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Opinion of the Court.
ployees Compensation Act, and collected a total of $358.20. On February 6, 1950, he filed this libel in admiralty in the District Court, relying upon the Public Vessels Act. The libel was dismissed, and, with one judge dissenting, the Second Circuit affirmed, 191 F. 2d 162, on the ground that the Federal Employees Compensation Act afforded petitioner his exclusive remedy. The court recognized that its decision conflicted on this point with a decision of the Fourth Circuit, Johnson v. United States, 186 F. 2d 120.
Petitioner Mandel's decedent was an assistant engineer on a tug operated and controlled by the United States Army and assigned to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations during World War II. On October 15, 1944, the tug was destroyed by a mine, in attempting to enter the port of Cagliari, Sardinia. In this disaster, decedent met his death in the presence of the enemy. Decedent's widow procured the appointment of an administrator who brought this suit for $150,000. The District Court overruled the Government's motion to dismiss, based partly on the claim that the Federal Employees Compensation Act is the exclusive remedy for the accident. During pretrial, when the Government refused to produce certain documentary evidence called for, the court entered an interlocutory decree of default against respondent. On appeal, pursuant to 28 U.S. C. $ 1292 (3), the Third Circuit reversed. 191 F. 2d 164. It limited its consideration to the defense based on the Compensation Act. Recognizing conflict with the decision of the Fourth Circuit in United States v. Marine, 155 F. 2d 456, as well as Johnson v. United States, supra, that court nevertheless agreed with the Second Circuit, and held that the Federal Employees Compensation Act precluded recovery under the Public Vessels Act. To resolve the apparent conflict between these decisions, this Court granted certiorari. 342 U. S. 901.
Opinion of the Court.
Section 1 of the Public Vessels Act of 1925 provides "That a libel in personam in admiralty may be brought against the United States . . . for damages caused by a public vessel of the United States ... We have already held that this Act grants consent to be sued for personal injuries suffered by an individual not employed by the United States, caused by the negligent maintenance or operation of a public vessel of the United States. American Stevedores, Inc. v. Porello, 330 U. S. 446, cf. Canadian Aviator, Ltd. v. United States, 324 U. S. 215. If the congressional purpose was to allow damages for personal injuries sustained by federal employees while in the performance of duty, the literal language of the Act would allow actions of the nature of those before us.
This general language, however, must be read in the light of the central purpose of the Act, as derived from the legislative history of the Act and the surrounding circumstances of its enactment. The history of the Act has already been set forth in some detail in the Porello and Canadian Aviator cases cited above. It is sufficient here to recall that this Act was one of a number of statutes which attest “to the growing feeling of Congress that the United States should put aside its sovereign armor in cases where federal employees have tortiously caused personal injury or property damage.” 330 U. S., at 453. These enactments were not usually directed toward cases where the United States had already put aside its sovereign armor, granting relief in other forms. With such a legislative history, one hesitates to reach a conclusion as to the meaning of the Act by adoption of a possible interpretation through a literal application of the words. Nor is the legislative history of the Act helpful. We are cited to no evidence that any member of Congress in 1925 contemplated that this Act might be thought to confer additional rights on claimants entitled to the benefits of the Federal Employees Compensation Act of
Opinion of the Court.
1916. Surely the lack of such evidence is not helpful to petitioners' case; the most that can be said of it is that Congress did not specifically exclude such claimants from the coverage of the Public Vessels Act.
Under these circumstances, it is the duty of this Court to attempt to fit the Public Vessels Act, as intelligently and fairly as possible, “into the entire statutory system of remedies against the Government to make a workable, consistent and equitable whole.” Feres v. United States, 340 U. S. 135, 139. It is important, then, to examine briefly the other statutes which are a part of the system of remedies against the Government available to seamen for personal injuries.
