MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question in this case is whether a state court may apply its two-year statute of limitations to bar an unseaworthiness action that is joined with an action for negligence under the Jones Act.
Petitioner was a member of the crew of a vessel owned and operated by respondent. His back was injured Oct. 19, 1950, when he slipped and fell down a stairway leading from the lounge to the galley. He reported the injury, and the ship's log book supports his allegation that the steps were wet. At the termination of the voyage petitioner consulted a doctor about the pain and
Petitioner claimed damages under the Jones Act for negligence
Both parties appealed to the Texas Court of Civil Appeals. Respondent sought to overturn the award for maintenance and cure, but the trial court's decision in that respect was affirmed and that portion of the case is not before us. Petitioner took no appeal from the judgment so far as it concerned his claim under the Jones Act, so that portion of the case is also outside the scope of our review. Limiting his appeal to the unseaworthiness aspect of his case, petitioner assigned errors in admitting evidence and in instructing the jury. The Court of Civil Appeals found it unnecessary to rule upon these questions, for in its opinion the unseaworthiness action was barred by the two-year Texas statute of limitations pertaining to actions for personal injuries.
In the view we take of this case it is unnecessary for us to decide the broad question of whether a state court is free to apply its own statutes of limitation to an admiralty right of action for which no special limitation is prescribed, or whether it is bound to determine the timeliness of such actions by the admiralty doctrine of laches.
The appropriate period of limitations for this action must be determined with an eye to the practicalities of admiralty personal injury litigation. When a seaman is injured he has three means of recovery against his employer: (1) maintenance and cure, (2) negligence under the Jones Act, and (3) unseaworthiness. Without elaborating on the nature of these three actions, it is sufficient to say that they are so varied in their elements of proof, type of defenses, and extent of recovery that a seaman will rarely forego his right to sue for all three. But if the seaman is to sue for both unseaworthiness and Jones Act negligence, he must do so in a single proceeding.
Since the seaman must sue for both unseaworthiness and Jones Act negligence in order to make full utilization of his remedies for personal injury, and since that can be accomplished only in a single proceeding, a time limitation on the unseaworthiness claim effects in substance a similar limitation on the right of action under the Jones Act. Congress has provided that a seaman shall have three years to bring his action under the Jones Act.
Because the state court thought petitioner's action was barred by the statute of limitations, it had no occasion to consider the assignment of error in connection with the trial judge's instructions on unseaworthiness. The parties have argued the matter, and in furtherance of what we deem to be sound judicial administration, Weyerhaeuser S. S. Co. v. Nacirema Operating Co., 355 U.S. 563, 569, we rule on the question at this time. We think that the charges set out in the margin
The judgment of the Court of Civil appeals of Texas is vacated, and the cause is remanded to it for proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, concurring.
While I join in the opinion of the Court, I believe it proper to add a few words because of the suggestion in the dissent that the Court intimates that the state statute would be applied were it longer. I find no such indication in the Court's opinion. Indeed, the theory of the Court precludes consideration of that problem. The single question for decision is whether the Texas two-year statute of limitations was correctly applied to bar petitioner's
In resolving this question the Court must touch upon the delicate problems of federalism inevitable in the working out of a viable scheme for enforcing federally created rights in state courts. Cf. Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386. Where federal statutes, which create federal rights of action, do not include a period of limitations, it has been the practice of state and federal courts to apply state statutes of limitations. See Campbell v. Haverhill, 155 U.S. 610, 616; Cope v. Anderson, 331 U.S. 461. On the other hand, where a federal statute establishes a limitation period for the enforcement of federal rights, which period is an integral part of the right created, that limitation must be applied in actions brought in state courts, whether the state statute be longer, Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Burnette, 239 U.S. 199, or shorter, Engel v. Davenport, 271 U.S. 33. This case has two factors which must be aligned with the pattern of those decisions. First, we deal with judicially created maritime rights, Pope & Talbot, Inc., v. Hawn, 346 U.S. 406; second, we do not have an Act of Congress establishing a fixed period of limitations for enforcement of the right.
As to the first factor, that the remedy for unseaworthiness is judicially rather than legislatively created, it cannot fairly be considered pertinent to the problem of what period of limitations applies in state courts. As to the second, I do not believe that the absence of specific directions from Congress leads necessarily to the result that state statutes of limitations should apply in cases of this sort. The reason is that the considerations which in Campbell v. Haverhill, supra, and Cope v. Anderson,
No such default is necessary in this case since the Court can look elsewhere for the measure of the seaman's federal right to recover for unseaworthiness. Just as equity follows the law in applying, as a rough measure of limitations, the period which would bar a similar action at law, see Russell v. Todd, 309 U.S. 280, 287, I think that the maritime cause of action for unseaworthiness could be measured by the analogous action at law for negligence under the Jones Act, 46 U. S. C. § 688. This reference seems especially appropriate since the seaman's remedy for unseaworthiness under the general maritime law and his remedy for negligence under the Jones Act are but two aspects of a single cause of action. Baltimore S. S. Co. v. Phillips, 274 U.S. 316.
