March 25, 2019
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE
Christopher Batterton was working on a vessel owned by
petitioner Dutra Group when a hatch blew open and injured his
hand. Batterton sued Dutra, asserting a variety of claims,
including unseaworthiness, and seeking general and punitive
damages. Dutra moved to dismiss the claim for punitive
damages, arguing that they are not available on claims for
unseaworthiness. The District Court denied Dutra's
motion, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.
A plaintiff may not recover punitive damages on a claim
of unseaworthiness. Pp. 10-19.
(a)This case is governed by Miles v. Apex Marine
Corp., 498 U.S. 19, and Atlantic Sounding Co. v.
Townsend, 557 U.S. 404. Miles establishes that
the Court "should look primarily to . . . legislative
enactments for policy guidance" when exercising its
inherent common-law authority over maritime and admiralty
cases, while recognizing that such statutory
remedies may be supplemented to "achieve the
uniform vindication" of the policies served by the
relevant statutes. 498 U.S., at 27. And in Atlantic
Sounding, the Court allowed recovery of punitive damages
but justified that departure from the statutory remedial
scheme based on the established history of awarding punitive
damages for certain maritime torts, including maintenance and
cure. 557 U.S., at 413-414. P. 10.
(b)The overwhelming historical evidence suggests that
punitive damages are not available for unseaworthiness
claims. Neither The Rolf, 293 F. 269, nor The
Noddleburn, 28 F. 855-o');">28 F. 855-on which Batterton relies-contains
a relevant discussion of exemplary or punitive damages. And
two other cases to which Batterton points-The City of
Carlisle, 39 F. 807, and The Troop, 118 F.
769-both involve maintenance and cure, not unseaworthiness,
claims. The lack of punitive damages in traditional maritime
law cases is practically dispositive. Pp. 11-13.
(c)This Court cannot sanction a novel remedy here unless it
is required to maintain uniformity with Congress's
clearly expressed policies, particularly those in the
Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (Jones Act)-which codified the
rights of injured mariners by incorporating the rights
provided to railway workers under the Federal Employers'
Liability Act (FELA). Early decisions held that FELA damages
were strictly compensatory. See, e.g., American R. Co. of
P. R. v. Didrick-sen, 227 U.S. 145, 149. And the Federal
Courts of Appeals have unanimously held that punitive damages
are not available under FELA. This Court's early
discussions of the Jones Act followed the same practices,
see, e.g., Pacific S. S. Co. v. Peterson, 278 U.S.
130, 135, and lower courts have uniformly held that punitive
damages are not available under the Jones Act. Adopting
Batterton's rule would be contrary to
Miles's command that federal courts should seek
to promote a "uniform rule applicable to all
actions" for the same injury, whether under the Jones
Act or the general maritime law. 498 U.S., at 33. Pp. 13-15.
(d) Batterton argues that punitive damages are justified on
policy grounds or as a regulatory measure. But
unseaworthiness in its current strict-liability form is this
Court's own invention and came after passage of the Jones
Act, and a claim of unseaworthiness serves as a duplicate and
substitute for a Jones Act claim. It would, therefore, exceed
the Court's objectives of pursuing policies found in
congressional enactments and promoting uniformity between
maritime statutory law and maritime common law to introduce
novel remedies contradictory to those provided by Congress in
similar areas. Allowing punitive damages on unseaworthiness
claims would also create bizarre disparities in the law.
First, due to Miles's holding, which limited
recovery to compensatory damages in wrongful-death actions, a
mariner could make a claim for punitive damages if he was
injured onboard a ship, but his estate would lose the right
to seek punitive damages if he died from his injuries.
Second, because unseaworthiness claims run against the owner
of the vessel, the owner could be liable for punitive damages
while the ship's master or operator-who could be more
culpable-would not be liable for such damages under the Jones
Act. Finally, allowing punitive damages would place American
shippers at a significant competitive disadvantage and
discourage foreign-owned vessels from employing American
seamen. The maritime doctrine mentioned by Batterton, which
encourages special solicitude for the welfare of seamen, has
its roots in the paternalistic approach taken toward mariners
by 19th century courts and has never been a commandment that
maritime law must favor seamen whenever possible. Pp. 15-18.
880 F.3d 1089, reversed and remanded.
J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C.
J., and Thomas, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, JJ., joined.
Ginsburg, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BREYER and
SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined.
granting federal courts jurisdiction over maritime and
admiralty cases, the Constitution implicitly directs federal
courts sitting in admiralty to proceed "in the manner of
a common law court." Exxon Shipping Co. v.
Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 489-490 (2008). Thus, where
Congress has not prescribed specific rules, federal courts
must develop the "amalgam of traditional common-law
rules, modifications of those rules, and newly created
rules" that forms the general maritime law. East
River S. S. Corp. v. Transamerica Delaval Inc., 476 U.S.
858, 864-865 (1986). But maritime law is no longer solely the
province of the Federal Judiciary. "Congress and the
States have legislated extensively in these areas."
Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U.S. 19, 27 (1990).
When exercising its inherent common-law authority, "an
admiralty court should look primarily to these legislative
enactments for policy guidance." Ibid. We may
depart from the policies found in the statutory scheme in
discrete instances based on long-established history, see,
e.g., Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 U.S.
404, 424-425 (2009), but we do so cautiously in light of
Congress's persistent pursuit of "uniformity in the
exercise of admiralty jurisdiction." Miles,
supra, at 26 (quoting Moragne v. States Marine
Lines, Inc., 398 U.S. 375, 401 (1970)).
case asks whether a mariner may recover punitive damages on a
claim that he was injured as a result of the unseaworthy
condition of the vessel. We have twice confronted similar
questions in the past several decades, and our holdings in
both cases were based on the particular claims involved. In
Miles, which concerned a wrongful-death claim under
the general maritime law, we held that recovery was limited
to pecuniary damages, which did not include loss of society.
498 U.S., at 23. And in Atlantic Sounding, after
examining centuries of relevant case law, we held that
punitive damages are not categorically barred as part of the
award on the traditional maritime claim of maintenance and
cure. 557 U.S., at 407. Here, because there is no historical
basis for allowing punitive damages in unseaworthiness
actions, and in order to promote uniformity with the way
courts have applied parallel statutory causes of action, we
hold that punitive damages remain unavailable in
order to determine the remedies for unseaworthiness, we must
consider both the heritage of the cause of action in the
common law and its place in the modern statutory framework.
seaman's right to recover damages for personal injury on
a claim of unseaworthiness originates in the admiralty court
decisions of the 19th century. At the time, "seamen led
miserable lives." D. Robertson, S. Friedell, & M.
Sturley, Admiralty and Maritime Law in the United States 163
(2d ed. 2008). Maritime law was largely judge- made, and
seamen were viewed as "emphatically the wards of the
admiralty." Harden v. Gordon, 11 F. Cas. 480,
485 (No. 6, 047) (CC Me. 1823). In that era, the primary
responsibility for protecting seamen lay in the courts, which
saw mariners as "peculiarly entitled to"- and
particularly in need of-judicial protection "against the
effects of the superior skill and shrewdness of masters and
owners of ships." Brown v. Lull, 4 F. Cas. 407,
409 (No. 2, 018) (CC Mass. 1836) (Story, J.).
of admiralty saw it as their duty not to be "confined to
the mere dry and positive rules of the common law" but
to "act upon the enlarged and liberal jurisprudence of
courts of equity; and, in short, so far as their powers
extend[ed], they act[ed] as courts of equity."
Ibid. This Court interpreted the Constitution's
grant of admiralty jurisdiction to the Federal Judiciary as
"the power to . . . dispose of [a case] as justice may
require." The Resolute, 168 U.S. 437, 439
used this power to protect seamen from injury primarily
through two causes of action. The first, maintenance and
cure, has its roots in the medieval and renaissance law codes
that form the ancient foundation of maritime common
The duty of maintenance and cure requires a ship's master
"to provide food, lodging, and medical services to a
seaman injured while serving the ship." Lewis v.
Lewis & Clark Marine, Inc., 531 U.S. 438, 441
(2001). This duty, "which arises from the contract of
employment, does not rest upon negligence or culpability on
the part of the owner or master, nor is it restricted to
those cases where the seaman's employment is the cause of
the injury or illness." Calmar S. S. Corp. v.
Taylor, 303 U.S. 525, 527 (1938) (citations omitted).
second claim, unseaworthiness, is a much more recent
development and grew out of causes of action unrelated to
personal injury. In its earliest forms, an unseaworthiness
claim gave sailors under contract to sail on a ship the right
to collect their wages even if they had refused to board an
unsafe vessel after discovering its condition. See, e.g.,
Dixon v. The Cyrus, 7 F. Cas. 755, 757 (No. 3, 930) (Pa.
