Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen
Annotate this Case
244 U.S. 205 (1917)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205 (1917)
Southern Pacific Company v. Jensen
Argued February 28, 1916
Restored to docket for reargument
November 13, 1916
Reargued January 31, February 1, 1917
Decided May 21, 1917
244 U.S. 205
The Federal Employers' Liability Act applies only where the injury occurs in railroad operations or their adjuncts, and cannot be extended to interstate maritime transportation merely because the vessel in the case is owned and operated by an interstate carrier by railroad.
The word "boats" in the statute refers to vessels which may be properly
regarded as but part of a railroad's extension or equipment as understood and applied in common practice.
Under Art. III, § 2, of the Constitution, extending the judicial power of the United States "to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction," and Art. I, § 8, conferring on Congress power to make all laws which may be necessary and proper for executing the powers vested in the general government or in any of its departments or officers, Congress has paramount power to fix and determine the maritime law which shall prevail throughout the country.
In the absence of controlling statutes, the general maritime law as accepted by the federal courts constitutes part of our national law applicable to matters within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.
The power of the states to change, modify or affect the general maritime law, while existing to some extent under the Constitution and the Judiciary Act of 1789, § 9, Judicial Code, §§ 24, 256, may not contravene the essential purposes of an act of Congress, work material prejudice to the characteristic features of the general maritime law, or interfere with the proper harmony and uniformity of that law in its international and interstate relations.
Work performed by a stevedore on board a ship in unloading her at wharf in navigable waters is maritime; his employment for such work and injuries suffered in it are likewise maritime, and the rights and liabilities arising from such work, employment, and injuries are clearly within the admiralty jurisdiction. Atlantic Transport Co. v. Imbrovek, 234 U. S. 52.
A stevedore engaged on an interstate ship in unloading her at wharf in navigable waters in New York was accidentally injured and killed, and an award of compensation was made against the shipowner by the New York Workmen's Compensation Commission under the New York Workmen's Compensation Act (New York Central R. Co. v. White, 243 U. S. 188), and affirmed by the courts of that state. Held that the act as applied to such a case was in conflict with the Constitution, and to that extent invalid.
The remedy of the New York Workmen's Compensation Act (it provides compensation upon a prescribed scale for injuries and deaths of employees, without regard to fault, to be administered and awarded primarily through a state administrative commission) is a remedy unknown to the common law, and incapable of enforcement by the ordinary processes of any court, and hence is not among the common law remedies which are saved to suitors from the exclusive admiralty jurisdiction by Judiciary Act of 1789, § 9; Judicial Code, §§ 24, 256.
The remedy of the New York Workmen's Compensation Act is inconsistent with the policy of Congress to encourage investment in ships, manifested by the Acts of 1851 and 1884 (Rev.Stats., §§ 4283-4285; c. 121, 23 Stat. 57), which declare a limitation upon the liability of their owners.
215 N.Y. 514 reversed.
The case is stated in the opinion.