Second Employers' Liability Cases
223 U.S. 1 (1912)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Second Employers' Liability Cases, 223 U.S. 1 (1912)

Second Employers' Liability Cases

Nos. 120, 170, 289, 290

Argued February 20, 21, 1911

Decided January 15, 1912

223 U.S. 1

Syllabus

The Employers' Liability Act of April 22, 1908, 35 Stat. 65, c. 149, as amended April 5, 1910, 36 Stat. 291, c. 143, regulating the liability of common carriers by railroad to their employees, is constitutional.

Congress may, in the execution of its power over interstate commerce, regulate the relations of common carriers by railroad and their employees while both are engaged in such commerce.

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Congress has not exceeded its power in that regard by prescribing the regulations embodied in the Employers' Liability Act.

Those regulations have superseded the laws of the several states insofar as the latter cover the same field.

Rights arising under the regulations prescribed by the act may be enforced, as of right, in the courts of the states when their jurisdiction, as fixed by local laws, is adequate to the occasion.

Congress, in the exertion of its power over interstate commerce, and subject to the limitations prescribed in the Constitution, may regulate those relations of common carriers by railroad and their employees which have a substantial connection with interstate commerce and while both carrier and employee are engaged therein.

A person has no property -- no vested interest -- in any rule of the common law. While rights of property created by the common law cannot be taken without due process, the law as a rule of conduct may, subject to constitutional limitations, be changed at will by the legislature.

Under the power to regulate relations of employers and employees while engaged in interstate commerce, Congress may establish new rules of law in place of common law rules, including those in regard to fellow servants, assumption of risk, contributory negligence, and right of action by personal representatives for death caused by wrongful neglect of another.

In regulating the relations of employers and employees engaged in interstate commerce, Congress may regulate the liability of employers to employees for injuries caused by other employees even though the latter be engaged in intrastate commerce.

The power of Congress to insure the efficiency of regulations ordained by it is equal to the power to impose the regulations, and prohibiting the making of agreements by those engaged in interstate commerce which in any way limit a liability imposed by Congress on interstate carriers does not deprive any person of property without due process of law, or abridge liberty of contract in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Quaere whether an element of the due process provisions of the Fifth Amendment is the equivalent of the equal protection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment.

A classification of railroad employees, even if including all employees, whether subjected to peculiar hazards incident to operation of trains or not, is not so arbitrary or unequal as to amount to denial of equal protection of the laws. Such a classification does not violate

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the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment even if equal protection is an element of due process.

State legislation, even if in pursuance of a reserved power, must give way to an act of Congress over a subject within the exclusive control of Congress.

Until Congress acted on the subject, the laws of the several states determined the liability of interstate carriers for injuries to their employees while engaged in such commerce; but, Congress having acted, its action supersedes that of the states so far as it covers the same subject. That which is not supreme must yield to that which is.

The inaction of Congress on a subject within its power does not affect that power.

Rights arising under an act of Congress may be enforced, as of right, in the courts of the states when their jurisdiction, as prescribed by local laws, is adequate to the occasion.

When Congress, in the exertion of a power confided to it by the Constitution, adopts an act, it speaks for all the people and all the states, and thereby establishes a policy for all, and the courts of a state cannot refuse to enforce the act on ground that it is not in harmony with the policy of that state. Claflin v. Houseman,93 U. S. 130.

A state court cannot refuse to enforce the remedy given by an act of Congress in regard to a subject within the domain of Congress on the ground of inconvenience or confusion.

The systems of jurisprudence of the state and of the United States together form one system which constitutes the law of the land for the state.

The United States is not a foreign sovereignty as regards the several states, but is a concurrent and, within its jurisdiction, a paramount sovereign. Claflin v. Houseman,93 U. S. 130.

Existence of jurisdiction in a court implies the duty to exercise it notwithstanding such duty may be onerous.

82 Conn. 373 reversed; 173 F. 49 affirmed.

No. 120 (Mondou v. New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Co.).

