In 1995, the Supreme Court decided Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347 (1995), wherein it announced a test for determining “seaman” status. To qualify as a “seaman” the employee must (1) contribute to the function of a vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission, and (2) have a connection to a vessel in navigation that is substantial in both duration and nature. The Supreme Court favorably cited a rule of thumb from the Fifth Circuit whereby an employee would be denied “seaman” status if they spent less than 30% of their time in the service of a vessel in navigation.
Last year, the Court of Appeals of Maryland decided Dize v. Association of Maryland Pilots, which addressed the “seaman” status of an employee who maintained vessels that are dockside or ashore. The court determined that such work does not factor into the 30% rule because maintaining a moored vessel is not “sea-based duties” that exposes the employee to the “perils of the sea.”
In April, this blog mentioned that Ms. Dize filed a petition for certiorari, asking the Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision. The question presented by Ms. Dize is: “When applying the Chandris 30-percent rule, may a court consider the time a maritime worker spends in the service of a vessel in navigation that is moored, dockside, or ashore, as the Third, Fifth, Sixth, and Ninth Circuits have held, or must a court categorically exclude such time, as the Eleventh Circuit and the Maryland Court of Appeals have held?”
Now, Ms. Dize has gained additional support for her petition. Three amicus (or amici) briefs were recently filed by (1) Inland Boatmen’s Union, Pile Drivers, Divers, Bridge, Wharf & Dockbuilders Union, and the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific; (2) Practicing Maritime Lawyers; and (3) Maritime Law Professors. Although the Inland Boatmen’s Union’s brief is not online–after a very short search on my part–the briefs filed by the Practicing Maritime Lawyers and Maritime Law Professors are available at SCOTUSblog.
In Chandris v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347 (1995), this Court endorsed a 30-percent rule of thumb to establish “seaman” status but the Court has never specified the types of activities that count toward the 30-percent threshold. As a result, lower courts are in irreconcilable conflict over whether to count the time a maritime worker spends in the service of a vessel in navigation that is moored, at the dock, or ashore. The resulting confusion and uncertainty harms thousands of maritime workers due to loss of benefits, delays in receiving benefits, the extra burdens in obtaining benefits, and waste of time and money in pursuing benefits to which they are not entitled. It also harms maritime employers and insurers who are uncertain of their responsibilities and, as a result, face increased expenses and exposure to legal risks. Finally, it imposes unnecessary costs on the judicial system, which must devote substantial resources to deciding which regime governs a particular case before it can resolve the underlying merits of a claim.
The work of a seaman preparing the vessel for sea and conducting or waiting to conduct the vessel’s business should be included in the time credited to seaman status. The application of Dize to the Alaska salmon fishery, and many other small vessel undertakings, would have devastating consequences for employers, employees and their insurers. Vessel owners deserve to know under which status their employees will fall so they can procure appropriate insurance. Employees deserve to have proper insurance coverage for their work injuries. The Court should take this opportunity to bring clarity to the seaman-status jurisprudence.
“Seaman’s status” is a mixed question of law and fact. However, the incorrect result below is not simply due to a failure to correctly apply the facts to the law, bur rather to a misinterpretation of the law as set forth in Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347 (1995).
Inconsistent interpretation of Chandris can have substantial effects on the maritime industry. Because maritime employers are subjected to personal liability if they fail to secure compensation under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (hereinafter “the LHWCA”), inaccurately predicting which way a court may decide can cause a substantial personal loss to the President, Secretary, or Treasurer of a maritime employer.
These inconsistent results can be redressed by a clarification of the duration requirement in Chandris. Therefore the undersigned maritime law professors request that the Court grant certiorari.
Tip of the hat to SCOTUSblog. I can’t wait to see the respondent’s brief which is presently due on July 21, 2014.
(Note: I originally published this post on Navigable Waters: A Maritime, Longshore and Defense Base Act Blog.)