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SIMMONS v. STATES MARINE LINES

April 28, 1967

Henry Simmons, Plaintiff
v.
States Marine Lines, Inc., Defendant


Higginbotham, D.J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: HIGGINBOTHAM

HIGGINBOTHAM, D.J.:

This action is one in admiralty by the libellant for damages based on an allegedly wrongful discharge and, failure, by the respondent, to permit him to reship.

 Facts

 The libellant, Henry Simmons, signed articles on September 27, 1962, for service aboard the S. S. "Pelican State ". It appears that on October 20, 1962, while the vessel was docked at Brooklyn, New York, the libellant came aboard ship in an alleged intoxicated condition. The libellant was then informed by the captain that he would be discharged at the conclusion of the voyage for "failure to properly perform his duties due to intoxication." On October 22, 1962, the vessel shifted to New Jersey and paid off that afternoon. On October 24, 1962, an agent of the National Maritime Union wrote to the respondent requesting libellant's re-ship letter for the "Pelican State ". The Union was informed that the libellant was not "eligible" to re-ship.

 Libellant then filed this action. The respondent contends (a) that libellant was legally discharged and (b) even if there is some question about the validity of the discharge, the libellant has failed to exhaust the contract grievance procedure culminating in arbitration.

 On January 17, 1966, this Court denied respondent's motion to dismiss, and stayed all other matters to give the parties an opportunity to seek arbitration. The order of the Court noted that:

 
. . . If the parties are denied the right to arbitrate the matter, after having diligently sought the same, appropriate affidavits should be filed with the Court verifying the specific efforts which have been made subsequent to this order.

 On January 26, 1966, the attorney for the respondent replied to the directive of this Court saying that arbitration had been requested but that the National Maritime Union had replied that the records of libellant's employment had been destroyed and, consequently, the dispute could not proceed to arbitration. Subsequently, after a conference between the parties, the respondent notified the Court that although it was not specifically waiving its rights to arbitration, it was of the opinion that that aspect of the proceedings should be invoked, if at all, by the National Maritime Union. The Union maintains its position that it is unable to take this dispute to arbitration because the relevant employment records have been lost. It is in this posture that the case now rests.

 Discussion

 Under the contract between the Union and the respondent there are provisions for continuing employment and elaborate grievance procedures. It is on those provisions that the libellant's rights must rest. The respondent argues that the "continuous employment" provisions in its contract with the Union, applied only if certain prerequisites are met. The relevant clause reads as follows:

 
Unlicensed Personnel may remain continuously employed on the vessels operated by the Company, provided they meet the Company's hiring preferences in Group I as set forth in sub-paragraphs (B)(1) of this section; and, provided further, that the Company and the employees desire such employment to continue.

 In the last few years the United States Supreme Court has evolved a strong policy favoring arbitration in cases of this type. See Textile Workers Union of America v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, 77 S. Ct. 912, 1 L. Ed. 2d 972 (1957). The respondent cites to me, as an example of this policy, the following passage from Belk v. Allied Aviation Service Co. of New Jersey, Inc., 315 F.2d 513 (2 Cir. 1963) where the Court observed that:

 
The entire import of the Supreme Court cases beginning with Lincoln Mills, through the trilogy of the Steelworker cases to Drake at their last term is that arbitration, when agreed upon by the parties, is the best method for reconciliation of disputes arising out of collective agreements. Where an arbitration clause admits of a construction including the dispute in question within its ambit, recourse to the courts before any ...

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