It thus seems to me that the three-year limitation on the Jones Act remedy, 45 U. S. C. § 56, is the ready and logical source to draw upon for determining the period within which this federal right may be enforced. This period should be applied in an action for unseaworthiness brought in a state court, just as it would be applied by the state courts in actions brought under the Jones Act, Engel v. Davenport, supra. Such a result would be in harmony with the practice in federal admiralty courts of applying state statutes of limitations in enforcing state-created rights. Western Fuel Co. v. Garcia, 257 U.S. 233. The alternative of subjecting the parties' rights to the variant state statutes of limitations and the consequent uncertainty
Since we are not advised that the Texas statute of limitations is anything more than a statute of repose, and since application of the state statute of limitations would be disruptive of the desired uniformity of enforcement of maritime rights, Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205; Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co., 317 U.S. 239, the state statute of limitations cannot be applied to bar petitioner's claim for unseaworthiness.
MR. JUSTICE WHITTAKER, with whom MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER and MR. JUSTICE HARLAN join, dissenting.
With all respect, I feel compelled to express my disagreement with the Court's holding "that where an action for unseaworthiness is combined with an action under the Jones Act a court cannot apply to the former a shorter period of limitations than Congress has prescribed for the latter."
Although both are federal laws, each creates a separate and independent cause of action for conduct not covered or made redressable by the other, though both are designed for the one purpose of authorizing, within their respective terms, recovery of damages by a seaman for a bodily injury suffered in the course of his employment. Under the maritime law of unseaworthiness the owner warrants the vessel, its appliances and gear to be free of defects, and is liable to pay damages to a seaman for an injury occasioned by a breach of the warranty. This
To fill the gap in the owner's liability, by making him liable for the operating negligence of officers and members of the crew, Congress passed the Jones Act in 1920, which, in pertinent part, provides:
That Act, thus, incorporated the provisions of the Federal Employers' Liability Act,
By the Jones Act, then, Congress created a new cause of action, not then known to maritime law, for damages for a bodily injury to a seaman caused by "the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier," and required any suit thereunder to be brought within three years. But Congress has fixed no limitation upon the time within which an action for damages for unseaworthiness must be commenced.
Numerous decisions of this Court have established that, in a suit to enforce a federally created right which is silent on the matter of limitations, the applicable period of limitations is that prescribed by the law of the State in which the action is brought. Cope v. Anderson, 331 U.S. 461, 463; Holmberg v. Armbrecht, 327 U.S. 392, 395; Rawlings v. Ray, 312 U.S. 96, 97; Chattanooga Foundry v. Atlanta, 203 U.S. 390, 397; McClaine v. Rankin, 197 U.S. 154, 158, and Brady v. Daly, 175 U.S. 148, 158. The Court's opinion, holding that, where an action for unseaworthiness is combined with an action under the Jones Act, a court cannot apply to the former "a shorter period of limitations" than Congress has prescribed for the latter, recognizes this rule but permits it to be applied only to an unseaworthiness action which is not conjoined with a count for negligence under the Jones Act, or to an unseaworthiness action which is conjoined
It is quite true, as the Court points out, that Baltimore Steamship Co. v. Phillips, 274 U.S. 316, holds that an action for damages for unseaworthiness and an action for damages for negligence under the Jones Act must be conjoined in the same suit inasmuch as they both look to redress of the same bodily injury, and that otherwise a final judgment on the one would bar an action on the other under principles of res judicata. But I think this is not to say, as the Court argues, that a time limitation upon the one "effects in substance a similar limitation" upon the other. Surely a seaman may not, in such a suit, maintain a count for unseaworthiness which is barred by the applicable limitations of the State, any more
I, therefore, believe that the Court is in error in holding that "where an action for unseaworthiness is combined with an action under the Jones Act a court cannot apply to the former a shorter period of limitations than Congress has prescribed for the latter" (emphasis supplied), for, as observed, a state court, in an unseaworthiness action, is bound to apply the period of limitations prescribed by the law of the State in which it sits, not only in instances where that period is equal to or longer, but also where it is shorter, than the three-year period prescribed by Congress for commencing a negligence action under the Jones Act—which Act, I think, is quite immaterial to the question. However desirable coterminous and uniformly applicable periods of limitations may be in these two coordinate federal laws, accomplishment of that change in the law is not properly for us, but for Congress.
Here petitioner joined in his suit, brought in a Texas court, a count for unseaworthiness with a count for negligence under the Jones Act, but he did not bring the suit within the two-year period of limitations applicable to unseaworthiness actions as prescribed by the law of that State. Therefore, I think the Texas Court of Civil Appeals was correct in holding his unseaworthiness count to be barred for that reason, and I would affirm its judgment.
"6. Action for injury to the person of another." Vernon's Ann. Rev. Civ. Stat., Art. 5526.
"You are instructed that the term `unseaworthy,' as used herein, means that a vessel with its appliances and fittings is not reasonably fit for the purposes for which it is being used."