Landmark Cases - Ford

Landmark Cases - Ford
The case of P.C. Pfeiffer Co. v. Ford, 444 U.S. 69 (1979), is another early “status” case.  It is “early” (dates of injury April 12, 1973 and May 2, 1973) in the sense that at that time the courts were struggling to interpret the brand new “status” coverage provisions that had been created in the 1972 Amendments to the Longshore Act.  Remember that prior to the 1972 Amendments the test for coverage was based only on the location of the injury.  Anyone injured in the course of employment over the navigable waters of the United States or on a dry dock was covered.  The Amendments added coverage in specified landside areas for employees engaged in “maritime employment”.

The key issue in these early cases was the interpretation of what constituted maritime employment.

Ford is a “status” case involving two workers who were injured while performing their duties landward of the “point of rest” alongside the vessel on the dock. The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) had originally denied the workers’ claims by application of the “point of rest” doctrine.

NOTE: The now discredited so-called “point of rest” doctrine argued that maritime employment includes only the portion of the unloading process that takes place before the longshoremen place cargo from the vessel onto the dock and the portion of the loading process that takes place to the seaside of the last point of rest on the dock.  In other words, loading and unloading only occurs between the vessel and the dock.

The DOL’s Benefits Review Board reversed the ALJ’s denials and found that the workers were covered by the Longshore Act. The federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed.  Then on remand from the Supreme Court for reconsideration in light of its intervening Caputo decision the Court of Appeals reaffirmed its earlier opinion awarding benefits.  So what were these workers doing that complicated the coverage question?

Mr. Ford, a warehouseman, was injured while fastening military vehicles on to railroad flat cars. The vehicles had been delivered to port by ship, put in storage, and then placed on the rail cars by longshoremen on the day prior to the injury.

The consolidated case involved Mr. Bryant, who was injured while unloading a bale of cotton from a dray wagon into a pier warehouse. Cotton arriving at the port from inland shippers entered cotton compress warehouses, then went by dray wagon to pier storage warehouses, and subsequently was moved by longshoremen from the warehouse onto vessels for shipping.

Mr. Ford had been working out of the Warehousemen’s local union on the day of the accident. Union rules limited the types of jobs that warehousemen could perform.  They could not move cargo directly from a vessel either to a point of rest on the dock or, in this case, on to a railcar.  These movements were performed only by longshoremen.

Neither claimant was directly involved in handling cargo between the dock and the vessel. Did their duties constitute “maritime employment”?

NOTE: Remember, these were early cases.  Today these activities would be considered clear instances of maritime employment.  The issue was not clear back when these cases were being adjudicated.

Held: Ford and Bryant were engaged in maritime employment at the time of their injuries because they were engaged in intermediate steps of moving cargo between ship and land transportation.

The principle is that persons moving cargo directly from ship to land transportation are engaged in maritime employment, and a worker responsible for some portion of that activity is as much an integral part of the process of loading or unloading a ship as a person who participates in the entire process.

NOTE: The truck driver carrying the cotton away from or to the terminal and the locomotive engineer transporting the military vehicles away from the terminal are not engaged in maritime employment even though they were present on a covered situs.  They are engaged in land transportation.  Ford’s job of fastening the vehicles to the railroad flatcars was the last step in transferring the cargo from sea to land transportation.

The Longshore Act is going to follow cargo handling from the vessel to the warehouse, from warehouse to warehouse, from terminal to terminal, until it is placed on to land transportation. In the other direction, the Longshore Act will follow cargo from where it is removed from land transportation until it ends up on a vessel.  All intermediate steps are covered.


John A. (Jack) Martone served for 27 years in the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, as the Chief, Branch of Insurance, Financial Management, and Assessments and Acting Director, Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation. Jack joined The American Equity Underwriters, Inc. (AEU) in 2006, where he serves as Senior Vice President, AEU Advisory Services and is the moderator of AEU's Longshore Insider.
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