Romero v. International Terminal Operating Company/Dissent Black

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United States Supreme Court

358 U.S. 354

Romero  v.  International Terminal Operating Company

 Argued: Oct. 22, 23, 1958. --- Decided: Feb 24, 1959

Mr. Justice BLACK, dissenting.

Although this case has aroused much discussion about the scope of jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1331, I cannot feel that the issue is either complex or earth-shaking. The real core of the jurisdictional controversy is whether a few more seamen can have their suits for damages passed on by federal juries instead of judges. For the reasons stated by Mr. Justice BRENNAN here and by Judge Magruder in Doucette v. Vincent, 1 Cir., 194 F.2d 834, 839, I believe that federal jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1331, lies and a federal jury trial is proper. In particular I feel that technical or esoteric readings should not be given to congressional language which is perfectly understandable in ordinary English.

Much the same reason leads me also to dissent from Part II of the Court's opinion. By its terms the Jones Act applies to 'any seaman who shall suffer personal injury in the course of his employment.' 41 Stat. 1007, 46 U.S.C. § 688, 46 U.S.C.A. § 688. (Italics added.) This Court in Lauritzen v. Larsen, 345 U.S. 571, 73 S.Ct. 921, 97 L.Ed. 1254, held that the words 'any seaman' did not include foreign seamen sailing foreign ships and injured in foreign waters. I dissented from that holding. It was based, I thought, on the Court's concepts of what would be good or bad for the country internationally rather than on an actual interpretation of the language of the Jones Act. Thus, it seemed to me that the Lauritzen holding rested on notions of what Congress should have said, not on what it did say. Such notions, weak enough in Lauritzen, seem much weaker still in this case where the tort involved occurred in our own waters. I cannot but feel that, at least as to torts occurring within the United States, Congress knew what it was doing when it said 'any seaman' and I must dissent from today's further and, I believe, unjustifiable reduction in the scope of the Jones Act. Moreover since the tort occurred in the navigable waters of the United States, I think the complaint against Compania Trasatlantica stated a good cause of action under general maritime law whethr jurisdiction of the cause is based, as I believe, on 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1331, or, as the Court assumes, on some theory of 'pendent jurisdiction.'

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS joins in the first paragraph of this opinion. He believes that Lauritzen v. Larsen, 345 U.S. 571, 73 S.Ct. 921, 97 L.Ed. 1254, is inapposite to the present case, because of the numerous incidents connecting this transaction with the United States. He therefore agrees with Mr. Justice Black that the District Court should take jurisdiction over petitioner's claim against Compania Trasatlantica.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).