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Joyce v. Maersk Line Ltd.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

December 4, 2017

JAMES L. JOYCE, Appellant
v.
MAERSK LINE LTD

          Argued October 18, 2017

         On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. No. 2-13-cv-05566) District Judge: Hon. Esther Salas

          Dennis M. O'Bryan, Esq. [ARGUED] O'Bryan Baun Karamanian Counsel for Appellant

          John J. Walsh, Esq. [ARGUED] Freehill Hogan & Mahar Counsel for Appellee

          Martin J. Davies Tulane University Law School Amicus Curiae

          Before: SMITH, Chief Judge, McKEE, AMBRO, CHAGARES, JORDAN, HARDIMAN, GREENAWAY, JR., VANASKIE, SHWARTZ, KRAUSE, RESTREPO, and ROTH, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          JORDAN, Circuit Judge.

         Today we stop swimming against the tide of opinion on an important question of maritime law. Following the lead of several of our sister circuits, we now hold that a union contract freely entered by a seafarer - a contract that includes rates of maintenance, cure, and unearned wages - will not be reviewed piecemeal by courts unless there is evidence of unfairness in the collective bargaining process. In so holding, we overrule our decision in Barnes v. Andover Co., L.P., 900 F.2d 630 (3d Cir. 1990).

         I. Background

         The facts of this case are not in dispute. James Joyce was a member of the Seafarers International Union. He signed "Articles of Agreement" with the shipping company Maersk Line Limited and agreed to serve as a bosun aboard the MAERSK OHIO for a three-month period, from September 18, 2012 until December 18, 2012. The Union and Maersk had reached a collective bargaining agreement that governed the terms of all unionized seafarers' employment with Maersk. The collective bargaining agreement was incorporated by reference into the Articles of Agreement between Joyce and Maersk.

         Not long after the MAERSK OHIO departed as scheduled from the Port of Newark, New Jersey, Joyce fell ill. He was examined onboard and diagnosed with kidney stones. That diagnosis was later confirmed at a hospital in Spain, and he was declared unfit for duty and repatriated to the United States.

         The collective bargaining agreement provided that, if a seafarer was medically discharged prior to the conclusion of his contract, he was entitled to unearned wages for the remaining period of the contract. Overtime was not included in the definition of unearned wages. Joyce accordingly received only base pay as unearned wages for the time left on his contract after he was medically discharged.

          Dissatisfied, Joyce filed a putative class action in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. He alleged that the "portions of the [collective bargaining agreement] governing unearned wages ... violated general maritime law[.]" Joyce v. Maersk Line, Ltd., No. 13-5566, 2016 WL 3566726, at *1 (D.N.J. June 30, 2016). More particularly, he claimed that he was owed overtime pay.[1] Id. at *2. The District Court disagreed and granted summary judgment to Maersk on the ground that, as a matter of law, given the collective bargaining agreement, Joyce was not entitled to overtime. Id. at *6-7. In doing so, the Court distinguished our decision in Barnes. Id. We had said in that case that the specifics of what is covered by a seafarer's right to "maintenance" - traditionally, the right to food and lodging expenses - could be modified by a court, even if those specifics were established in a collective bargaining agreement. Barnes, 900 F.2d at 640.

         Joyce now asks us to overturn the District Court's ruling on unearned wages.[2] Because seafarers were entitled at common law to both maintenance and unearned wages, he argues that our holding in Barnes should extend to unearned wages set by a collective bargaining agreement, making the union contract subject to change by court order to conform with traditional maritime law. His appeal presents an opportunity for us to reconsider our holding in Barnes.[3]

         II. Standard of Review

         Because the District Court granted Maersk's motion for summary judgment, we review its determination de novo, applying the same standard that it applied. Shelton v. Bledsoe, 775 F.3d 554, 559 (3d Cir. 2015). A "court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material ...


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