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Merrick v. Sea-Land Service Inc.

July 11, 1984


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Weis and Becker, Circuit Judges, and Oliver, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Becker


Becker, Circuit Judge.

This appeal involves the interrelationship of two provisions -- one statutory and one contractual -- designed to ensure that seamen are paid promptly for the work they perform. The statutory provision, popularly known as the penalty wage statute, is 46 U.S.C. ยง 596.*fn1 It provides that the owner of any vessel making foreign voyages must pay every seaman his "wages" within twenty-four hours after the cargo has been discharged or within four days after the seaman has been discharged, whichever occurs first. Under the same statute, if, without sufficient cause, these required payments are not made within the specified time, the owner must pay the seaman two days' pay for each day of delay in payment. Theoretically, these payments can be enormous.

The collective bargaining agreement between the defendant shipper and the union representing the plaintiff seamen is the second provision designed to ensure prompt payment. Its requirements are somewhat stricter than those of the statute, but its penalty is less severe. The agreement provides that, where a ship lands in a foreign port on a weekday, the seamen covered must be paid their wages by 5 p.m. Friday of that week. If such payments are not made, the seamen are entitled to "continuous wages" for the weekend, that is, the sum to which they would have been entitled had they actually worked over the weekend.

The precise issue before us is whether an owner who pays all "ordinary wages" within the period prescribed by section 596, but not within the period provided by the collective bargaining agreement, is liable for penalty wages under section 596 for failure to pay the "continuous wages" required by the collective bargaining agreement in such circumstances. More concisely, the issue is whether "continuous wages" are "wages" for purposes of section 596. We hold that they are not. If a collective bargaining agreement provides for payment of seamen's wages in a more prompt fashion than required by section 596 and assesses its own penalty for delinquent payment, it does not further the purposes of the penalty wage statute to subject the delinquent payments of these damages to the draconian two-for-one penalties of that statutory provision. Rather, the Congressional purpose is fully satisfied where payments for actual, earned wages are made in the time period prescribed by the statute.

Accordingly, we affirm the grant of summary judgment for the defendant by the district court, 587 F.Supp. 93, which decided this case on other grounds.


The facts of this case are relatively simple. Plaintiff-appellants Robert Merrick and Phillip Kachinski were employed as marine engineering officers aboard the Sea-Land vessel S.S. SEA-LAND ADVENTURER on a foreign voyage that began in mid-May, 1981. The ADVENTURER arrived in Bremerhaven, Germany, sometime on or before noon May 29, 1981, which was a Friday.*fn2 The ADVENTURER apparently stayed in port for the weekend.

Section 4A(d) of the collective bargaining agreement between Sea-Land and the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, which represented Merrick and Kachinski, provided that:

In the case of any vessel which arrives in port during a weekday, and prior to noon on Friday, where there is to be a payoff for the licensed engineers and the vessel will be in port on the following Monday, said pay-off must be completed prior to 2 P.M. on a weekday of the same week, unless facilities are provided to furnish non-negotiable instruments in lieu of cash in which event pay-off shall be completed by 5 P.M.; otherwise, the pay-off shall be made on the succeeding Monday with continuous wages (and board and lodging unless same have been provided by the Company) through and including the day of pay-off.

This agreement would seem to have required Sea-Land to pay Merrick and Kachinski their wages by 5 p.m. Friday at the latest. No payment was made until Saturday, May 30, 1981, however, at which time Merrick's and Kachinski's shipping articles were terminated.*fn3 Sea-Land did not pay Merrick and Kachinski the "continuous wages" to which they would seem to have been entitled under the collective bargaining agreement.

Merrick and Kachinski made a claim for three days-worth of continuous wages by calling it to the attention of their union, which submitted the grievance to Sea-Lnad pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement.After a flurry of letters and conferences concerning this claim and others of Merrick and Kachinski arising out of subsequent voyages, on October 2, 1981, Sea-Land forwarded a check for $133.00 to Merrick and of $176.00 to Kachinski, which sums ...

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