Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.

Dutra Grp. v. Batterton

Supreme Court of the United States

March 25, 2019, Argued; June 24, 2019, Decided

No. 18-266.


 [*2278]  Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court.

By granting federal courts jurisdiction over maritime and admiralty cases, the Constitution implicitly directs [***5]  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, 128 S. Ct. 2605, 171 L. Ed. 2d 570 (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, 106 S. Ct. 2295, 90 L. Ed. 2d 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, 111 S. Ct. 317, 112 L. Ed. 2d 275 (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, 129 S. Ct. 2561, 174 L. Ed. 2d 382 (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, 90 S. Ct. 1772, 26 L. Ed. 2d 339 (1970)).

This 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 [***6]  a wrongful-death claim under the general maritime law, we held  [**697]  that recovery was limited to pecuniary damages, which did not include loss of society. 498 U. S., at 23, 111 S. Ct. 317, 112 L. Ed. 2d 275. 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, 129 S. Ct. 2561, 174 L. Ed. 2d 382. 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 unseaworthiness actions.

Read The Full CaseNot a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.

Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.

139 S. Ct. 2275 *; 204 L. Ed. 2d 692 **; 2019 U.S. LEXIS 4202 ***; 2019 AMC 1521; 27 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 1050; 2019 WL 2570621


Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.


Batterton v. Dutra Grp., 880 F.3d 1089, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 1627 (9th Cir. Cal., Jan. 23, 2018)

Disposition: 880 F.3d 1089, reversed and remanded.


unseaworthiness, punitive damages, Jones Act, vessel, damages, maritime law, ship, maritime, cases, Marine, maintenance and cure, admiralty, seaworthy, cause of action, decisions, remedies, personal injury, unavailable, courts, common law, common-law, wrongful-death, wrongful death, sailors, limitations, injuries, survivor, crew, pecuniary loss, exemplary

Admiralty & Maritime Law, Practice & Procedure, Jurisdiction, Constitutional Authority, Statutory Sources, Maritime Workers' Claims, Unseaworthiness, Damages