Kelley v. Southern Pacific Co.,
419 U.S. 318 (1974)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Kelley v. Southern Pacific Co., 419 U.S. 318 (1974)

Kelley v. Southern Pacific Co.

No. 73-1270

Argued October 22, 1974

Decided December 23, 1974

419 U.S. 318


Petitioner, an employee of a trucking company (PMT), was injured while transferring automobiles in respondent's railyard from respondent's railroad car to a PMT auto trailer, an operation that PMT performed under contract for respondent. Although respondent's employees occasionally consulted with PMT employees about the operation, PMT supervisors controlled the day-to-day unloading process. Petitioner, claiming that he was sufficiently under respondent's control to bring him under the coverage of the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), which makes a covered railroad liable for negligently causing injury or death to any person "while he is employed" by the railroad, and that the accident resulted from respondent's negligence, brought suit against respondent under the FELA. The District Court found that the relationship between petitioner and respondent sufficed to make the FELA apply, the court having concluded that: PMT was serving generally as respondent's agent; PMT employees were respondent's agents for purposes of the unloading operation; and the work performed by petitioner fulfilled a nondelegable duty of respondent. The Court of Appeals reversed, having concluded that the District Court's test for FELA liability was too broad.


1. The "while employed" language of the FELA requires not only that the FELA plaintiff be an agent of the rail carrier but the carrier's servant, and here the District Court erred in holding that petitioner (who according to the court's findings was neither a borrowed servant of respondent nor a dual servant of respondent and PMT) came within the coverage of the FELA, since those findings also did not establish a master-servant relationship between respondent and PMT that would be necessary to render petitioner a subservant of the railroad. Nor was the District Court's conclusion that respondent was "responsible" for the unloading operation tantamount to a finding that the railroad controlled or had the right to control the physical conduct of PMT employees like petitioner in the unloading operation. Pp. 419 U. S. 322-326.

Page 419 U. S. 319

2. The District Court's findings that petitioner worked most of the time on respondent's premises and that respondent's employees were responsible for checking the safety conditions on the railroad cars showed only that the two companies' operations were closely related, not that respondent's employees supervised the unloading operation, and consequently the FELA's "while employed" requirement remains unsatisfied even under the proper test. Pp. 419 U. S. 326-331.

3. The record should be reexamined by the District Court in light of the proper legal standard. Pp. 419 U. S. 331-332.

486 F.2d 1084, vacated and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 332. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 419 U. S. 333. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 419 U. S. 341.

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