Northern Pacific R. Co. v. Amato
144 U.S. 465 (1892)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Northern Pacific R. Co. v. Amato, 144 U.S. 465 (1892)

Northern Pacific Railroad Company v. Amato

No. 1508

Submitted February 29, 1892

Decided April 11, 1892

144 U.S. 465

ERROR TO THE UNITED STATES CIRCUIT COURT

OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

A suit was brought in the supreme court of New York against a railroad corporation created by an act of Congress to recover damages for personal injuries sustained by the plaintiff, who was a laborer on the road, from the negligence of the defendant. The suit was removed by the defendant into a circuit court of the United States on the ground that it arose under the act of Congress. It was tried before a jury, and resulted in a verdict and judgment for the plaintiff for $4,000. The defendant took a writ of error from the circuit court of appeals, which affirmed the judgment. On a writ of error taken by the defendant from this Court to the circuit court of appeals, a motion was made by the plaintiff to dismiss or affirm:

Held:

(1) Under § 6 of the Act of March 3, 1891, c. 517, 26 Stat. 826, the writ would lie, because the jurisdiction of the circuit court was not dependent entirely on the fact that the opposite parties to the suit were one of them an alien and the other a citizen of the United States, or one of them a citizen of one state and the other

Page 144 U. S. 466

a citizen of a different state, but was dependent on the fact that, the corporation being created by an act of Congress, the suit arose under a law of the United States, without reference to the citizenship of the plaintiff.

(2) The decision of the circuit court of appeals was not final, nor in effect made final by the act of 1891, as in Lau Ow Bew v. United States,144 U. S. 47.

(3) As it did not appear by the record that on the trial in the circuit court the defendant made any objection to the jurisdiction of that court, and the petition for removal recognized the jurisdiction, it could not be said as a ground for the motion to dismiss that the defendant might have taken a writ of error from this Court to the circuit court under § 5 of the said act of 1891, and had, by failing to do so, waived its right to a review by this Court.

(4) There was color for the motion to dismiss, and the judgment must be affirmed on the ground that the writ was taken for delay only.

(5) The main defense was contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff, and the court charged the jury that they had the right to take into consideration the fact that the foreman of the defendant told the plaintiff it was safe for him to cross at the time the bridge where the accident took place, through the plaintiff's being struck by a locomotive engine while he was crossing the bridge on foot. The question was fairly put to the jury, as to the alleged contributory negligence. The case was one for the jury.

On February 11, 1890, Dominick Amato brought an action in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in the County of New York against the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, a corporation created by an Act of Congress approved July 2, 1864, c. 217, 13 Stat. 365. The summons in the action was duly served on the defendant, and it appeared by attorney.

The complaint stated that the plaintiff was a resident of the City and County and State of New York; that on or about November 6, 1888, in or near the County of Burleigh, in the then Territory of Dakota, now State of North Dakota, through the negligence of the defendant and without negligence on his part, he was run over by an engine owned and operated by the defendant, from which he sustained injuries which caused him the loss of his leg; that on account of said injuries, he was confined in a hospital for 7 1/2 months, and had sustained permanent injuries which made him unable to work, and had

Page 144 U. S. 467

been damaged thereby in the sum of $25,000, and that he demanded judgment against the defendant for that sum.

On the 13th of March, 1890, the defendant filed, in the supreme court of the State of New York, a petition in due form setting forth that the action was a suit of a civil nature arising under said act of Congress, accompanied this with a proper bond, and prayed that the suit be removed into the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York. The supreme court of the state made an order, on the 21st of March, 1890, approving the bond and removing the cause into the said circuit court, and staying all further proceedings therein in the state court.

A certified copy of the record being filed in the circuit court, the defendant put in its answer in that court, setting forth that on or about November 5, 1888 at or near the east end of its bridge which extends across the Missouri River from Burleigh County to Morton County in North Dakota, the plaintiff, who at the time was a laborer on its road, attempted without any right or authority to do so to get or jump upon the footboard at the front end of a locomotive engine, the property of the defendant, while the same was in motion, that he slipped and fell, and one of his legs was run over by one of the wheels of the engine; that the defendant, its agents and servants, were using due care and diligence in running said locomotive at the time of the accident, which was not due to any negligence on the part of the defendant, its agents or servants, but was owing to the negligence and fault of the plaintiff himself, and that that was the matter referred to in the complaint, and the answer denies each and every allegation in the complaint contained not thereinbefore specifically admitted.

