223 U.S. 1 (2021), Second Employers' Liability Cases

Citation:223 U.S. 1, 32 S.Ct. 169, 56 L.Ed. 327
Party Name:Second Employers' Liability Cases
Case Date:January 15, 1912
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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223 U.S. 1 (2021)

32 S.Ct. 169, 56 L.Ed. 327

Second Employers' Liability Cases

United States Supreme Court

January 15, 1912

ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ERRORS

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

Syllabus

The Employers' Liability Act of April 22, 1908, 35 Stat. 65, c. 149, as amended April 5, 1910, 36 Stat. 291, c. 143, regulating the liability of common carriers by railroad to their employees, is constitutional.

Congress may, in the execution of its power over interstate commerce, regulate the relations of common carriers by railroad and their employees while both are engaged in such commerce.

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Congress has not exceeded its power in that regard by prescribing the regulations embodied in the Employers' Liability Act.

Those regulations have superseded the laws of the several states insofar as the latter cover the same field.

Rights arising under the regulations prescribed by the act may be enforced, as of right, in the courts of the states when their jurisdiction, as fixed by local laws, is adequate to the occasion.

Congress, in the exertion of its power over interstate commerce, and subject to the limitations prescribed in the Constitution, may regulate those relations of common carriers by railroad and their employees which have a substantial connection with interstate commerce and while both carrier and employee are engaged therein.

A person has no property -- no vested interest -- in any rule of the common law. While rights of property created by the common law cannot be taken without due process, the law as a rule of conduct may, subject to constitutional limitations, be changed at will by the legislature.

Under the power to regulate relations of employers and employees while engaged in interstate commerce, Congress may establish new rules of law in place of common law rules, including those in regard to fellow servants, assumption of risk, contributory negligence, and right of action by personal representatives for death caused by wrongful neglect of another.

In regulating the relations of employers and employees engaged in interstate commerce, Congress may regulate the liability of employers to employees for injuries caused by other employees even though the latter be engaged in intrastate commerce.

The power of Congress to insure the efficiency of regulations ordained by it is equal to the power to impose the regulations, and prohibiting the making of agreements by those engaged in interstate commerce which in any way limit a liability imposed by Congress on interstate carriers does not deprive any person of property without due process of law, or abridge liberty of contract in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Quaere whether an element of the due process provisions of the Fifth Amendment is the equivalent of the equal protection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment.

A classification of railroad employees, even if including all employees, whether subjected to peculiar hazards incident to operation of trains or not, is not so arbitrary or unequal as to amount to denial of equal protection of the laws. Such a classification does not violate

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the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment even if equal protection is an element of due process.

State legislation, even if in pursuance of a reserved power, must give way to an act of Congress over a subject within the exclusive control of Congress.

Until Congress acted on the subject, the laws of the several states determined the liability of interstate carriers for injuries to their employees while engaged in such commerce; but, Congress having acted, its action supersedes that of the states so far as it covers the same subject. That which is not supreme must yield to that which is.

The inaction of Congress on a subject within its power does not affect that power.

Rights arising under an act of Congress may be enforced, as of right, in the courts of the states when their jurisdiction, as prescribed by local laws, is adequate to the occasion.

When Congress, in the exertion of a power confided to it by the Constitution, adopts an act, it speaks for all the people and all the states, and thereby establishes a policy for all, and the courts of a state cannot refuse to enforce the act on ground that it is not in harmony with the policy of that state. Claflin v. Houseman, 93 U.S. 130.

A state court cannot refuse to enforce the remedy given by an act of Congress in regard to a subject within the domain of Congress on the ground of inconvenience or confusion.

The systems of jurisprudence of the state and of the United States together form one system which constitutes the law of the land for the state.

The United States is not a foreign sovereignty as regards the several states, but is a concurrent and, within its jurisdiction, a paramount sovereign. Claflin v. Houseman, 93 U.S. 130.

Existence of jurisdiction in a court implies the duty to exercise it notwithstanding such duty may be onerous.

82 Conn. 373 reversed; 173 F. 49 affirmed.

No. 120 (Mondou v. New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Co.).

This was an action by a citizen of Connecticut against a railroad corporation of that state, to recover for personal injuries suffered by the plaintiff while in the defendant's service. The injuries occurred in Connecticut August 5, 1908, the action was commenced in one of the superior courts of that state in October following, and the right

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of action was based solely on the Act of Congress of April 22, 1908 (35 Stat. 65, c. 149). According to the complaint, the injuries occurred while the defendant, as a common carrier by railroad, was engaged in commerce between some of the states, and while the plaintiff, as a locomotive fireman, was employed by the defendant in such commerce, and the injuries proximately resulted from negligence of the plaintiff's fellow servants, who also were employed by the defendant in such commerce. A demurrer to the complaint was interposed upon the grounds, first, that the act of Congress was repugnant in designated aspects to the Constitution of the United States, and, second, that, even if the act were valid, a right of action thereunder could not be enforced in the courts of the state. The demurrer was sustained, judgment was rendered against the plaintiff, the judgment subsequently was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Errors of the state (82 Conn. 373) upon the authority of Hoxie v. N.Y., N.H. & H. R. Co., 82 Conn. 352, and the plaintiff then sued out the present writ of error.

No. 170 (Northern Pacific Railway Co. v. Babcock).

This was an action by the personal representative of a deceased employee of a railroad corporation to recover, for the exclusive benefit of the surviving widow, for the death of the employee, which resulted from an injury suffered in the course of his employment. The injury and death occurred in Montana, September 25, 1908, the action was commenced in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Minnesota, October 4, 1909, and the right of action was based solely on the Act of Congress before mentioned. It appeared from the complaint that the injury occurred while the defendant, as a common carrier by railroad, was engaged in commerce between some of the states, and while the deceased, as a locomotive fireman, was employed by the defendant in

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such commerce; that the injury proximately resulted from negligence of fellow servants of the deceased, who also were employed by the defendant in such commerce; that the deceased resided in Montana, and died without issue or a surviving father or mother, but leaving a widow and also a sister, and that, if the statutes of Montana were applicable, the recovery should be for the equal benefit of the widow and sister, and not for the exclusive benefit of the widow, as prayed in the complaint and as provided in the Act of Congress. The defendant challenged the validity of the act by a demurrer to the complaint, and in the subsequent proceedings insisted that the recovery, if any, should be for the benefit of the widow and sister jointly, and not for the benefit of the widow alone, but the demurrer and the insistence were overruled, and judgment was rendered for the plaintiff for the exclusive benefit of the widow, as prayed. By a direct writ of error, the defendant seeks a reversal of that judgment.

Nos. 289 and 290 (Walsh v. New York, New Haven and Hartford R. Co.; New York, New Haven and Hartford R. Co. v. Walsh).

These writs of error relate to the judgment in a single case. It was an action by the personal representative of a deceased employee of a railroad corporation to recover, for the benefit of the surviving widow and children, for the death of the employee which resulted from an injury suffered in the course of his employment. The injury and death occurred in Connecticut, February 11, 1909, the action was commenced in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Massachusetts in July following, and the right of action asserted in the second count of the declaration was based on the act of Congress before mentioned. There were several other counts, but they may be passed without special notice. It was charged in the second count that the injury occurred while the defendant,

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as a common carrier by railroad, was engaged in commerce between some of the states, and while the deceased, in the course of his employment by the defendant in such commerce, was engaged in replacing a drawbar on one of the defendant's cars then in use in such commerce, and that the injury proximately resulted from negligence of fellow servants of the deceased in pushing other cars against the one on which he was working. A demurrer to that count...

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