Amell v. United States

In Amell v. United States, 384 U.S. 158, 86 S.Ct. 1384, 16 L.Ed.2d 445 (1966), the Court considered the impact of the 1960 amendments on wage claims against the government by civilian seamen employed in noncombat government vessels such as the Military Sea Transport Service. The Court of Claims dismissed the petitions on the ground that the class of claims was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the district courts under the Suits in Admiralty Act. As the petitions were filed more than 2 years after accrual of the claims, they could not be transferred and must have died. The Supreme Court reversed, saying that Congress conceived of the claimants-- More as government employees who happened to be seamen than as seamen who by chance worked for the Government. (Id. at 163, 86 S.Ct. at 1387.) Discussing the 1960 amendments more specifically, the Court said-- The Government would have us believe that this oblique reference to private "persons" was designed to make inroads on the right of government employees to sue in the Court of Claims. We reject this argument. The legislative history surrounding this enactment contains no discussion whatever concerning claims brought by government-employed seamen. This is highly significant because of the active interest in nautical legislation generally taken by the maritime labor unions. If Congress had meant to lower the limitations period from six to two years, surely these unions would have been privy to the decision; this is all the more true when one considers that seamen are often stationed far away from their home ports and need a lengthy period in which to register their claims. If they were governed by the maritime Act, they would be required not only to sue but to exhaust administrative remedies as well within the shorter period, 46 U.S.C. 745 (1964 ed.). (Id. at 165, 86 S.Ct. at 1388.)