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decided: March 27, 1944.



Stone, Roberts, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Murphy, Jackson, Rutledge

Author: Douglas

[ 321 U.S. Page 566]

 MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question in this case is whether Nicholas Rusin, a bargeman employed by respondent, is entitled to compensation under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (44 Stat. 1424, 33 U. S. C. § 901) for injuries received when a capstan bar, which he was using to shift the barge at a pier, pulled out and struck him upon the chest and caused him to fall. The answer turns on whether Rusin was a "master or member of a crew of any vessel." If he was, he is not entitled to the compensation because such persons are expressly excluded from the coverage of the Act by § 2 (3) and § 3 (a) (1).

The Deputy Commissioner found that Rusin was a harbor worker, not a "master or member of a crew," and granted him a compensation award.*fn1 The District Court upheld the Deputy Commissioner in a suit which respondent-employer brought to set aside the award. 45 F.Supp. 835. The Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. 137 F.2d 57. The case is here on a petition for a writ of certiorari which we granted because of the asserted failure of the court below to give proper effect to our decision in South Chicago Coal & Dock Co. v. Bassett, 309 U.S. 251.

[ 321 U.S. Page 567]

     The facts, as found by the Deputy Commissioner and amplified by additional evidence adduced before the District Court, are not in dispute. Rusin was employed as a boatman on a barge which at the time of the injury was afloat on the navigable waters of the United States. The barge had no motive power of its own and was moved either by towing or, for shorter distances, by the winding up of a cable by means of a capstan operated by hand. The barge, which was documented as a vessel of the United States, never went to sea but was confined in its operation to waters within a radius of thirty miles of Philadelphia. Rusin was employed under a union contract with respondent which stated that all bargemen assigned to specific barges in active operation were to be paid a monthly salary of $80 and were to be provided with quarters. It also stated that that compensation was "for all work performed by Bargemen in the operation of his own vessel" and that the rates provided were "based upon all services and time required to safeguard and operate the barge fleet, including necessary pumping, watching, or other emergency duties on Sundays and holidays." Rusin was continuously aboard. He bought his own meals and lived, ate, and slept on the barge. When he worked on any other boat, he received wages at an hourly rate, in addition to the monthly salary. Rusin had little experience as a seaman except that which he obtained as a bargeman. His duties consisted of taking general care of the barge. They included taking care of the lines at docks, tightening or slackening them as necessary; repairing leaks; pumping out the barge; taking lines from tugs; responding to whistles from the tugs; putting out navigational lights and signals; taking orders from the tugboat when being towed; moving the barge at piers by the capstan. He could not set the course or control or change it at any time. He was subject to orders of respondent's marine superintendent

[ 321 U.S. Page 568]

     except when in tow, at which time he was subject to the control of the tugboat captain. But he had no duties in connection with the handling of cargo and no shore duties. At the time of the injury he was the sole person aboard or employed upon the barge.

Sec. 19 (a) of the Act gives the Deputy Commissioner "full power and authority to hear and determine all questions in respect of" claims for compensation. And § 21 (b) gives the federal district courts power to suspend or set aside, in whole or in part, compensation orders if "not in accordance with law." In considering those provisions of the Act in the Bassett case, we held that the District Court was not warranted in setting aside such an order because the court would weigh or appraise the evidence differently. The duty of the District Court, we said, was to give the award effect, "if there was evidence to support it." 309 U.S. at 258. And we stated that the findings of the Deputy Commissioner were conclusive even though the evidence permitted conflicting inferences. Id. p. 260. And see Parker v. Motor Boat Sales, 314 U.S. 244, 246. This statement of the finality to be accorded findings of the Deputy Commissioner under the Act was not new. It had been stated in substantially similar terms in Voehl v. Indemnity Insurance Co., 288 U.S. 162, 166, and in Del Vecchio v. Bowers, 296 U.S. 280, 287. The rule fashioned by these cases followed the design of the Act of encouraging prompt and expeditious adjudication of claims arising under it.*fn2

[ 321 U.S. Page 569]

     By giving a large degree of finality to administrative determinations, contests and delays, which employees could ill afford and which might deprive the Act of much of its beneficent effect, were discouraged. Thus it is that the judicial review conferred by § 21 (b) does not give authority to the courts to set aside awards because they are deemed to be against the weight of the ...

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