The expression "law of the United States," referred to in clause
6 of § 250, Judicial Code, regulating appeals from and writs of
error to the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, embraces
only laws of the United States not local in their application to
the District of Columbia.
A statute of the United States, general in its application but
which has been declared unconstitutional except as it relates to
the District of Columbia and to Territories of the United States,
is not a law of the United States within the meaning of clause 6 of
§ 250, Judicial Code.
Where jurisdiction to review the judgment of the Court of
Appeals of the District of Columbia is sought under clause 6 of §
250, Judicial Code, the test of jurisdiction is the character of
the statute, and not the character of the act to which the statute
In an action brought under the original Employers' Liability Act
of 1906, which was declared unconstitutional as to the states but
not as to the territories, although the transit of the train
involved was interstate, if the accident occurred within the
confines of the District of Columbia, the statute became applicable
concerning it as a local statute in the absence of any general
legislation by Congress, and not as a general law of the United
States, and this Court cannot review the judgment of the Court of
Appeals of the District of Columbia on writ of error under clause 6
of § 250, Judicial Code.
The fact that a local statute is applicable to a given situation
solely because there is no general law to control does not make the
local statute a general one.
Writ of error to review 40 App.D.C. 147 dismissed.
The facts, which involve the jurisdiction of this Court of writs
of error to review judgments of the Court of
Page 236 U. S. 191
Appeals of the District of Columbia, are stated in the
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
The plaintiff in error, a Virginia corporation whom we shall
speak of as the company, operates a trolley line from Washington to
Mt. Vernon, in Virginia. The defendant in error, Downey, was
employed by the company as a trolley man, and on the 29th of
November, 1907, was working on a train of two cars, a motor car and
a trailer car, moving from Mt. Vernon to Washington. Downey was on
the rear platform of the motor car, and his duty was to hold the
rope connecting with the overhead trolley wheel to keep it from
getting off the wire, and thus breaking the electrical connection.
While in the District of Columbia, on the bridge crossing the
Potomac, Downey was thrown from the platform and injured, and the
company prosecutes this writ of error to a judgment of the court
below (40 App.D.C. 147), affirming one of the Supreme Court of the
District, rendered on a verdict against it and in favor of Downey
upon the finding that his injury was caused by the actionable
negligence of the company or of its servants.
Various errors are assigned relating to the operation and
meaning of the act of Congress (Employers' Liability Act) of June
11, 1906, 34 Stat. 232, c. 3073, by which the case is governed and
the rulings of the trial court admitting
Page 236 U. S. 192
or excluding testimony and instructions given or refused. But
before we consider them, whether we have jurisdiction to do so
arises, and therefore we primarily consider that question. It
depends upon the sixth clause of § 250 of the Judicial Code, and it
is not open to controversy that the "law of the United States"
therein referred to "embraced only laws of the United States of
general operation," and does not therefore include "laws of the
United States local in their application to the District of
Columbia." McGowan v. Parish, 228 U.
, 228 U. S. 317
American Security Co. v. District of Columbia,
224 U. S. 491
District of Columbia v. Philadelphia, Balt. & Wash. R.
232 U.S. 716.
The law here involved, as we have said, is the Employers'
Liability Act of 1906. Undoubtedly that law as enacted was in form
one of general application, but it was held to be unconstitutional
as such a law in The Employers' Liability Cases,
207 U. S. 463
Notwithstanding that ruling, however, the provisions of the
statute, so far as they apply to the District of Columbia, have
been decided to be within the power of Congress to enact because of
its plenary authority as the local legislature of the District, and
because the intention to make the provisions of the law applicable
to the District locally was manifest and separable from the purpose
to enact a statute which would be applicable generally throughout
the United States. El Paso & N.E. Ry. v. Gutierrez,
215 U. S. 87
215 U. S. 97
Philadelphia, Balt. & Wash. R. Co. v. Schubert,
224 U. S. 603
224 U. S. 610
Santa Fe Central Ry. v. Friday, 232 U.
, 232 U. S. 698
and see Butts v. Merchants Transportation Co.,
230 U. S. 126
230 U. S. 137
Under this condition, there is no ground to maintain the
proposition that the statute, as applicable to the District of
Columbia, was adopted as one of a general character, and that
therefore we have power to review the questions involved.
But, it is said, the trolley cars were in transit from the State
of Virginia to the District, and therefore were engaged
Page 236 U. S. 193
in a movement from state to territory not purely local in its
character, and hence there is jurisdiction. But this rests upon the
mistaken assumption that the test of jurisdiction is the character
of the act to which the statute applies, and not the nature of the
statute itself -- that is, whether it is general or local to the
District. And this difficulty is not answered by the argument that,
because the statute was made controlling concerning acts not purely
local, therefore, as the effect cannot be greater than the cause,
the statute must itself be said to be, for the purposes of
jurisdiction, not of a local character. But again, the proposition
rests upon an erroneous assumption. The test of whether the statute
is general or local depends not upon the particular question to
which it may be exceptionally applied in a given case, but upon the
exertion of legislative power which the statute manifests and its
general operation; that is to say, whether it was enacted as a
statute of general application under the general legislative power,
or whether it took being as the result of the exercise of the
purely local power of Congress to govern the District of Columbia,
and was, as a general rule, intended to be so applicable. The error
of the argument could not be better illustrated than by saying
that, if the proposition were admitted, it would necessitate
deciding that a statute which has been held to be beyond the
constitutional power of Congress to enact so far as it embodied
anything but the exertion of local power may yet be enforced and
applied as a general statute. The want of foundation for the
contention is besides made plainer by looking at the subject from
another point of view. While the transit in which the train was
engaged was not purely local, the accident complained of occurred
within the confines of the District of Columbia, and the statute
became applicable concerning it because, as a local statute, it
governed in the absence of legislation by Congress of a general
Page 236 U. S. 194
character governing the subject. Chicago, M. & St.P. Ry.
v. Solan, 169 U. S. 133
Pennsylvania R. Co. v. Hughes, 191 U.
; Martin v. Pittsburgh & Lake Erie R.
Co., 203 U. S. 284
take jurisdiction, therefore,
we would be compelled to
decide that a purely local statute which would be void if it were
general in character was yet operative in such aspect, and that,
because a local law was applicable to a given situation solely for
the reason that there was no general law to control, the local law
was a general one.
Dismissed for want of jurisdiction.