« PreviousContinue »
Opinion of the Court.
Admiralty Act of 1920, but whether they were entitled to the benefits of the Compensation Act was doubtful. See Comptroller General's Decision A-31684, Sept. 10, 1930; 34 Op. Atty. Gen. 363; Johnson v. Fleet Corp., 280 U. S. 320. Seamen employed through the War Shipping Administration were by the Clarification Act to be treated as merchant seamen, whether they were serving on merchant vessels or public vessels. As public-vessel seamen injured other than in the course of duty are not covered by the Compensation Act they would presumably have had the same rights to recovery as the public generally under the Public Vessels Act. Public-vessel seamen injured in the course of duty were entitled to all the benefits of the Federal Employees Compensation Act. The issue in this case is whether this last group of Governmentemployed seamen is eligible under both schemes of recovery.
It is argued by petitioners that the 1949 amendments to the Compensation Act, 63 Stat. 854, show that Congress understood that the remedy of compensation had not been, until that time, exclusive of other remedies, and that the remedy of compensation for seamen still does not preclude recovery under the Public Vessels Act. These amendments added a new subsection ? to $7 of the Com
2 63 Stat. 854:
"SEC. 201. Section 7 of the Federal Employees' Compensation Act, as amended (5 U. S. C., 1946 edition, sec. 757), is further amended by inserting the designation '(a)'immediately before the first sentence thereof and by adding to such section a new subsection reading as follows:
“'(b) The liability of the United States or any of its instrumentalities under this Act or any extension thereof with respect to the injury or death of an employee shall be exclusive, and in place, of all other liability of the United States or such instrumentality to the employee, his legal representative, spouse, dependents, next of kin, and anyone otherwise entitled to recover damages from the United States or such instrumentality, on account of such injury
Opinion of the Court.
pensation Act of 1916 to provide clearly that the liability of the United States under the Compensation Act shall be exclusive of all other liability of the United States on account of the same injury. This amendment, however, was not to alter the rights of seamen in any way: Petitioners argue that Congress in 1949 was seeking, for the first time, to establish the exclusive nature of the remedy of compensation, and deliberately omitted seamen from this limitation. The background of the amendment shows, however, that this impression is erroneous. Prior to 1949, there was a divergence of view in the courts as to the exclusiveness vel non of the remedy of compensation. This uncertainty extended to suits by Government seamen seeking damages under the Public Vessels Act. The purpose of the 1949 amendment is simply "to make it clear that the right to compensation benefits under the act is exclusive and in place of any and all other legal liability of the United States or its instrumentalities .. S. Rep. No. 836, 81st Cong., 1st
or death, in any direct judicial proceedings in a civil action or in admiralty, or by proceedings, whether administrative or judicial, under any other workmen's compensation law or under any Federal tort liability statute: Provided, however, That this subsection shall not apply to a master or a member of the crew of any vessel.'”
3 See the proviso of this section, quoted in note 2 above. See also § 305 (b) of the 1949 Act: "Nothing contained in this Act shall be construed to affect any maritime rights and remedies of a master or member of the crew of any vessel.”
* See Posey v. Tennessee Valley Authority, 93 F. 2d 726; Parr v. United States, 172 F. 2d 462; Thomason v. W. P. A., 47 F. Supp. 51, aff'd 138 F. 2d 342; White v. Tennessee Valley Authority, 58 F. Supp. 776; see also Lewis v. United States, 89 U. S. App. D. C. 21, 190 F. 2d 22.
5 O'Neal v. United States, 11 F. 2d 869, aff'd 11 F. 2d 871; Lopez v. United States, 59 F. Supp. 831; United States v. Loyola, 161 F. 2d 126. See Bradey v. United States, 151 F. 2d 742, at 743 (dictum).
Opinion of the Court.
