213 U.S. 55 (1909), 64, Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company v. Sowers

Docket Nº:No. 64
Citation:213 U.S. 55, 29 S.Ct. 397, 53 L.Ed. 695
Party Name:Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company v. Sowers
Case Date:March 01, 1909
Court:United States Supreme Court

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213 U.S. 55 (1909)

29 S.Ct. 397, 53 L.Ed. 695

Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company



No. 64

United States Supreme Court

March 1, 1909

Argued January 8, 1909




Where the opinion of the state court shows that it considered and denied the validity of a statute of another state, and its binding force to control the right of action asserted, a federal right specially set up is denied, and this Court has jurisdiction to review the judgment under § 709, Rev.Stat.

Congress has only reserved a revisory power over territorial legislation, and a statute duly enacted, and within the legislative power of the territory, remains in full force until Congress annuls it by exerting such power. Miner's Bank v. Iowa, 12 How. 1, 8.

Under the provisions of the Constitution which declare the supremacy of the National government, Congress has power to enact, as it has done by §§ 905, 906, Rev.Stat., that the same faith and credit be given in the courts of the states and territories to public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of the territories as are given to those of the states under Art. IV, § 1, of the Constitution. Embry v. Palmer, 107 U.S. 3.

The passage of a legislative act of a territory is the exercise of authority under the United States. McLean v. Railroad Co., 203 U.S. 38, 47.

Where Congress confers on a territory legislative power extending to all rightful subjects of legislation the territory has authority to legislate concerning personal injuries and rights of action relating thereto, and so held in regard to the legislative power of New Mexico under Act of Sept. 9, 1850, c. 49, 9 Stat. 446.

Actions for personal injuries are transitory, and maintainable wherever a court may be found that has jurisdiction of the parties and the subject

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matter, Dennick v. Railroad Co., 103 U.S. 11, and although in such an action the law of the place governs in enforcing the right, the action may be sustained in another jurisdiction when not inconsistent with any local policy. Stewart v. Baltimore & Ohio R. Co., 168 U.S. 445.

No state or territory can pass laws having force or effect over person or property beyond its jurisdiction.

A court that only permits a recovery on a cause of action on plaintiff's showing compliance with the conditions imposed by a statute of the territory in which the cause arose has given to that statute the observance required under § 906, Rev.Stat., and if the action is one otherwise controlled by common law principles, its jurisdiction is not defeated because such statute requires actions of that nature to be brought in the courts of the territory.

An action for personal injuries sustained in New Mexico may be maintained in the courts of Texas subject to the conditions imposed by the Territorial Act of New Mexico of March 11, 1903, notwithstanding that act required actions of that nature to be brought in the district court of the territory.

99 S.W. 190 affirmed.

The facts are stated in the opinion.

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DAY, J., lead opinion

[29 S.Ct. 398] MR. JUSTICE DAY delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a writ of error to the Court of Civil Appeals for the

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Fourth Supreme Judicial District of the State of Texas. The defendant in error, George A. Sowers, a citizen of Arizona, recovered judgment in the district court of El Paso County, Texas, in the sum of $5,000, for personal injuries alleged to have been sustained by him while employed in the service of the plaintiff in error as a brakeman in the Territory of New Mexico. The judgment was affirmed by the court of civil appeals. 99 S.W.190. Subsequently leave to file a petition in error was denied by the Supreme Court of Texas, and the case was brought here by writ of error to the court of civil appeals.

The defendant in error recovered because of injuries received while riding on the pilot of an engine at Gallup, New Mexico. His injuries are alleged to have been occasioned by the negligence of the railroad company in permitting its track to become soft and out of repair, permitting low joints therein, by reason of which the engine's pilot struck a frog and guard rail, and the plaintiff was injured.

