207 U.S. 142 (1907), 22, Chambers v. Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company

Docket Nº:No. 22
Citation:207 U.S. 142, 28 S.Ct. 34, 52 L.Ed. 143
Party Name:Chambers v. Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company
Case Date:November 18, 1907
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 142

207 U.S. 142 (1907)

28 S.Ct. 34, 52 L.Ed. 143

Chambers

v.

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company

No. 22

United States Supreme Court

November 18, 1907

Argued October 17, 18, 1907

ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT

OF THE STATE OF OHIO

Syllabus

This Court has jurisdiction to review the judgment on writ of error under § 709, Rev.Stat., if the opinion of the highest court of the state clearly shows that the federal question was assumed to be in issue, was decided adversely, and the decision was essential to the judgment rendered.

The right to sue and defend in the courts of the states is one of the privileges and immunities comprehended by § 2 of Art. IV of the Constitution of the United States, and equality of treatment in regard thereto does not depend upon comity between the states, but is granted and protected by that provision in the Constitution, subject, however, to the restrictions of that instrument that the limitations imposed by a state must operate in the same way on its own citizens and on those of other states. The state's own policy may determine the jurisdiction of its courts and the character of the controversies which shall be heard therein.

The statute of Ohio of 1902 providing that no action can be maintained in the courts of that state for wrongful death occurring in another state except where the deceased was a citizen of Ohio, the restriction operating equally upon representatives of the deceased whether they are citizens of Ohio or of other states, does not violate the privilege and immunity provision of the federal Constitution.

73 Ohio St. 1 affirmed.

The facts are stated in the opinion.

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MOODY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MOODY delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a writ of error directed to the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio. The plaintiff in error is the widow of Henry E. Chambers, who, while in the employ of the defendant in error as a locomotive engineer, and engaged in the performance of his duty, received injuries from which he shortly afterwards died. Both husband and wife were, at the time of the injuries and death, citizens of Pennsylvania, and the wife has since continued to be such. The injuries and death occurred in Pennsylvania. The widow brought an action in the court of common pleas of the State of Ohio against the defendant railroad, alleging that the injuries were caused by its negligence. In that action, she sought to recover damages under certain parts of the Constitution and laws of Pennsylvania printed in the margin, * which provided for the recovery of damages

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for death. The plaintiff had a verdict and judgment in the court of common pleas, from which, by petition in error, the case was removed first to an intermediate court and then to the supreme court of the state. There it was insisted by the defendant that the action could not be maintained in the courts of Ohio. The supreme court sustained this contention, reversed the judgments of the court below, and entered judgment for the defendant. A statute of Ohio provided that

whenever the death of a citizen of this state has been or may be caused by a wrongful act, neglect, or default in another state, territory, or foreign country, for which a right to maintain an action and recover damages in respect thereof is given by a statute of such other state, territory, or foreign country, such right of action may be enforced in this state within the time prescribed for the commencement of such action by the statute of such other state, territory, or foreign country.

There was no other statutory provision on the subject. The supreme court held that the action authorized by this statute for a death occurring in another state was only when the death was that of a citizen of Ohio; that the common law of the state forbade such action, and that, as the person for whose death damages were demanded in this case was not a citizen of Ohio, the action would not lie. The plaintiff brings the case here on writ of error, alleging that the statute thus construed and the judgment

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based upon that construction violate Article IV, § 2, paragraph 1, of the Constitution of the United States, which provides that "the citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states." This allegation presents the only question for our consideration.

The defendant objects to our jurisdiction to reexamine the judgment because the federal question was not properly and seasonably raised in the courts of the state. But it clearly and unmistakably appears from the opinion of the supreme court that the federal question was assumed to be in issue, was decided against the claim of federal right, and that the decision of the question was essential to the judgment rendered. This is enough to give this Court the authority to reexamine that question on writ of error. San Jose Land & Water Company v. San Jose Ranch Co., 189 U.S. 177; Haire v. Rice, 204 U.S. 291.

In the decision of the merits of the case there are some fundamental principles which are of controlling effect. The right to sue and defend in the courts is the alternative of force. In an organized society, it is the right conservative of all other rights, and lies at the foundation of orderly government. It is one of the highest and most essential privileges of citizenship, and must be allowed by each state to the citizens of all other states to the precise extent that it is allowed to its own citizens. Equality of treatment in this respect is not left to depend upon comity between the states, but is granted and protected by the federal Constitution. Corfield v. Coryell, 4 Wash. C.C. 371, 380, per Washington, J.; Ward v. Maryland, 12 Wall. 418, 430, per Clifford, J.; Cole v. Cunningham, 133 U.S. 107, 114, per FULLER, C.J.; Blake v. McClung, 172 U.S. 239, 252, per HARLAN, J.

But, subject to the restrictions of the federal Constitution, the state may determine the limits of the jurisdiction of its courts and the character of the controversies which shall be heard in them. The state policy decides whether and to what

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extent the state will entertain in its courts transitory actions, where the causes of action have arisen in other jurisdictions. Different states may have different policies, and the same state may have different policies at different times. But any policy the state may choose to adopt must operate in the same way on its own citizens and those of other states. The privileges which it affords to one class it must afford to the other. Any law by which privileges to begin actions in the courts are given to its own citizens and withheld from the citizens of other states is void because in conflict with the supreme law of the land.

The law of Ohio must be brought to the test of these fundamental principles. It appears from the decision under review (and we need no other authority) that, by the common law of the state, the courts had no jurisdiction to entertain actions to recover damages for death where the cause of action arose under the laws of other states or countries. This rule was universal in its application. The citizenship of the persons who brought action or of the person for whose death a remedy [28 S.Ct. 36] was sought was immaterial. If the death was caused outside the state and the right of action arose under laws foreign to the state, its courts were impartially closed to all persons seeking a remedy, entirely irrespective of their citizenship. The common law, however, was modified by a statute which, as amended, became the statute under consideration here. By this statute, the courts were given jurisdiction over certain actions of this description, while the common law was left to control all others. A discrimination was thus introduced into the law of the state. The discrimination was based solely on the citizenship of the deceased. The courts were open in such cases to plaintiffs who were citizens of other states if the deceased was a citizen of Ohio; they were closed to plaintiffs who were citizens of Ohio if the deceased was a citizen of another state. So far as the parties to the litigation are concerned, the state, by its laws, made no discrimination based on citizenship, and offered precisely the same privileges to citizens of

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other states which it allowed to its own. There is therefore at least a literal conformity with the requirements of the Constitution.

But it may be urged, on the other hand, that the conformity is only superficial; that the death action may be given by the foreign law to the person killed at the instant when he was vivus et mortuus, and made to survive and pass to his representatives (Higgins v. Railroad, 155 Mass. 176); that in such cases it is the right of action of the deceased which is brought into court by those who have it by survivorship, and that, as the test of jurisdiction is the citizenship of the person in whom the right of action was originally vested, and the action is entertained if that person was a citizen of Ohio and declined if he was a citizen of another state, there is, in a real and substantial sense, a discrimination forbidden by the Constitution.

If such a case should arise, and be denied hearing in the Ohio courts by the Ohio law, then, as the denial would be based upon the citizenship of that person in whom the right of action originally vested, it might be necessary to consider whether the Ohio law did not, in substance, grant privileges to Ohio citizens which it withheld from citizens of other states. But no such case is before us. The Pennsylvania statute which created the right of action sought to be enforced in the Ohio courts has been construed by the courts of Pennsylvania. The applicable section is section 19 of the act of 1851. Of it the Pennsylvania court said in Fink v. Garman, 40 Pa. 95:

The 18th section was apparently intended to...

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