234 U.S. 542 (1914), 355, Western Union Telegraph Company v. Brown

Docket Nº:No. 355
Citation:234 U.S. 542, 34 S.Ct. 955, 58 L.Ed. 1457
Party Name:Western Union Telegraph Company v. Brown
Case Date:June 22, 1914
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 542

234 U.S. 542 (1914)

34 S.Ct. 955, 58 L.Ed. 1457

Western Union Telegraph Company



No. 355

United States Supreme Court

June 22, 1914

Argued May 5, 1914




A recovery in one jurisdiction for a tort committed in another must be based on the ground of an obligation incurred at the place of the tort which is not only the ground, but the measure, of the maximum recovery.

A state cannot legislate so as to affect conduct outside of its jurisdiction and within territory over which the United States has exclusive jurisdiction. A state may not determine the conduct required of a telegraph company in transmitting interstate messages by determining the consequences of not pursuing such conduct in another state. The statute of South Carolina making mental anguish caused by the negligent nondelivery of a telegram a cause of action is, as applied to telegrams the negligent nondelivery of which occurred in the District of Columbia, an unconstitutional attempt to regulate conduct within territory wholly under the jurisdiction of the United

Page 543

states; such statute is also unconstitutional, as to messages sent from that state to be delivered in another state, as an attempt to regulate interstate commerce.

92 S.C. 554 reversed.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality of a statute of the South Carolina in regard to negligent nondelivery of telegraph messages, are stated in the opinion.

Page 546

HOLMES, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an action of tort brought by the party to whom a telegraphic message was addressed. The message was delivered to the company in South Carolina, addressed to the plaintiff in Washington, District of Columbia, and read, "Come at once. Your sister died this morning." It was forwarded without delay to Washington, but there, through negligence, as the jury found, was not delivered. The declaration alleges that the failure caused the plaintiff to miss attending her sister's funeral in South Carolina, and subjected the plaintiff to mental anguish, which of itself is made a cause of action by a statute of South Carolina. Civil Code, § 2223. The defendants in error state that the action was brought under this section. There was a trial at which, by the instructions to the jury, a recovery was allowed under the act for the negligence in Washington,...

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