Southwest Marine, Inc. v. Gizoni, 502 U.S. 81 (1991)

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OCTOBER TERM, 1991

Syllabus

SOUTHWEST MARINE, INC. v. GIZONI

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 90-584. Argued October 15, 1991—Decided December 4, 1991

Petitioner Southwest Marine, Inc., a ship repair facility operator, owns several floating platforms that, among other things, support ship repairmen engaged in their work. Respondent Gizoni, a rigging foreman, worked on the platforms and rode them as they were towed into place. Disabled when his foot broke through a wooden sheet covering a hole in a platform's deck, he applied for, and received, medical and compensation benefits from petitioner pursuant to the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). He later brought suit against petitioner under, inter alia, the Jones Act, alleging that he was a seaman injured as a result of his employer's negligence. The District Court granted petitioner's motion for summary judgment, concluding that, as a matter of law, Gizoni was not a Jones Act seaman, and that he was a harbor worker precluded from bringing his action by the LHWCA, which provides the exclusive remedy for a maritime employee, 33 U. S. C. 905(a). The term employee includes, inter alios, any harbor worker, including a ship repairman, but not "a master or member of a crew of any vessel," 902(3). The Court of Appeals reversed both determinations. It held that questions of fact existed as to Gizoni's seaman status; and it rejected the notion that any employee whose work involved ship repair was necessarily restricted to remedy under the LHWCA, reasoning that coverage under the Jones Act or the LHWCA depended not on the claimant's job title, but on the nature of the claimant's work and Congress' intent in enacting those statutes.

Held: A maritime worker whose occupation is one of those enumerated in the LHWCA may be a seaman within the meaning of the Jones Act. Pp. 86-92. (a) It cannot be the case that, as a matter of law, the LHWCA provides the exclusive remedy for all harbor workers, since the LHWCA and its exclusionary provision do not apply to a harbor worker who is also a "member of a crew of any vessel," a phrase that is a "refinement" of the term "seaman" in the Jones Act. McDermott Int'l, Inc. v. Wi-lander, 498 U. S. 337, 355. Although better characterized as a mixed question of law and fact, the inquiry into seaman status is fact specific and depends on the vessel's nature and the employee's precise relation to it. A maritime worker need only be doing a ship's work, not aiding

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