This was an action by a citizen of Connecticut against a railroad corporation of that state, to recover for personal injuries suffered by the plaintiff while in the defendant's service. The injuries occurred in Connecticut August 5, 1908, the action was commenced in one of the superior courts of that state in October following, and the right

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of action was based solely on the Act of Congress of April 22, 1908 (35 Stat. 65, c. 149). According to the complaint, the injuries occurred while the defendant, as a common carrier by railroad, was engaged in commerce between some of the states, and while the plaintiff, as a locomotive fireman, was employed by the defendant in such commerce, and the injuries proximately resulted from negligence of the plaintiff's fellow servants, who also were employed by the defendant in such commerce. A demurrer to the complaint was interposed upon the grounds, first, that the act of Congress was repugnant in designated aspects to the Constitution of the United States, and, second, that, even if the act were valid, a right of action thereunder could not be enforced in the courts of the state. The demurrer was sustained, judgment was rendered against the plaintiff, the judgment subsequently was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Errors of the state (82 Conn. 373) upon the authority of Hoxie v. N.Y., N.H. & H. R. Co., 82 Conn. 352, and the plaintiff then sued out the present writ of error.

No. 170 (Northern Pacific Railway Co. v. Babcock).

This was an action by the personal representative of a deceased employee of a railroad corporation to recover, for the exclusive benefit of the surviving widow, for the death of the employee, which resulted from an injury suffered in the course of his employment. The injury and death occurred in Montana, September 25, 1908, the action was commenced in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Minnesota, October 4, 1909, and the right of action was based solely on the Act of Congress before mentioned. It appeared from the complaint that the injury occurred while the defendant, as a common carrier by railroad, was engaged in commerce between some of the states, and while the deceased, as a locomotive fireman, was employed by the defendant in

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such commerce; that the injury proximately resulted from negligence of fellow servants of the deceased, who also were employed by the defendant in such commerce; that the deceased resided in Montana, and died without issue or a surviving father or mother, but leaving a widow and also a sister, and that, if the statutes of Montana were applicable, the recovery should be for the equal benefit of the widow and sister, and not for the exclusive benefit of the widow, as prayed in the complaint and as provided in the Act of Congress. The defendant challenged the validity of the act by a demurrer to the complaint, and in the subsequent proceedings insisted that the recovery, if any, should be for the benefit of the widow and sister jointly, and not for the benefit of the widow alone, but the demurrer and the insistence were overruled, and judgment was rendered for the plaintiff for the exclusive benefit of the widow, as prayed. By a direct writ of error, the defendant seeks a reversal of that judgment.

Nos. 289 and 290 (Walsh v. New York, New Haven and Hartford R. Co.; New York, New Haven and Hartford R. Co. v. Walsh).

These writs of error relate to the judgment in a single case. It was an action by the personal representative of a deceased employee of a railroad corporation to recover, for the benefit of the surviving widow and children, for the death of the employee which resulted from an injury suffered in the course of his employment. The injury and death occurred in Connecticut, February 11, 1909, the action was commenced in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Massachusetts in July following, and the right of action asserted in the second count of the declaration was based on the act of Congress before mentioned. There were several other counts, but they may be passed without special notice. It was charged in the second count that the injury occurred while the defendant,

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as a common carrier by railroad, was engaged in commerce between some of the states, and while the deceased, in the course of his employment by the defendant in such commerce, was engaged in replacing a drawbar on one of the defendant's cars then in use in such commerce, and that the injury proximately resulted from negligence of fellow servants of the deceased in pushing other cars against the one on which he was working. A demurrer to that count challenged the validity of the Act of Congress, but the demurrer was overruled. The defendant answered, putting in issue all that was stated in that count, and also alleging that the deceased, by his own negligence, contributed to the injury which resulted in his death, and therefore that the damages should be diminished in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to him. A trial to the court and a jury resulted in a verdict and judgment for the plaintiff upon the second count, and there was a judgment for the defendant upon the other counts. Each party has sued out a direct writ of error from this Court. The defendant calls in question the ruling upon its demurrer and other rulings in the progress of the cause, notably such as related to the nature of the employment in which the deceased and the fellow servants whose conduct was in question were engaged at the time of the injury, and to the admeasurement of the damages. The plaintiff makes no complaint of the judgment upon the second count, and, if it shall be affirmed, wishes to waive her objections to the judgment upon the other counts.

The act whose validity is drawn in question, 35 Stat. 65, c. 149, and the amendment of April 5, 1910, 36 Stat. 291, c. 143, are as follows:

"An Act Relating to the Liability of Common Carriers by Railroad to Their Employees in Certain cases."