The case was tried by a jury in April, 1891, before Judge Coxe, and resulted in a verdict for the plaintiff for $4,000. On May 28, 1891, a judgment was entered for the plaintiff for the $4,000, with $26.66 interest and $33.10 costs, amounting in all to $4,059.76. A motion was afterwards made before Judge Coxe to set aside the verdict as contrary to law and against the weight of evidence, and because the damages were

Page 144 U. S. 468

excessive. On the 24th of June, 1891, Judge Coxe filed an opinion, 46 F. 561, denying the motion. A bill of exceptions was duly made and signed July 16, 1891, and filed July 22, 1891.

A writ of error to review the judgment, returnable August 20, 1891, was duly sued out by the defendant from the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The plaintiff moved in that court to dismiss the writ of error for want of jurisdiction. On the 25th of January, 1892, an order was entered in that court denying the motion to dismiss and affirming the judgment of the circuit court and ordering that a mandate issue to the latter court directing it to proceed in accordance with the decision and order of the circuit court of appeals. 49 F. 881. An opinion, on the affirmance by the circuit court of appeals, was delivered by Judge Lacombe, and is set forth in the record.

On the 20th of February, 1892, the defendant sued out a writ of error from this Court, which was allowed by an Associate Justice of this Court, to review the judgment of the circuit court of appeals, and the transcript of the record has been duly filed in this Court. The plaintiff now moves to dismiss the writ of error and to affirm the judgment.

Page 144 U. S. 471

MR. JUSTICE BLATCHFORD delivered the opinion of the Court.

The first ground urged for the motion to dismiss is that, under the Act of March 3, 1891, c. 517, 26 Stat. 826, the writ of error will not lie. That act provides, in § 6, that the circuit courts of appeals established by it shall exercise appellate jurisdiction to review, by appeal or by writ of error, "final decision" in the existing circuit courts in all cases other than those provided for in § 5 of the act, unless otherwise provided by law, and that

"the judgments or decrees of the circuit courts of appeals shall be final in all cases in which the jurisdiction is dependent entirely upon the opposite parties to the suit or controversy, being aliens and citizens of the United States, or citizens of different states."

The present case is not one provided for in § 5 of the act, and the judgment of the circuit court was not directly reviewable by this Court under § 5, nor was the judgment of the circuit court of appeals final in this case, because the jurisdiction of the circuit court was not dependent entirely upon the fact that the opposite parties to the suit were one of them an alien and the other a citizen of the United States, or one of them a citizen of one state and the other a citizen of a different state. The jurisdiction of the circuit court in this case depended upon the fact that, the defendant being a corporation created by an act of Congress, the suit arose under a law of the United States, without reference to the citizenship of the plaintiff. His citizenship is not mentioned in the complaint or in the petition for removal, and that petition states that the action arises under the act of Congress. Nor was the decision of the circuit court of appeals in effect made final, as in Lau Ow Bew v. United States,144 U. S. 47.

Page 144 U. S. 472

Section 6 of the act of 1891 provides that in all cases not thereinbefore, in that section, made final,

"there shall be of right an appeal, or writ of error, or review of the case by the Supreme Court of the United States, where the matter in controversy shall exceed one thousand dollars besides costs."

Under that provision, as the judgment of the circuit court of appeals in the present case was not made final by § 6, and as the matter in controversy exceeds $1,000 besides costs, the defendant had a right to a writ of error from this Court.

We do not think there is anything inconsistent with this view in what was said by this Court in McLish v. Roff,141 U. S. 661, or in Chicago, St. Paul & Omaha Railway v. Roberts,141 U. S. 690.

In the circuit court of appeals, the defendant, by its fifth assignment of error, took the point that the circuit court had no jurisdiction of its person or of the subject matter of the action, and on the present writ of error from this Court, the first assignment of error, filed in the circuit court of appeals and sent up as part of the record, assigns as error the several errors set out in the assignment of errors before the circuit court of appeals. The plaintiff therefore contends on this motion that as, under § 5 of the act of 1891, the jurisdiction of the circuit court was in issue, the case might have been brought by a writ of error directly from the circuit court to this Court. But it does not appear by the record that on the trial, the defendant made any objection to the jurisdiction of the circuit court. On the contrary, its petition for removal states that the action had been brought against it, and that the complaint had been duly served on it, and that the defendant had duly appeared. And even if a writ of error from this Court to the circuit court could have been taken, yet, as the defendant did not take such a writ of error, but took one from the circuit court of appeals to the circuit court, the plaintiff cannot be heard to assert as the ground of this motion the fact that the defendant might have taken a writ of error from this Court to the circuit court. Equally it cannot be said as a ground for this motion that the case is one which involved in the circuit court the construction

Page 144 U. S. 473

or application of the Constitution of the United States on the ground that the question arose whether the act of Congress incorporating the defendant was constitutional. Nor can it be objected as a ground for this motion that the defendant has waived its right to a review by this Court because it failed to take a writ of error from this Court to the circuit court to review the judgment of the latter court.

