ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF VIRGINIA.
White, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, O'connor, Scalia, and Kennedy, JJ., joined. Blackmun, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Marshall and O'connor, JJ., joined, post, p. 49. Stevens, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 50.
JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
Nancy J. Schwalb and William McGlone, respondents in No. 87-1979, were employees of petitioner Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company (C & O), and were injured while working at petitioner's terminal in Newport News, Virginia, where coal was being loaded from railway cars to a ship on navigable waters. Robert T. Goode, respondent in No. 88-127, was injured while working for petitioner Norfolk and Western Railway Company (N & W) at its coal loading terminal in Norfolk, Virginia. If respondents' injuries are covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA or Act), 44 Stat. 1424, as amended, 33 U.S.C. §§ 901-950 (1982 ed. and Supp. V), the remedy provided by that Act is exclusive and resort may not be had to the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 35 Stat. 65, as amended, 45 U.S.C. §§ 51-60 (1982 ed. and Supp. V), which provides a negligence cause of action for railroad employees. The Supreme Court of Virginia held in both cases that the LHWCA was not applicable and that petitioners could proceed to trial under the FELA. We reverse.
At the C & O facility, a mechanical conveyor-belt system transports coal from railroad hopper cars to colliers berthed at the piers. The loading process begins when a hopper car
is rolled down an incline to a mechanical dumper which is activated by trunnion rollers and which dumps the coal through a hopper onto conveyor belts. The belts carry the coal to a loading tower from which it is poured into the hold of a ship. The trunnion rollers are located at each end of the dumper. Typically, some coal spills out onto the rollers and falls below the conveyor belts during the loading process. This spilled coal must be removed frequently to prevent fouling of the loading equipment. Respondents Nancy Schwalb and William McGlone both worked at C & O's terminal as laborers doing housekeeping and janitorial services. One of their duties was to clean spilled coal from the trunnion rollers and from underneath the conveyor belts. Both also performed ordinary janitorial services at the loading site. McGlone's right arm was severely injured while he was clearing away coal beneath a conveyor belt. Schwalb suffered a serious head injury when she fell while walking along a catwalk in the dumper area. At the time, she was on her way to clean the trunnion rollers.
At N & W's terminal, a loaded coal car is moved to the dumper where it is locked into place by a mechanical device called a "retarder." The dumper turns the car upside down. The coal falls onto conveyor belts and is delivered to the ship via a loader. Respondent Robert Goode was a pier machinist at N & W's terminal. His primary job was to maintain and repair loading equipment, including the dumpers and conveyor belts. Goode injured his hand while repairing a retarder on one of N & W's dumpers. Loading at that dumper was stopped for several hours while Goode made the repairs.
The three respondents commenced separate actions in Virginia trial courts under the FELA. Petitioners responded in each case by challenging jurisdiction on the ground that the LHWCA provided respondents' sole and exclusive remedy. See 33 U.S.C. § 905(a) (1982 ed., Supp. V). All three trial courts held evidentiary hearings and concluded that respondents were employees covered by the LHWCA. The suits
were dismissed and respondents appealed. The Supreme Court of Virginia consolidated the appeals of Schwalb and McGlone and reversed the dismissals. 235 Va. 27, 365 S. E. 2d 742 (1988).
Relying on one of its earlier decisions, White v. Norfolk & Western R. Co., 217 Va. 823, 232 S. E. 2d 807 (1977), the court stated that the key question was whether an employee's activities had a realistically significant relationship to the loading of cargo on ships. 235 Va., at 31, 365 S. E. 2d, at 744. Pointing to expressions in our opinion in Northeast Marine Terminal Co. v. Caputo, 432 U.S. 249 (1977), that landward coverage of the LHWCA was limited to the "'essential elements'" of loading and unloading, the court concluded that "the 'essential elements' standard is more nearly akin to the 'significant relationship' standard we adopted in White " than the broader construction argued by C & O. 235 Va., at 33, 365 S. E. 2d, at 745. Applying the White standard, the court ruled that employees performing purely maintenance tasks should be treated no differently under the Act than those performing purely clerical tasks and held that Schwalb and McGlone were not covered. The court later dealt with the ...