In 1916 Congress passed both the Shipping Act, 39 Stat. 728, 46 U. S. C. SS 801 et seq., and the Federal Employees Compensation Act. The former subjected Government vessels, employed solely as merchant vessels, to all laws, regulations and liabilities governing private merchant vessels, if they were purchased, chartered, or leased from the Shipping Board. Thus a remedy for damages for personal injuries was given to merchant seamen on ships in which the Government had an interest, but not to public-vessel seamen. Cf. The G. A. Flagg, 256 F. 852.
In the latter Act Congress undertook to provide a comprehensive compensation system for federal employees who sustain injuries in the performance of their duty. The payment of this compensation, subject to the provisions of the Act, is mandatory, for $ 1 provides: “That the United States shall pay compensation as hereinafter specified for the disability or death of an employee resulting from a personal injury sustained while in the performance of his duty .. Section 7 provides “That as long as the employee is in receipt of compensation under this Act, . . . he shall not receive from the United States any salary, pay, or remuneration whatsoever ex
Opinion of the Court.
cept in return for services actually performed, and except pensions for service in the Army or Navy of the United States." Section 8, however, recognized the conflict between that provision and the employee's possible right to paid sick or annual leave, and required the employee to elect between compensation and such paid leave. The Act made no other provision for election at that time. Later it was amended by the Public Health Service Act of 1944 to provide generally for election between compensation and any other payments from the United States to which the employee may be entitled by reason of his injury under any other Act of Congress because of his service as an employee of the United States. 58 Stat. 712. The 1944 amendment thus consolidated the various election provisions of the Civil Service Retirement Act of 1920, 5 U. S. C. $ 714, and other special disability retirement and pension legislation. E. g., 5 U. S. C. $ 797; 10 U.S. C. $ 1711; 14 U.S. C. SS 311-312, 386; 34 U.S.C. $$ 8550, 857e; 50 U.S. C. App. $ 1552. A further amendment in 1949 will be discussed below. Aside from these, there has never been any provision in the Compensation Act for election between compensation and other remedies. It is quite understandable that Congress did not specifically declare that the Compensation Act was exclusive of all other remedies. At the time of its enactment, it was the sole statutory avenue to recover from the Government for tortious injuries received in Government employment. Actually it was the only, and therefore the exclusive, remedy. See Johnson v. United States, 186 F. 2d 120, 123.
In 1920, the Suits in Admiralty Act, 41 Stat. 525, 46 U. S. C. $ 742, gave a broad remedy to seamen on United States merchant vessels, but did not extend these benefits to seamen on public vessels. An extension of this nature was proposed, but defeated. See Canadian Aviator, Ltd. v. United States, 324 U. S. 215, 220–221.
Opinion of the Court.
Next in the series was the Public Vessels Act of 1925, on which petitioners rely. So far as pertinent here, that Act simply provided that a libel might be brought against the United States for damages caused by a public vessel of the United States. No provision was made for election between this remedy and any remedies that might be available under other federal statutes. There is no indication that Congress recognized that this problem might arise.
In 1943 the Clarification Act, 57 Stat. 45, 50 U. S. C. App. § 1291, extended the remedies available to seamen on privately owned American vessels to seamen employed on United States vessels “as employees of the United States through the War Shipping Administration." Claims arising under this Act were to be enforced pursuant to the Suits in Admiralty Act of 1920, even though the vessel on which the seaman was employed might not be a "merchant vessel” within the meaning of the Suits in Admiralty Act. It was specifically provided, however, that this remedy under the Clarification Act was to be exclusive of any remedies that might otherwise be available under the Federal Employees Compensation Act, the Civil Service Retirement Act, and other similar acts. The Act thus gave effect to a congressional purpose to treat seamen employed through the War Shipping Administration as “merchant seamen," not as "public vessel seamen.” See Cosmopolitan Shipping Co. v. McAllister, 337 U. S. 783, 792, quoting from H. R. Rep. No. 107, 78th Cong., 1st Sess. The Act did not purport to change the status of public-vessel seamen not employed through the War Shipping Administration.
This was the situation prior to the 1949 amendments to the Federal Employees Compensation Act. Merchant seamen, other than those employed by the War Shipping Administration, on ships owned by the United States had a right to libel the United States pursuant to the Suits in