1789); Rice v. The Polly & Kitty, 20 F. Cas.
666, 667 (No. 11, 754) (Pa. 1789). Similarly, unseaworthiness
was a defense to criminal charges against seamen who refused
to obey a ship master's orders. See, e.g., United
States v. Nye, 27 F. Cas. 210, 211 (No. 15, 906) (CC
Mass. 1855); United States v. Ashton, 24 F. Cas.
873, 874-875 (No. 14, 470) (CCMass. 1834). A claim of
unseaworthiness could also be asserted by a shipper to
recover damages or by an insurer to deny coverage when the
poor condition of the ship resulted in damage to or loss of
the cargo. See The Caledonia, 157 U.S. 124, 132-136
(1895) (cataloging cases).
the latter years of the 19th century did unseaworthiness
begin a long and gradual evolution toward remedying personal
injury. Courts began to extend the cases about refusals to
serve to allow recovery for mariners who were injured because
of the unseaworthy condition of the vessel on which they had
served. These early cases were sparse, and they
generally allowed recovery only when a vessel's owner
failed to exercise due diligence to ensure that the ship left
port in a seaworthy condition. See, e.g., The Robert C.
McQuillen, 91 F. 685, 686-687 (Conn. 1899); The
Lizzie Frank, 31 F. 477, 480 (SD Ala. 1887); The
Tammerlane, Al F. 822, 824 (ND Cal. 1891).
remained a suspect basis for personal injury claims until
1903, when, in dicta, this Court concluded that "the
vessel and her owner are . . . liable to an indemnity for
injuries received by seamen in consequence of the
unseaworthiness of the ship." The Osceola, 189
U.S. 158, 175 (1903). Although this was the first recognition
of unseaworthiness as a personal injury claim in this Court,
we took pains to note that the claim was strictly cabined.
Ibid. Some of the limitations on recovery were
imported from the common law. The fellow-servant doctrine, in
particular, prohibited recovery when an employee suffered an
injury due to the negligent act of another employee without
negligence on the part of the employer. Ibid.; see,
e.g., The Sachem, 42 F. 66 (EDNY 1890) (deny- ing
recovery based on fellow-servant doctrine). Because a
claimant had to show that he was injured by some aspect of
the ship's condition that rendered the vessel
unseawor-thy, a claim could not prevail based on "the
negligence of the master, or any member of the
crew." The Osceola, supra, at 175; see
also The City of Alexandria, 17 F. 390 (SDNY 1883)
(no recovery based on negligence that does not render vessel
unseaworthy). Instead, a seaman had to show that the owner of
the vessel had failed to exercise due diligence in ensuring
the ship was in seaworthy condition. See generally Dixon
v. United States, 219 F.2d 10, 12-14 (CA2 1955) (Harlan,
J.) (cataloging evolution of the claim).
early 20th century, then, under "the general maritime
law ... a vessel and her owner . . . were liable to an
indemnity for injuries received by a seaman in consequence of
the unseaworthiness of the ship and her appliances; but a
seaman was not allowed to recover an indemnity for injuries
sustained through the negligence of the master or any member
of the crew." Pacific S. S. Co. v. Peterson,
278 U.S. 130, 134 (1928); see also Plamals v. S. S.
"Pinar Del Rio," 211 U.S. 151, 155 (1928)
(vessel was not unseaworthy when mate negligently selected
defective rope but sound rope was available on board).
Because of these severe limitations on recovery, "the
seaman's right to recover damages for injuries caused by
unseaworthiness of the ship was an obscure and relatively
little used remedy." G. Gilmore & C. Black, The Law
of Admiralty §6-38, p. 383 (2d ed. 1975) (Gilmore &
shifts in mariners' rights took place between 1920 and
1950. First, during and after the First World War, Congress
enacted a series of laws regulating maritime liability
culminating in the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, §33, 41
Stat. 1007 (Jones Act), which codified the rights of injured
mariners and created new statutory claims that were freed
from many of the common-law limitations on recovery. The
Jones Act provides injured seamen with a cause of action and
a right to a jury. 46 U.S.C. §30104. Rather than create
a new structure of substantive rights, the Jones Act
incorporated the rights provided to railway workers under the
Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C.
§51 et seq. 46 U.S.C. §30104. In the 30
years after the Jones Act's passage, "the Act was
the vehicle for almost all seamen's personal injury and
death actions." Gilmore & Black §6-20, at 327.
