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UNITED STATES V. W. M. WEBB, INC., 397 U. S. 179 (1970)

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. W. M. Webb, Inc., 397 U.S. 179 (1970)

United States v. W. M. Webb, Inc.

No. 63

Argued November 17, 1969

Decided March 3, 1970

397 U.S. 179


Respondents owned commercial fishing boats, the fishing being done through oral contractual arrangements with boat captains who staffed and provisioned the boats and managed their day-to-day operation. The captains, without an earnings guarantee if they failed to catch fish, agreed to make fishing trips for the season and to return the catches to plants designated by respondents. The plants paid respondents according to the volume of the catch, and respondents paid the captains and crews on the same basis, according to previously negotiated terms. Respondents filed tax returns as employers under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) and the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA), and paid the employer's share of the taxes due on the earnings of the captains and crews. Those statutes define "employee" as any individual who has employee status under "the usual common law rules" applicable to a determination of the master-servant relationship. Respondents, after making refund claims, sued for refunds in the District Court, which determined that the captains and crews were not respondents' employees under those statutes, holding that the statutes' prescription of "common law rules" barred application of maritime standards. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The status of the captains and crews under the FICA and FUTA must, in this instance, be determined under the standards of maritime law, which is the common law of seafaring men. Pp. 397 U. S. 182-194.

402 F.2d 956, reversed and remanded.

Page 397 U. S. 180

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