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In actions where the rights of the parties are grounded upon the law of jurisdictions other than the forum, the forum applies the foreign substantive law, but follows its own rules of procedure.
John Bournias, a seaman, was employed on respondents' vessel at the time she was changed from Panamanian to Honduran registry. Bournias filed suit against appellee employers seeking recovery for unpaid wages, penalties under 46 U.S.C.S. § 596, and deductions taken from his pay in violation of 46 U.S.C.S. § 599. The lower court ruled that the one-year statute of limitations set forth in Article 623 of the Labor Code of Panama barred Bournias’ claims.
Was the action barred by the one-year statute of limitations contained in Article 623 of the Panama Labor Code?
The court reversed and held that because the Panama limitation period was procedural, rather than substantive, the law of the forum controlled. The court applied the "specificity test" and determined that Bournias’ claim was not time-barred because the Panamanian period of limitation was not specifically aimed at the particular rights Bournias sought to enforce. The court rejected the lower court's conclusion that an admiralty court was required to apply a foreign limitations period to a foreign created right, regardless of whether the statute was procedural or substantive.