at sea . . . ." R. S. § 4596, Fourth.
From this, we conclude that Congress has preempted the area relating to deductions and set-offs based upon derelictions of duty as against a seaman's claim to his
Accordingly, the judgment is
MR. JUSTICE JACKSON dissents.
"In my dealings with seamen, a class with whom I come in frequent contact, I find that they are perhaps better educated and better dressed than their fellows of a century ago, but, in general, as improvident and prone to the extremes of trust and suspicion as their forebears who ranged the seas, but withal a likeable lot." 1 Norris, The Law of Seamen (1951), Preface.
"First. For desertion, by forfeiture of all or any part of the clothes or effects he leaves on board and of all or any part of the wages or emoluments which he has then earned.
"Second. For neglecting or refusing without reasonable cause to join his vessel or to proceed to sea in his vessel, or for absence without leave at any time within twenty-four hours of the vessel's sailing from any port, either at the commencement or during the progress of the voyage, or for absence at any time without leave and without sufficient reason from his vessel and from his duty, not amounting to desertion, by forfeiture from his wages of not more than two days' pay or sufficient to defray any expenses which shall have been properly incurred in hiring a substitute.
"Third. For quitting the vessel without leave, after her arrival at the port of her delivery and before she is placed in security, by forfeiture from his wages of not more than one month's pay.
"Fourth. For willful disobedience to any lawful command at sea, by being, at the option of the master, placed in irons until such disobedience shall cease, and upon arrival in port by forfeiture from his wages of not more than four days' pay, or, at the discretion of the court, by imprisonment for not more than one month.
"Fifth. For continued willful disobedience to lawful command or continued willful neglect of duty at sea, by being, at the option of the master, placed in irons, on bread and water, with full rations every fifth day, until such disobedience shall cease, and upon arrival in port by forfeiture, for every twenty-four hours' continuance of such disobedience or neglect, of a sum of not more than twelve days' pay, or by imprisonment for not more than three months, at the discretion of the court.
"Sixth. For assaulting any master, mate, pilot, engineer, or staff officer, by imprisonment for not more than two years.
"Seventh. For willfully damaging the vessel, or embezzling or willfully damaging any of the stores or cargo, by forfeiture out of his wages of a sum equal in amount to the loss thereby sustained, and also, at the discretion of the court, by imprisonment for not more than twelve months.
"Eighth. For any act of smuggling for which he is convicted and whereby loss or damage is occasioned to the master or owner, he shall be liable to pay such master or owner such a sum as is sufficient to reimburse the master or owner for such loss or damage, and the whole or any part of his wages may be retained in satisfaction or on account of such liability, and he shall be liable to imprisonment for a period of not more than twelve months." R. S. § 4596, as amended, 38 Stat. 1166, 53 Stat. 1147, 46 U. S. C. § 701.
Special provision is made for forfeitures incident to desertion. They are to be applied "in the first instance, in payment of the expenses occasioned by such desertion, to the master or owner of the vessel from which the desertion has taken place . . . ." The balance is to be paid by the master or owner to a government official to be disposed of in the same manner as in the case of a deceased seaman. "In all other cases of forfeiture of wages, the forfeiture shall be for the benefit of the master or owner by whom the wages are payable." R. S. § 4604, 46 U. S. C. § 706.
Certain expenses unjustifiably forced upon his employer by a seaman are expressly made chargeable against his earned wages: Unjustified inspections of seaworthiness of the vessel, R. S. § 4562, 46 U. S. C. § 659; unjustified surveys of provisions and water, R. S. § 4566, as amended, 30 Stat. 758, 46 U. S. C. § 663; part of cost of securing conviction of seaman for offenses committed on the voyage, R. S. § 4605, 46 U. S. C. § 707.
"While it is the general rule that a seaman discharged in a foreign port is entitled to receive his wages `without any deduction whatever' of claims against him whether of his employer or of third parties, there are exceptions recognized by the maritime law and now embodied in statutes." Shilman v. United States, 164 F.2d 649, 650-651; and see Chambers v. Moore McCormack Lines, 182 F.2d 747; Eldridge v. Isbrandtsen Co., 89 F.Supp. 718. Cf. Oldfield v. The Arthur P. Fairfield, 176 F.2d 429.