Jones Act was overtaken in the 1950s by the second
fundamental change in personal injury maritime claims-and it
was this Court, not Congress, that played the leading role.
In a pair of decisions in the late 1940s, the Court
transformed the old claim of unseaworthiness, which had
demanded only due diligence by the vessel owner, into a
strict-liability claim. In Mahnich v. Southern S. S.
Co., 321 U.S. 96 (1944), the Court stated that "the
exercise of due diligence does not relieve the owner of his
obligation" to provide a seaworthy ship and, in the same
ruling, held that the fellow-servant doctrine did not provide
a defense. Id., at 100, 101. Mahnictis
interpretation of the early cases may have been suspect, see
Tetreault 397-398 (Mahnich rests on "startling
misstatement" of relevant precedents), but its assertion
triggered a sea-change in maritime personal injury. Less than
two years later, we affirmed that the duty of seaworthiness
was "essentially a species of liability without fault .
. . neither limited by conceptions of negligence nor
contractual in character. It is a form of absolute duty owing
to all within the range of its humanitarian policy."
Seas Shipping Co. v. Sieracki, 328 U.S. 85, 94-95
(1946) (citations omitted). From Mahnich forward,
"the decisions of this Court have undeviatingly
reflected an understanding that the owner's duty to
furnish a seaworthy ship is absolute and completely
independent of his duty under the Jones Act to exercise
reasonable care." Mitchell v. Trawler Racer,
Inc., 362 U.S. 539, 549 (1960). As a result of
Mahnich and Sieracki, between the 1950s and
1970s "the unseaworthiness count [was] the essential
basis for recovery with the Jones Act count preserved merely
as a jury-getting device." Gilmore & Black §6-20,
shifts in plaintiff preferences between Jones Act and
unseaworthiness claims were possible because of the
significant overlap between the two causes of action. See
id., §6-38, at 383. One leading treatise goes
so far as to describe the two claims as "alternative
'grounds' of recovery for a single cause of
action." 2 R. Force & M. Norris, The Law of Seamen
§30:90, p. 30-369 (5th ed. 2003). The two claims are so
similar that, immediately after the Jones Act's passage,
we held that plaintiffs could not submit both to a jury.
Plamals, supra, at 156-157 ("Seamen may invoke,
at their election, the relief accorded by the old rules
against the ship, or that provided by the new against the
employer. But they may not have the benefit of both").
We no longer require such election. See McAllister v.
Magnolia Petroleum Co., 357 U.S. 221, 222, n. 2 (1958).
But a plaintiff still cannot duplicate his recovery by
collecting full damages on both claims because, "whether
or not the seaman's injuries were occasioned by the
unseaworthiness of the vessel or by the negligence of the
master or members of the crew, . . . there is but a single
wrongful invasion of his primary right of bodily safety and
but a single legal wrong." Peterson, 278 U.S.,
at 138; see also 2 Force, supra, §§26:73,
Batterton worked as a deckhand and crew member on vessels
owned and operated by the Dutra Group. According to
Batterton's complaint, while working on a scow near
Newport Beach, California, Batterton was injured when his
hand was caught between a bulkhead and a hatch that blew open
as a result of unventilated air accumulating and pressurizing
within the compartment.
sued Dutra and asserted a variety of claims, including
negligence, unseaworthiness, maintenance and cure, and
unearned wages. He sought to recover general and punitive
damages. Dutra moved to strike Batterton's claim for
punitive damages, arguing that they are not available on
claims for unseaworthiness. The District Court denied
Dutra's motion, 2014 WL 12538172 (CD CaL, Dec. 15, 2014),
but agreed to certify an interlocutory appeal on the
question, 2015 WL 13752889 (CD CaL, Feb. 6, 2015).
Court of Appeals affirmed. 880 F.3d 1089 (CA9 2018). Applying
Circuit precedent, see Evich v. Morris, 819 F.2d
256, 258-259 (CA9 1987), the Court of Appeals held that
punitive damages are available for unseaworthiness claims.
880 F.3d, at 1096. This holding reaffirmed a division of
authority between the Circuits. Compare McBride v. Estis
Well Serv., L. L. C,768 F.3d 382, 391 (CA5 2014) (en
banc) (punitive damages are not recoverable), and Horsley
v. Mobil Oil Corp.,15 F.3d 200, 203 (CA11994) (same),
with Self v. Great Lakes Dredge &Dock
Co.,832 F.2d 1540, 1550 (CA111987) ("Punitive
damages should be available in cases where the ...