Mene Grande Oil Company, C.A., is a corporation existing under the laws of Venezuela. Its vessel, the Perija, was operated by Mene Grande primarily to transport oil from its Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, oil fields to its seacoast terminals for tank storage to await shipment on ocean vessels. On infrequent occasions the vessel came to the United States for dry-docking and repairs, and that was the reason the Perija was in Mobile on the occasion in question.
The evidence showed that Gulf made deductions from plaintiff's wages of social security and on account of income taxes. The evidence showed also that the paper work, that is, routine records with regard to the employment were prepared by Gulf employees, but that Gulf from time to time hired seamen for and advanced expenses and wages for other vessels of Mene Grande as well as other companies. A witness for Gulf testified that the Gulf routine in the foregoing respect was in accordance with the custom and usage in the industry, that foreign ships coming to the United States were represented by agents for the purpose of procuring supplies and crews and that Gulf's Marine Department acted as agent on many occasions, for not only Gulf's subsidiary companies, but for other ship owners.
The defendant, Gulf Oil Corporation, a corporation existing under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was the owner of 100% of the stock of the Venezuela Gulf Oil Corporation, a corporation existing under the laws of the State of Delaware, which in turn owned 100% of the stock of Mene Grande Oil Company, C.A. None of the officers or directors of Mene Grande Oil Company C.A., were officers or directors of Venezuela Gulf Oil Corporation or of Gulf Oil Corporation, and none of the officers or directors of Venezuela Gulf Oil Corporation or of Gulf Oil Corporation were officers or directors of Mene Grande Oil Company, C.A. Neither the master nor the members of the crew of the Perija were on the payroll of defendant Gulf. Defendant Gulf did not direct or control the movements of the Perija, did not receive the earnings of that vessel and did not pay the expenses of operation thereof. Mene Grande had a Marine Department and full staff who directed the Perija and other of its vessels in and about its business in Venezuela.
As the evidence unfolded, it appeared to the Court that counsel for plaintiff was proceeding under the theory that the act of Gulf in engaging plaintiff to work on the Perija was the act of a principal hiring a man for itself. The uncontradicted evidence indicated the contrary. In the first place, plaintiff was aware that Gulf had no job for him and that he was to ship on a Venezuelan vessel. Plaintiff is an experienced seaman and an intelligent person who became a United States citizen in 1950. In his oral deposition before trial, he admitted, as he did on the stand during the trial, that he knew he was being hired for Mene Grande's service.
In the face of the proof, plaintiff's counsel then adopted the position that Mene Grande was owned, dominated and controlled by Gulf and that the real owner was Gulf and that the corporate veil in this instance could be pierced so that plaintiff was entitled to go to the jury on the issue as to whether he was employed directly by Gulf. On the latter issue, plaintiff cannot succeed. There was no issue for the jury under the Jones Act. That statute is for the benefit of seamen against their employers. The corporate relationship shown in this case is insufficient in view of the uncontradicted evidence that the Perija was owned by Mene Grande and plied in South American waters and her voyages were at no time directed, controlled or dominated by anyone from Gulf. Nor does the evidence indicate any control or domination of Mene Grande by Gulf. Gulf owned no stock in Mene Grande. There was an intervening corporation between these two corporations. Reasonable minds could not differ as to the issue of employment and therefore the case was one properly for the entry of a directed verdict. See Owl Fumigating Corp. v. California Cyanide Co., 3 Cir., 30 F.2d 812; Kingston Dry Dock Co. v. Lake Champlain Transp. Co., 2 Cir., 31 F.2d 265; Nichols & Co. v. Secretary of Agriculture, 1 Cir., 131 F.2d 651; and Cosmopolitan Shipping Co. v. McAllister, 337 U.S. 783, 69 S. Ct. 1317, 93 L. Ed. 1692.
The issue of negligence was not reached or considered at the time the motion for a directed verdict was granted. This Opinion shall be considered as the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in this case.
© 1992-2004 VersusLaw Inc.