UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
June 8, 1959
Howard BEATTIE, Walter Calicut, Clabon Churchwell, Harold Drumwright, Harold Erickson, Benjamin Fordham, Courther Herring, Herbert Hutchinson, Joseph Labezewski, Joseph McBride, Markham Rogers, Oseas Siamaral, Ellsworth M. Smith, John Troy, William Zielke, Plaintiffs,
AMERICAN TRADING & PRODUCTION CORP., Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: RYAN
This suit comes to us for decision on the agreed statement of facts set forth in the footnote.
Plaintiffs, merchant seamen, seek a month's penalty wages, under section 4527 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, 46 U.S.C.A. § 594, which provides:
' § 594. Right to wages in case of improper discharge. Any seaman who has signed an agreement and is afterward discharged before the commencement of the voyage or before one month's wages are earned, without fault on his part justifying such discharge, and without his consent, shall be entitled to receive from the master or owner, in addition to any wages he may have earned, a sum equal in amount to one month's wages as compensation, and may, on adducing evidence satisfactory to the court hearing the case, of having been improperly discharged, recover such compensation as if it were wages duly earned. R.S. § 4527.'
Congress has specifically made that statute inapplicable to a coastwise voyage. 46 U.S.C.A. § 544.
Plaintiffs predicate their claim on the language of the shipping articles by which they could have made a foreign voyage. By the stipulated facts, they did not in fact make such a voyage. The clear provision of 46 U.S.C.A. § 544 makes the statutory penalty wages which plaintiffs seek not applicable 'to sail or steam vessels engaged in the coastwise trade,' and thus inapplicable to the voyage in question, which was indisputably coastwise (Johnson v. Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey, D.C.D.Md.1940, 33 F.Supp. 982).
Moreover the provisions of Section 594 are designed as a penalty 'in case of improper discharge.' Neither improper discharge nor violation of the shipping articles has been shown. The voyage was strictly in accordance with the shipping articles and plaintiffs' discharge was also permitted as an exercise of the owner's prerogative. Judge Samuel H. Kaufman of this Court carefully and scholarly examined the derivation and legislative history of Section 594 in Lucadou v. United States, D.C.S.D.N.Y.1951, 98 F.Supp. 946. Following the Supreme Court's statement that the compensation provided by Section 594 is a 'remedy for invasion of the seaman's right through breach of his contract of employment' (The Steel Trader, 1928, 275 U.S. 388, 48 S. Ct. 162, 163, 72 L. Ed. 326), he concluded:
'Thus it will be seen that where the courts have found liability to exist under § 594, there has been a breach of contract by respondent and a failure to sustain the burden of showing a legal excuse for such breach.' 98 F.Supp. at page 947.
There has been no breach of the shipping articles and no right of plaintiffs has been denied them. Consequently, there is no liability for the statutory compensation provided in cases of 'improper' discharge.
The Clerk is directed to forthwith enter judgment for defendant without costs.