McAllister v. Magnolia Petroleum Company/Concurrence Brennan
| McAllister v. Magnolia Petroleum Company by
United States Supreme Court
MCALLISTER v. MAGNOLIA PETROLEUM COMPANY
Argued: April 1, 1958. --- Decided: June 23, 1958
Mr. Justice BRENNAN, concurring.
While I join in the opinion of the Court, I believe it proper to add a few words because of the suggestion in the dissent that the Court intimates that the state statute would be applied were it longer. I find no such indication in the Court's opinion. Indeed, the theory of the Court precludes consideration of that problem. The single question for decision is whether the Texas two-year statute of limitations was correctly applied to bar petitioner's claim for damages based on the unseaworthiness of his employer's vessel. More generally, the question is whether, in an action in a state court to enforce the seaman's federally created right to recover for unseaworthiness, the period of limitations for that action is governed by state or federal law.
In resolving this question the Court must touch upon the delicate problems of federalism inevitable in the working out of a viable scheme for enforcing federally created rights in state courts. Cf. Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386, 67 S.Ct. 810, 91 L.Ed. 967. Where federal statutes, which create federal rights of action, do not include a period of limitations, it has been the practice of state and federal courts to apply state statutes of limitations. See Campbell v. City of Haverhill, 155 U.S. 610, 616, 15 S.Ct. 217, 219, 39 L.Ed. 280; Cope v. Anderson, 331 U.S. 461, 67 S.Ct. 1340, 91 L.Ed. 1602. On the other hand, where a federal statute establishes a limitation period for the enforcement of federal rights, which period is an integral part of the right created, that limitation must be applied in actions brought in state courts, whether the state statute be longer, Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Burnette, 239 U.S. 199, 36 S.Ct. 75, 60 L.Ed. 226, or shorter, Engel v. Davenport, 271 U.S. 33, 46 S.Ct. 410, 70 L.Ed. 813. This case has two factors which must be aligned with the pattern of those decisions. First, we deal with judicially created maritime rights, Pope & Talbot, Inc., v. Hawn, 346 U.S. 406, 74 S.Ct. 202, 98 L.Ed. 143; second, we do not have an Act of Congress establishing a fixed period of limitations for enforcement of the right.
As to the first factor, that the remedy for unseaworthiness is judicially rather than legislatively created, it cannot fairly be considered pertinent to the problem of what period of limitations applies in state courts. As to the second, I do not believe that the absence of specific directions from Congress leads necessarily to the result that state statutes of limitations should apply in cases of this sort. The reason is that the considerations which in Campbell v. City of Haverhill, supra, and Cope v. Anderson, supra, prompted resort to the state statutes do not apply at all here. Those cases represented intensely practical solutions to a practical problem in the administration of justice. In the absence of any comparable federal statute of limitations which might be applied, the Court had four choices: (1) No period of limitations at all; (2) an arbitrary period applicable in all like cases; (3) the flexible but uncertain doctrine of laches; and (4) state statutes of limitations. The state statutes were chosen by default.
No such default is necessary in this case since the Court can look elsewhere for the measure of the seaman's federal right to recover for unseaworthiness. Just as equity follows the law in applying, as a rough measure of limitations, the period which would bar a similar action at law, see Russell v. Todd, 309 U.S. 280, 287, 60 S.Ct. 527, 530, 84 L.Ed. 754, I think that the maritime cause of action for unseaworthiness could be measured by the analogous action at law for negligence under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 688, 46 U.S.C.A. § 688. This reference seems especially appropriate since the seaman's remedy for unseaworthiness under the general maritime law and his remedy for negligence under the Jones Act are but two aspects of a single cause of action. Baltimore S.S.C.o. v. Phillips, 274 U.S. 316, 47 S.Ct. 600, 71 L.Ed. 1069.
It thus seems to me that the three-year limitation on the Jones Act remedy, 45 U.S.C. § 56, 45 U.S.C.A. § 56, is the ready and logical source to draw upon for determining the period within which this federal right may be enforced. This period should be applied in an action for unseaworthiness brought in a state court, just as it would be applied by the state courts in actions brought under the Jones Act, Engel v. Davenport, supra. Such a result would be in harmony with the practice in federal admiralty courts of applying state statutes of limitations in enforcing state-created rights. Western Fuel Co. v. Garcia, 257 U.S. 233, 42 S.Ct. 89, 66 L.Ed. 210. The alternative of subjecting the parties' rights to the variant state statutes of limitations and the consequent uncertainty of legal obligation would inject an unnecessarily sporting element into the affairs of men. Cf. Guaranty Trust Co. of N.Y. v. York, 326 U.S. 99, 65 S.Ct. 1464, 89 L.Ed. 2079. The mischief to be avoided is the possibility of shopping for the forum with the most favorable period of limitations. In actions arising at sea, frequently beyond the territorial bounds of any State, normal choice-of-law doctrines are likely to prove inadequate to the task of supplying certainty and predictability.
Since we are not advised that the Texas statute of limitations is anything more than a statute of repose, and since application of the state statute of limitations would be disruptive of the desired uniformity of enforcement of maritime rights, Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, 37 S.Ct. 524, 61 L.Ed. 1086; Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co., 317 U.S. 239, 63 S.Ct. 246, 87 L.Ed. 239, the state statute of limitations cannot be applied to bar petitioner's claim for unseaworthiness.
Mr. Justice WHITTAKER, with whom Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER and Mr. Justice HARLAN join, dissenting.
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