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Lewis v. TEXACO Inc.

decided: December 9, 1975; As Amended April 8, 1976.

EARL B. LEWIS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
TEXACO, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Appeal from award to seamen of sum equal to one month's wages pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 594, prejudgment interest and attorneys' fees by United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Constance Baker Motley, J. Affirmed except as to attorneys' fees; on that issue, the case is remanded.

Moore, Feinberg and Van Graafeiland, Circuit Judges. Moore, Circuit Judge (concurring and dissenting).

Author: Feinberg

FEINBERG, Circuit Judge:

This is an action by 32 seamen for statutory remedies arising out of a breach of shipping articles by their employer, defendant Texaco, Inc. After a non-jury trial in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Judge Constance Baker Motley, in an opinion reported at 1975 A.M.C. 61 (S.D.N.Y. 1974), awarded plaintiffs an amount equal to one month's wages under 46 U.S.C. § 594, prejudgment interest and counsel fees, but denied claims under 46 U.S.C. § 596 for two days' wages for each day payment was delayed. Texaco appeals. We affirm except as to the grant of counsel fees; on that issue, we remand for further consideration.

I

The relevant facts are few. On January 6, 1971, plaintiffs signed foreign articles with appellant, which called for a voyage on its ship from Port Everglades, Florida to

One or more ports in the Gulf and/or Caribbean and Panama and thence to one or more ports on the Pacific Coast of the Continental United States, exclusive of Hawaii and Alaska, to a final port of discharge on the Pacific Coast of the United States, for a period of time not exceeding (90) days.

The vessel did not complete this voyage, but instead was prematurely directed back to the east coast of the United States. On January 21, 1971, the foreign articles were terminated, ending the voyage, and plaintiff seamen were paid their earned wages for the 16-day period of the voyage. All but six of the plaintiffs then remained on the vessel on a coastwise voyage.

The controversy arises out of plaintiffs' claim for "a sum equal in amount to one month's wages" under 46 U.S.C. § 594, which provides:

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.

In the district court, Texaco claimed that plaintiffs were not entitled to recover, even though they had been "discharged . . . before one month's wages" had been "earned," because they had consented to the discharge, because they had waived their statutory right by remaining in defendant's employ, and because application of the statute on these facts was unconstitutional since plaintiffs had in fact suffered no damage. Texaco relied heavily on an allegedly binding release signed by plaintiffs, when signing off the articles on January 21, 1971. At that time, each plaintiff affixed his signature in a column at the end of the articles bearing the following language at the top:

We the undersigned seamen do hereby, each one for himself by our signatures herewith given in consideration of settlements made before the shipping commissioner, release the Master and owners from all claims for wages in respect of this voyage or engagement, and I, the Master, do also release each of the undersigned seamen from all claims, in consideration of this release signed by them.

In addition, "M/C," which stands for mutual consent, was marked as the cause of the discharge on the same page of the articles.

After receiving the testimony of six witnesses,*fn1 Judge Motley held that plaintiffs were not barred by this release. First, under Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co., 317 U.S. 239, 248, 87 L. Ed. 239, 63 S. Ct. 246 (1942), the burden was on Texaco to show that plaintiffs had had a "full understanding" of their rights under section 594 before releasing them, and defendant had not met this burden. Second, under 46 U.S.C. § 597, reproduced in the margin,*fn2 "good cause" had been shown for setting aside "the ostensible mutual consent" to termination of the voyage. The judge rejected Texaco's other arguments ...


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