But although this Court has jurisdiction of this writ of error, we are of opinion that, under clause 5 of Rule 6 of this Court, the judgment of the circuit court of appeals must be affirmed on the ground that there was color for the motion to dismiss and that the writ was taken for delay only.

The bill of exceptions in the circuit court shows that the plaintiff was sworn as a witness and that, after he had given his testimony, he rested, and then the defendant's counsel moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the plaintiff, upon his testimony, was shown to be guilty of contributory negligence. The motion was denied, and the defendant excepted. The defendant then called several witnesses, who were in its employ and who testified that the plaintiff was injured at a point 110 feet east of the east end of the bridge, while attempting to jump on the front footboard of a moving locomotive, and that this occurred on the evening of November 5, 1888. The testimony of all but one of those witnesses for the defendant was taken by deposition in Dakota, and, except that one, they were not cross-examined.

The testimony of the plaintiff was that the accident happened while he was crossing a railroad bridge near Bismarck, in North Dakota, on November 6, 1888; that he was a laborer on the defendant's railroad, and was at work fixing up the track near the west end of the bridge; that he lived near the east end of the bridge; that the custom of the company was to take the men home from their work on a car drawn by a locomotive over the bridge from the west to the east end at about half past 5 o'clock in the afternoon; that he had never crossed the bridge before; that, on the afternoon of the 6th of November, "the English boss" told the laborers, about 56 in number, of whom the plaintiff was one, that there would be

Page 144 U. S. 474

no train to take them across the bridge that night, and that they would have to walk across; that the boss said that no train or engine would come over the bridge until about 7 or half past 7; that the plaintiff started to walk across the bridge with the other laborers at about half past 5 or 6 o'clock P.M., but, in consequence of a pain in his side, the result of a fall a week previous, he was not able to keep up with the others, and fell behind, and walked over the bridge by himself; that there was but one track on the bridge, and he was walking on that track; that he could not walk at the side of the track without crawling from one trestle to another; that the engine came on the bridge from the east, meeting him about its middle; that there was room on the bridge to allow him to step aside and let the engine pass if he had seen it coming; that it was coming in front of him, right around the turn, but he could not see it; that he did not see it until it was on top of him; that he then tried to get out of the way, but slipped on the track, which was slightly frozen, and fell, and caught his leg under the wheel, and the engine passed over it, and his leg was cut off; that he remained in the hospital 7 1/2 months, and had not been able to work since, and that before the accident he earned $1.50 a day.

On cross-examination, he testified that if he had seen the locomotive coming, he would have stepped to one side, out of the way, but he did not see it because it was coming around the curve, and that he never thought of the locomotive, because the boss told him there was nothing to come across, and he was walking at his ease, without thinking of anything. He further testified that he did not attempt to jump on a moving locomotive at the east end of the bridge.

At the close of the testimony on both sides, the defendant moved that the court direct a verdict for it on the ground that the plaintiff had been guilty of contributory negligence in walking across the bridge in the manner he did, and also upon the ground that he was a trespasser on the bridge, and it was necessary for him to prove gross negligence on the part of the defendant. The motion was denied, and the defendant excepted.

The court, in its charge, put the question fairly before the

Page 144 U. S. 475

jury, and, among other things, told them that on the question whether it was a prudent thing for the plaintiff to walk across the bridge in the manner he did and not see the engine approaching until it was directly upon him, they had the right to take into consideration the statement which he said was made to him by the boss, that it was safe for him to cross at that time, and that no engine would cross the bridge until about half past 7 o'clock. To that portion of the charge the defendant excepted, but not to any other portion.

We concur with the view of Judge Coxe, in his opinion on the motion to set aside the verdict, that the question of the plaintiff's negligence was one of fact, and was submitted to the jury under instructions as favorable to the defendant as it could expect, and that the testimony of the plaintiff that the boss or foreman of the defendant had told him that no train or engine would come over the bridge until about 7 or half past 7 o'clock was properly to be taken into consideration by the jury in determining the question whether the plaintiff was negligent in not seeing the engine.

We concur also with the view of the circuit court of appeals, in the opinion of that court given by Judge Lacombe, that it was fairly a question for the jury to determine whether or not it was negligence on the part of the plaintiff not to keep a lookout for a coming engine, in view of the assurance of the boss that there was none to come, and that the case is quite within the decisions in Bradley v. New York Central Railroad, 62 N.Y. 99, and Oldenburg v. New York Central Railroad, 124 N.Y. 414.

The judgment is affirmed, and the cause remanded to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York for further proceedings, as required by § 10 of the Act of March 3, 1891, 26 Stat. 829.

MR. JUSTICE BREWER and MR. JUSTICE BROWN dissented on the ground that the circuit court should have directed a verdict for the defendant because the plaintiff had been guilty of contributory negligence.

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