Sess., p. 23. This clarifying amendment, as reported out of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, lacked the proviso protecting the rights, if any, of seamen under other federal statutes. However, no seamen's groups having participated in the hearings on the bill, Senator Morse proposed on the floor the proviso on which petitioners rely. Senator Morse himself recognized that his amendment did no more than preserve to seamen any rights which they might have in addition to compensation. There is language in his statement indicating that he was of the opinion that seamen employees had a choice between compensation and litigation in admiralty. 95 Cong. Rec. 13608, 13609. Senator Douglas, who was in charge of the bill, accepted these amendments for the reason that the seamen's groups had not been heard before the committee of Congress. He stated:
"Mr. President, I should like to state my ground for agreeing to the amendments offered by the Senator from Oregon [Mr. Morse). The primary consideration for accepting the Senator's amendments preserying the maritime rights and other statutory remedies of seamen is the fact that no hearings were held, no arguments were heard, and no discussion was had on this aspect of the pending bill. . . . For the same reason, namely, that we have had no hearings on the matter, we are not seeking to legislate affirmatively as to certain claims and denials of a right of election of remedies under existing laws, which claims and denials have not yet been adjudicated by the Supreme Court, although various other Federal courts have, in effect, held that federally employed seamen have such an election.
"In short, until the matter may be more fully considered by Congress, we seek by the amendments merely to make sure that seamen shall lose no existing rights.” 95 Cong. Rec. 13609.
As thus recommended, the bill passed the Senate, 95 Cong. Rec. 13609, and a week later the House accepted the Senate amendments without debate. 95 Cong. Rec. 14060. This background makes it clear that the 1949 amendments, far from changing the law respecting seamen's remedies, do not even reflect a belief on the part of Congress that the remedy of compensation is not exclusive. There is nothing in these amendments to affect consideration of whether petitioners' sole remedy is under the Federal Employees Compensation Act. Cf. Johnson v. United States, 186 F. 2d 120, 123. If the remedy of compensation was exclusive prior to the passage of the 1949 amendment, it is exclusive now.
As indicated above, the courts have differed upon the question of exclusiveness of the remedy against the United States under the Federal Employees Compensation Act. This Court in Dahn v. Davis, 258 U. S. 421, held that a railway mail clerk, injured in a wreck on the railroad, while it was operated under the Federal Control Act of 1918, 40 Stat. 451, was barred from prosecuting a suit against the United States Director General because he had previously elected to accept payment under the Federal Employees Compensation Act. The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, 267 F. 105, was affirmed here on the ground that, where the employee had two remedies, each for the same wrong, and both against the United States, he could not pursue one remedy to a conclusion and then seek “a second satisfaction of the same wrong." P. 429.
P. 429. The holding was thus based on the doctrine of election of remedies, but if the language is thought to allow the choice of an action against the Government for damages, it is to be noted that Government liability in that case depended upon § 10 of the Federal Control Act, permitting suits against carriers "as now provided by law," and General Order No. 50 directing that any proceeding which
Opinion of the Court.
"but for Federal control might have been brought against the carrier company, shall be brought against [the] Director General . . . and not otherwise." There was therefore in the Dahn case legislation directly substituting the United States for the carriers in all litigation. Thus the carriers' business was conducted deliberately by the Government with as little change as possible from the situation when carriers controlled. Here the United States operates its own public vessels, without any such conformity legislation. As such operator it has established by the Compensation Act a method of redress for employees. There is no reason to have two systems of redress? See also United States v. Marine, 155 F. 2d 456, a case allowing recovery to a civilian employee of the Government under the Suits in Admiralty Act, and Johnson v. United States, 186 F. 2d 120, which allowed a recovery under the Public Vessels Act to a civilian seaman on a public vessel. The opinions below in the cases we are considering take the opposite and, we think, the better view.
The Federal Employees Compensation Act, 5 U. S. C. $$ 751 et seq., was enacted to provide for injuries to Government employees in the performance of their duties. It covers all employees. Enacted in 1916, it gave the first and exclusive right to Government employees for compensation, in any form, from the United States. It was a legislative breach in the wall of sovereign immunity to damage claims and it brought to Government employees the benefits of the socially desirable rule that society
6 Missouri Pac. R. Co. v. Ault, 256 U. S. 554, 562.
? It is suggested that Brady v. Roosevelt S. S. Co., 317 U. S. 575, has a bearing on this issue. We think not. There is an assumption that an employee of the United States could have sued the Government for his injury, but the case was one for damages against private operators, not the Government. P. 577. Cosmopolitan Shipping Co. v. McAllister, 337 U. S. 783, 789.