We are not concerned with the questions of general law in actions of negligence which were involved in the case. The federal question which invites our attention concerns an act of the legislature of New Mexico, passed March 11, 1903 (c. 23, Acts of 35th Legislative Assembly of New Mexico). We give this act in full in the margin. *

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It is contended by the plaintiff in error that its effect is to prescribe causes of action for personal injuries, enforceable only in

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the district court of the Territory of New Mexico, and not elsewhere, and that the court of Texas, in maintaining jurisdiction of

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the case, and refusing to enforce the territorial statute, denied a federal right guaranteed by the Constitution and statutes of the United States, requiring such faith and credit to be given in every court within the United States to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state or territory as they have, by law, in the courts of the state or territory from which they are taken.

It is contended that there is no jurisdiction in this this this court to entertain this writ of error. But we are of opinion that there is jurisdiction. The Revised Statutes of the United States, § 709, authorize this Court to review final judgments in the highest court of the state in which a decision in the suit could be had, where any tit privilege, or immunity under the federal Constitution or under any statute of or authority exercised under the United States is specially claimed and denied.

The territorial law was specially set up in the case, and was offered in evidence at the trial, and it was held by the Texas court that it was not required to give force and effect to the territorial statute under the Constitution and laws of the United States.

The opinion of the court of civil appeals [29 S.Ct. 399] of Texas shows that

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the validity of this statute and its binding force to control the right of action asserted was considered and denied in giving judgment against the plaintiff in error. Such judgment gives this Court jurisdiction of the case. Hancock National Bank v. Farnum, 176 U.S. 640; St. Louis & Iron Mt. Southern R. Co. v. Taylor, 210 U.S. 281, 293; American Express Co. v. Mullins, 212 U.S. 311.

It is contended at the outset that, inasmuch as this territorial statute has been annulled by act of Congress (35 Stat. Part One, 573), that the act is void from the beginning. The organic act establishing the Territory of New Mexico provides (Compiled Laws of New Mexico, 1897, § 7, p. 43, 9 U.S. Stat. 449):

That all laws laws passed by the legislative assembly and governor shall be submitted to the Congress of the United States, and, if disapproved, shall be null and of no effect.

But we are not prepared to hold that the territorial law thus

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annulled under the power of Congress becomes void from the beginning. Conceding to the fullest extent the powers of Congress over territorial legislation, we think such laws, duly enacted and within the legislative power of the territory, are in force until Congress has exerted its authority to annul them. If this be not so, rights acquired on the faith of territorial laws, passed within the scope of the legislative power of the territory, may be stricken down by the retroactive effect of an act of Congress annulling such legislation. All right to legislate would be at a standstill until that body should act. Congress might not be in session, or its action delayed, rendering the territory powerless, even in cases of emergency, to pass necessary laws. We think Congress has only reserved a revisory power over territorial legislation. Miners' Bank v. Iowa, 12 How. 1, 8.

To make effectual the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution (Art. IV, § 1), Congress passed the Act of May 26, 1790, 1 Stat. 122, c. 11. This act made provision for the authentication of the records, judicial proceedings, and acts of the legislatures of the several states, and provided that the same should have such faith and credit given to them in every state within the United States as they have by law or usage in the courts of the state from which the records are or shall be taken. This act did not include the territories.

On March 27, 1804, Congress passed an act extending the provisions of the former statute to the public acts, records, judicial proceedings, etc., of the territories of the United States and countries subject to the jurisdiction thereof. 2 Stat. 298, c. 56. Those statutory enactments subsequently became §§ 905 and 906 of the Revised Statutes. Section 905 applies to judicial proceedings, and § [29 S.Ct. 400] 906 to records, etc., kept in offices not pertaining to courts. In the case of Embry v. Palmer, 107 U.S. 3, it was held that a judgment of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, under the legislation of Congress (Rev.Stat. § 905), was conclusive in every state of the Union, except for such causes as would be sufficient to set it aside in the District. The opinion of the Court, delivered by Mr. Justice Matthews,

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reached this conclusion because of § 905 of the Revised Statutes, above quoted. In considering the constitutional power to pass this act, speaking for the Court, the learned justice said:

So far as this statutory provision relates to the effect to be given to the judicial proceedings of the states, it is founded on Article IV, § 1, of the Constitution, which, however, does not extend to the other cases covered by the statute. The power to prescribe what effect shall be given to the judicial proceedings of the courts of the United States...

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