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives

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of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That every common carrier by railroad, while engaging in commerce between any of the several states or territories, or between any of the states and territories, or between the District of Columbia and any of the states or territories, or between the District of Columbia or any of the states or territories and any foreign nation or nations, shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier in such commerce, or, in case of the death of such employee, to his or her personal representative, for the benefit of the surviving widow or husband and children of such employee; and, if none, then of such employee's parents; and, if none, then of the next of kin dependent upon such employee, for such injury or death resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier, or by reason of any defect or insufficiency, due to its negligence, in its cars, engines, appliances, machinery, track, roadbed, works, boats, wharves, or other equipment."

"SEC. 2. That every common carrier by railroad in the territories, the District of Columbia, the Panama Canal Zone, or other possessions of the United States, shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier in any of said jurisdictions, or, in case of the death of such employee, to his or her personal representative, for the benefit of the surviving widow or husband and children of such employee, and, if none, then of such employee's parents, and, if none, then of the next of kin dependent upon such employee, for such injury or death resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier, or by reason of any defect or insufficiency, due to its negligence, in its cars, engines, appliances, machinery, track, roadbed, works, boats, wharves, or other equipment."

"SEC. 3. That in all actions hereafter brought against

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any such common carrier by railroad under or by virtue of any of the provisions of this act, to recover damages for personal injuries to an employee, or where such injuries have resulted in his death, the fact that the employee may have been guilty of contributory negligence shall not bar a recovery, but the damages shall be diminished by the jury in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to such employee: Provided, That no such employee who may be injured or killed shall be held to have been guilty of contributory negligence in any case where the violation by such common carrier of any statute enacted for the safety of employees contributed to the injury or death of such employee."

"SEC. 4. That in any action brought against any common carrier under or by virtue of any of the provisions of this act to recover damages for injuries to, or the death of, any of its employees, such employee shall not be held to have assumed the risks of his employment in any case where the violation by such common carrier of any statute enacted for the safety of employees contributed to the injury or death of such employee."

"SEC. 5. That any contract, rule, regulation, or device whatsoever the purpose or intent of which shall be to enable any common carrier to exempt itself from any liability created by this act shall to that extent be void: Provided, That in any action brought against any such common carrier under or by virtue of any of the provisions of this act, such common carrier may set off therein any sum it has contributed or paid to any insurance, relief benefit, or indemnity that may have been paid to the injured employee or the person entitled thereto on account of the injury or death for which said action was brought."

"SEC. 6. That no action shall be maintained under this act unless commenced within two years from the day the cause of action accrued."

"SEC. 7. That the term 'common carrier' as used in

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this act shall include the receiver or receivers or other persons or corporations charged with the duty of the management and operation of the business of a common carrier."

"SEC. 8. That nothing in this act shall be held to limit the duty or liability of common carriers, or to impair the rights of their employees under any other act or acts of Congress, or to affect the prosecution of any pending proceeding or right of action under the Act of Congress entitled, 'An Act Relating to Liability of Common Carriers in the District of Columbia and Territories, and to Common Carriers Engaged in Commerce between the states and Foreign Nations to their Employees,' approved June eleventh, nineteen hundred and six."

"Approved April 22, 1908."

"An Act to Amend an Act Entitled, 'An Act Relating to the Liability of Common Carriers by Railroad to Their Employees in Certain cases,' Approved April Twenty-second, Nineteen Hundred and Eight."

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That an act entitled 'An Act Relating to the Liability of Common Carriers by Railroad to Their Employees in Certain cases,' approved April twenty-second, nineteen hundred and eight, be amended in section six so that said section shall read:"

"SEC. 6. That no action shall be maintained under this act unless commenced within two years from the day the cause of action accrued."

"Under this act, an action may be brought in a circuit court of the United States, in the district of the residence of the defendant, or in which the cause of action arose, or in which the defendant shall be doing business at the time of commencing such action. The jurisdiction of the courts of the United States under this act shall be concurrent with that of the courts of the several states, and no case

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arising under this act and brought in any state court of competent jurisdiction shall be removed to any court of the United States."

"SEC. 2. That said act be further amended by adding the following section as section nine of said act:"

"SEC. 9. That any right of action given by this act to a person suffering injury shall survive to his or her personal representative, for the benefit of the surviving widow or husband and children of such employee, and if none, then of such employee's parents; and, if none, then of the next of kin dependent upon such employee, but in such cases, there shall be only one recovery for the same injury."

"Approved, April 5, 1910. "

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