Ninth Circuit: "Navigable waters of United States" means what it says

by Matthew H. Ammerman on September 21st, 2012

The LHWCA has been interpreted to encompass the navigable waters of foreign countries despite the plain language of the Act that states an injury must occur on the "navigable waters of the United States." Here, Joseph Tracy worked as a barge foreman in Indonesia and Singapore. Tracy argued he was entitled to LHWCA benefits because his injuries occurred while he was on the "high seas." The "high seas" are referenced in an obscure section of the Act concerning the establishment of compensation districts. Tracy argued that meant Congress intended to include injuries that occurred outside the U.S. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit disagreed with Tracy, holding that an injury in the waters of another country cannot support LHWCA coverage. There is a presumption against applying the laws of the U.S. extraterritorially. The court seems to leave the door open for injuries that might occur on the high seas that are uncontrolled by another country -- leaving that fight for another day.

At bottom, foreign territorial waters and their adjoining shore-based areas are not the "navigable waters of the United States." 33 U.S.C. § 903(a). Tracy's injuries as a worker in the ports of Indonesia and Singapore did not satisfy the situs component of LHWCA coverage. Three cheers for the 9th Circuit following the plain language of the Act.

Keller Found. v. Tracy, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 19768 (9th Cir. Sept. 20, 2012).


Posted in not categorized    Tagged with situs, 9th circuit, joseph tracy, longshore act, extraterritorial, Longshore

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