Unusual, Strange & Funny Judicial Decisions and Opinions logo

It was November 1973 when Richard Mackenworth's litigation against American Trading came before the United States District Court, E. D. Pennsylvania, Justice Edward Becker presiding.

Doubtless, the lawyers must have stiffened as Justice Becker began his judgment:

The motion now before us has stirred up a terrible fuss.

And what is considerably worse, it has spawned some preposterous doggerel verse.

The plaintiff, a man of the sea, after paying his lawyer a fee, filed a complaint of several pages to recover statutory wages.

The pleaded facts remind us of a tale that is endless.

A seaman whom for centuries the law has called "friendless",

Is discharged from the ship before voyage's end,

And sues for lost wages, his finances to mend.

The defendant shipping company's office is based in New York City,

And to get right down to the nitty gritty,

ship in rough seasIt has been brought to this Court by long arm service,

Which has made it extremely nervous.

Long arm service is a procedural tool,

Founded upon a "doing business" rule.

But defendant has no office here, and says it has no mania

To do any business in Pennsylvania.

Plaintiff found defendant had a ship here in June '72,

But defendant says that ship's business is through.

Asserting that process is amiss,

It has filed a motion to dismiss.

Plaintiff's counsel, whose name is Harry Lore,

Rread defendant's brief and found it a bore.

Instead of a reply brief, he acted pretty quick

And responded with a clever limerick:

"Admiralty process is hoary, With pleadings that tell a sad story

Of Libels in Rem the bane of sea-faring men. The moral: Better personally served than be sorry."

Not to be outdone, the defense took the time,

To reply with their own clever rhyme.

The defense counsel team of Mahoney, Roberts, & Smith

Drafted a poem cutting right to the pith:

"Admiralty lawyers like Harry both current and those known from lore

Be they straight types, mixed or fairy must learn how to sidestep our bore.

For Smith, not known for his mirth, with his knife out for Mackensworth

With Writs, papers or Motions to Quash, knows that dear Harry's position don't wash."

Overwhelmed by this outburst of pure creativity, we determined to show an equal proclivity. Hence this opinion in the form of verse, even if not of the calibre of Saint-John Perse.

The first question is whether, under the facts,

Defendant has done business here to come under Pennsylvania's long arm acts.

If we find that it has, we must reach question two,

Whether that act so applied is constitutional under Washington v. International Shoe.

Defendant runs a ship known as the SS Washington Trader,

Whose travels plaintiff tracked as GM is said to have followed Nader.

He found that in June '72 that ship rested its keel,

And took on a load of cargo here which was quite a big business deal.

In order for extraterritorial jurisdiction to obtain,

It is enough that defendant do a single act in Pa. for pecuniary gain.

And we hold that the recent visit of defendant's ship to Philadelphia's port,

Is doing business enough to bring it before this Court.

We note, however, that the amended act's grammar

Is enough to make any thoughtful lawyer stammer.

The particular problem which deserves mention,

Is whether a single act done for pecuniary gain also requires a future intention.

As our holding suggests, we believe the answer is 'no',

And feel that is how the Pa. appellate cases will go.

Further, concerning § (a)(3)'s "shipping of merchandise",

The future intention doctrine has already had its demise.

We do not yet rest our inquiry, for as is a judge's bent,

We must look to see if there is precedent.

And we found one written in '68 by three big wheels,

On the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case, a longshoreman's personal injury suit, is Kane v. USSR,

And it controls the case at bar.

It's a case with which defendants had not reckoned,

And may be found at page 131 of 394 F. Second.

In Kane, a ship came but once to pick up stores,

And hired as agents to do its chores a firm of local stevedores.

Since the Court upheld service on the agents, the case is nearly on all fours,

And to defendant's statutory argument Kane closes the doors.

Despite defendant's claim that plaintiff's process is silly,

There have been three other seamen's actions against defendant, with service in Philly.

And although they might have tried to get the service corrected,

The fact of the matter is they've never objected.

We turn then to the constitutional point,

And lest the issue come out of joint

It is important that one thought be first appended,

The reason the long arm statute was amended.

The amendment's purpose was to eliminate guess,

And to extend long arm service to the full reach of due process.

And so we now must look to the facts,

To see if due process is met by sufficient "minimum contacts."

The visit of defendant's ship is not yet very old,

And so we feel constrained to hold.

That under traditional notions of substantial justice and fair play,

Defendant's constitutional argument does not carry the day.

This Opinion has now reached its final border

And the time has come to enter an Order.

Which, in a sense, is its ultimate crux

But alas, plaintiff claims under a thousand bucks.

So, while trial counsel are doubtless in fine fettle,

With many fine fish in their trial kettle,

We urge them not to test their mettle,

Because, for the small sum involved, it makes more sense to settle.

In view of the foregoing Opinion, at this time

We enter the following Order, also in rhyme.

Finding that service of process is bona fide,

The motion to dismiss is hereby denied.

So that this case can now get about its ways,

Defendant shall file an answer within 21 days.


  • Also cited as Mackensworth v. American Trading Transportation Co., 367 F. Supp. 373