A rule of state pleading and practice, applied without
discrimination to cases of personal injury arising under the
federal and state employers' lability laws, which prevents an
injured employee from suing jointly, in a single count, the
railroad company under the federal statute and a co-employee at
common law, does not infringe any right of such plaintiff derived
from the federal statute. P. 252 U. S.
21 Ga.App. 558 affirmed.
The case is stated in the opinion.
MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.
An injured employee brought an action in a state court of
Georgia jointly against a railroad and its engineer, and sought in
a single count, which alleged concurring negligence, to recover
damages from the company under the Federal Employers' Liability
Act, and from the individual defendant under the common law. Each
defendant filed a special demurrer on the ground of misjoinder of
causes of action and misjoinder of parties defendant. The
Page 252 U. S. 110
were overruled by the trial court. The court of appeals -- an
intermediate appellate court to which the case went on exceptions
-- certified to the supreme court of the state the question whether
such joinder was permissible. It answered in the negative. 147 Ga.
428. Thereupon the court of appeals reversed the judgment of the
trial court (21 Ga.App. 558), and certiorari to the supreme court
of the state was refused. The plaintiff then applied to this Court
for a writ of certiorari on the ground that he had been denied
rights conferred by federal law, and the writ was granted.
Whether two causes of action may be joined -- i.e.
single count or whether two persons may be sued in a single count
are matters of pleading and practice relating solely to the form of
the remedy. When they arise in state courts, the final
determination of such matters ordinarily rests with the state
tribunals, even if the rights there being enforced are created by
federal law. John v. Paullin, 231 U.
; Nevada-California-Oregon Railway v.
Burrus, 244 U. S. 103
This has been specifically held in cases arising under the Federal
Employers' Liability Act. Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad
Co. v. Bombolis, 241 U. S. 211
Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Co. v. Mims, 242 U.
; Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co. v.
Holloway, 246 U. S. 525
is only when matters nominally of procedure are actually matters of
substance which affect a federal right that the decision of the
state court therein becomes subject to review by this Court.
Central Vermont Railway Co. v. White, 238 U.
; New Orleans & North Eastern Railroad Co.
v. Harris, 247 U. S. 367
The Federal Employers' Liability Act does not modify in any
respect rights of employees against one another existing at common
law. To deny to a plaintiff the right to join in one count a cause
against another employee with a cause of action against the
employer in no way abridges any substantive right of the plaintiff
Page 252 U. S. 111
employer. The argument that plaintiff has been discriminated
against because he is an interstate employee is answered, if answer
be necessary, by the fact that the Supreme Court of Georgia had
applied the same rule in Western & Atlantic R. Co. v.
144 Ga. 737 (22 Ga.App. 437), where it refused under
the state Employers' Liability Act to permit the plaintiff to join
with the employer another railroad whose concurrent negligence was
alleged to have contributed in producing the injury complained of.
If the Supreme Court of Georgia had in this case permitted the
joinder, we might have been required to determine whether, in view
of the practice prevailing in Georgia, such decision would not
impair the employer's opportunity to make the defenses to which it
is entitled by the federal law. For, as stated by its Supreme Court
in this case (147 Ga. 428, 431):
"If the carrier and its engineer were jointly liable under the
conditions stated in the second question, a joint judgment would
result against them, and they would be equally bound, regardless of
the fact that the duties imposed upon them are not the same. The
jury would have no power in such a case to specify the particular
damages to be recovered of each, since Civil Code, § 4512
[providing for verdicts in different amounts against the several
defendants] is not applicable to personal torts."
But we have no occasion to consider this question. Refusal to
permit the joinder did not deny any right of plaintiff conferred by
federal law. Cases upon which petitioner most strongly relies,
Southern Railway Co. v. Carson, 194 U.
; Alabama Great Southern Railway Co. v.
Thompson, 200 U. S. 206
Southern Railway Co. v. Miller, 217 U.
, are inapplicable to the situation at bar.