Statutory Change Through Codification

Monday, August 15, 2005
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that Congress changed the default wage statute when it codified portions of Title 46, U.S. Code in 1983, despite any indication in the legislative history that a change was intended. In the instant case, various fishermen sued the owner of the fishing vessel for failure to make a written fishing agreement with each fisherman employed prior to the voyage. The fishermen claimed damages under the default wage statute. Until the 1983 codification, this provision had various exemptions, including one for seamen entitled to earn lay shares. During the codification (which included repeal of the old statute), the other exemptions were relocated, but the exemption for seamen entitled to earn lay shares was not. This omission effectively resulted in repeal of exemption. The issue for the court was whether to assume that the omission was a scrivener’s error that should be overlooked or an intentional change in the law by Congress. For various reasons, including the general status of seamen as wards of the admiralty court, this court decided to enforce the literal provisions of the current statute and allow the fishermen to recover damages under the default wage statute. Doyle v. Huntress, Inc., No. 04-1242 (1st Cir., HK Law)

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