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Zarraga v. Texas Co.

November 7, 1960

JOSEPH A. ZARRAGA, APPELLANT IN NO. 13226, MARTIN D. LADD, APPELLANT IN NO. 13,227, GEORGE MARTIN, APPELLANT IN NO. 13,228,
v.
TEXAS COMPANY, APPELLEE.



Author: Forman

Before BIGGS, Chief Judge, and HASTIE and FORMAN, Circuit Judges.

FORMAN, Circuit Judge.

These are appeals from three decrees of the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania*fn1 denying recovery to each libellant of a month's wages sought pursuant to 46 U.S.C.A. ยง 594.*fn2 They present the following questions: First, does Section 594 require proof that the shipping articles were breached before a recovery may be had; and second, assuming such a breach must be shown, should Section 594 be read into the shipping articles so as to create as an implied term thereof the provision that the voyage contracted for will be at least of one month's duration? The District Court answered the first question in the affirmative and the second in the negative.

The facts are simple and undisputed. On December 16, 1957, at the Port of Salem, Massachusetts libellants signed shipping articles in the presence of a United States Shipping Commissioner on the S.S. Illinois. The articles provided, inter alia:

"It is agreed between the Master and the seamen, or mariners, of the S.S. Illinois of which James W. McGulley, Lic. No. 191668 is at present Master, or whoever shall go for Master, now bound from the Port of Salem, Massachusetts, to one or more Atlantic Coast Ports and/or Gulf Coast Ports and/or one or more ports in the Carribean and/or such other ports and places in any part of the world as the Master may direct, and back to a final port of discharge in the United States, for a term of time not exceeding twelve (12) calendar months."

The vessel proceeded from Salem, Massachusetts to Guayanville, Puerto Rico, a port in the Caribbean Sea. It then returned directly to Providence, Rhode Island, where the voyage terminated on December 28, 1957. There each of the libellants signed off the articles in the presence of a United States Shipping Commissioner and received his earned wages which were less than he would have earned had he worked a full month. Each of the libellants then commenced an action to recover one month's wages for the alleged improper discharge under Section 594.

The legislative history of Section 594 (Act of June 7, 1872, c. 322, Section 21, 17 Stat. 266) discloses that it was substantially derived from Section 167 of the British Merchant Shipping Act of 1854.*fn3

In Tindle v. Davison, 66 L.T.N.S. 372 (Q.B. Div. 1892) the British court had occasion to construe Section 167. There the shipping articles provided for a voyage

"* * * from Sunderland to Bilbao and to any port or ports, place or places within the limits of 73 degrees north latitude and 60 degrees south latitude trading to and fro, if required, and back to a final port of discharge in the United Kingdom. The term of employment may be for any period not exceeding six months."

The libellant was employed on August 21, 1891 and was discharged on September 12, 1891, after having completed the voyage to Bilbao. In reversing the judgment of the lower court permitting recovery of the balance of a month's wages under Section 167, the court held, at page 374, per Wright, J.:

"The section requires evidence of his having been improperly discharged, and there is no such evidence here. The meaning of the section is that when a seaman is improperly discharged, he is to have due compensation up to a month's wages in lieu of his right of action, unless he has earned a month's wages, in which case the section does not apply."

It is thus apparent that the British court construing the act upon which the instant statute is based held that a breach of the articles is a prerequisite to recovery.

In The Steel Trader, 1928, 275 U.S. 388, 48 S. Ct. 162, 72 L. Ed. 326, a breach of the shipping articles had occurred and the libellant had been paid both the wages actually earned and those for an extra month as provided in Section 594. Thereafter he instituted a suit to recover the wages he would have earned had he completed the voyage. In reversing the trial court which had granted recovery, the Court said, at page 391, 48 S. Ct. at page 163:

"The word 'compensation,' in section 4527 [Section 594], distinctly indicates that payment of a sum equal to one month's wages was intended to constitute the remedy for an invasion of the seaman's right through breach of his contract of ...


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