244 U.S. 205 (1917), 280, Southern Pacific Company v. Jensen

Docket Nº:No. 280
Citation:244 U.S. 205, 37 S.Ct. 524, 61 L.Ed. 1086
Party Name:Southern Pacific Company v. Jensen
Case Date:May 21, 1917
Court:United States Supreme Court

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244 U.S. 205 (1917)

37 S.Ct. 524, 61 L.Ed. 1086

Southern Pacific Company



No. 280

United States Supreme Court

May 21, 1917

Argued February 28, 1916

Restored to docket for reargument

November 13, 1916

Reargued January 31, February 1, 1917




The Federal Employers' Liability Act applies only where the injury occurs in railroad operations or their adjuncts, and cannot be extended to interstate maritime transportation merely because the vessel in the case is owned and operated by an interstate carrier by railroad.

The word "boats" in the statute refers to vessels which may be properly

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regarded as but part of a railroad's extension or equipment as understood and applied in common practice.

Under Art. III, § 2, of the Constitution, extending the judicial power of the United States "to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction," and Art. I, § 8, conferring on Congress power to make all laws which may be necessary and proper for executing the powers vested in the general government or in any of its departments or officers, Congress has paramount power to fix and determine the maritime law which shall prevail throughout the country.

In the absence of controlling statutes, the general maritime law as accepted by the federal courts constitutes part of our national law applicable to matters within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.

The power of the states to change, modify or affect the general maritime law, while existing to some extent under the Constitution and the Judiciary Act of 1789, § 9, Judicial Code, §§ 24, 256, may not contravene the essential purposes of an act of Congress, work material prejudice to the characteristic features of the general maritime law, or interfere with the proper harmony and uniformity of that law in its international and interstate relations.

Work performed by a stevedore on board a ship in unloading her at wharf in navigable waters is maritime; his employment for such work and injuries suffered in it are likewise maritime, and the rights and liabilities arising from such work, employment, and injuries are clearly within the admiralty jurisdiction. Atlantic Transport Co. v. Imbrovek, 234 U.S. 52.

A stevedore engaged on an interstate ship in unloading her at wharf in navigable waters in New York was accidentally injured and killed, and an award of compensation was made against the shipowner by the New York Workmen's Compensation Commission under the New York Workmen's Compensation Act (New York Central R. Co. v. White, 243 U.S. 188), and affirmed by the courts of that state. Held that the act as applied to such a case was in conflict with the Constitution, and to that extent invalid.

The remedy of the New York Workmen's Compensation Act (it provides compensation upon a prescribed scale for injuries and deaths of employees, without regard to fault, to be administered and awarded primarily through a state administrative commission) is a remedy unknown to the common law, and incapable of enforcement by the ordinary processes of any court, and hence is not among the common law remedies which are saved to suitors from the exclusive admiralty jurisdiction by Judiciary Act of 1789, § 9; Judicial Code, §§ 24, 256.

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The remedy of the New York Workmen's Compensation Act is inconsistent with the policy of Congress to encourage investment in ships, manifested by the Acts of 1851 and 1884 (Rev.Stats., §§ 4283-4285; c. 121, 23 Stat. 57), which declare a limitation upon the liability of their owners.

215 N.Y. 514 reversed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

MCREYNOLDS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the court:

Upon a claim regularly presented, the Workmen's Compensation Commission of New York made the following findings of fact, rulings, and award, October 9, 1914:

1. Christen Jensen, the deceased workman, was, on August 15, 1914, an employee of the Southern Pacific Company, a corporation of the State of Kentucky, where it has its principal office. It also has an office at Pier 49, North River, New York City. The Southern Pacific Company at said time was, and still is, a common carrier by railroad. It also owned and operated a steamship, El Oriente, plying between the ports of New York and Galveston, Texas.

2. On August 15, 1914, said steamship was berthed

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for discharging and loading at Pier 49, North River, lying in navigable waters of the United States.

3. On said date, Christen Jensen was operating a small electric freight truck. His work consisted in driving the truck into the steamship El Oriente, where it was loaded with cargo, then driving the truck out of the vessel upon a gangway connecting the vessel with Pier 49, North River, [37 S.Ct. 526] and thence upon the pier, where the lumber was unloaded from the truck. The ship was about 10 feet distant from the pier. At about 10:15 A.M., after Jensen had been doing such work for about three hours that morning, he started out of the ship with his truck loaded with lumber, a part of the cargo of the steamship El Oriente, which was being transported from Galveston, Texas, to New York city. Jensen stood on the rear of the truck, the lumber coming about to his shoulder. In driving out of the port in the side of the vessel and upon the gangway, the truck became jammed against the guide pieces on the gangway. Jensen then reversed the direction of the truck and proceeded at third or full speed backward into the hatchway. He failed to lower his head and his head struck the ship at the top line, throwing his head forward and causing his chin to hit the lumber in front of him. His neck was broken, and in this manner he met his death.

4. The business of the Southern Pacific Company in this state consisted at the time of the accident and now consists solely in carrying passengers and merchandise between New York and other states. Jensen's work consisted solely in moving cargo destined to and from other states.

5. Jensen left surviving him Marie Jensen, his widow, twenty-nine years of age, and Howard Jensen, his son, seven years of age, and Evelyn Jensen, his daughter, three years of age.

6. Jensen's average weekly wage was $19.60 per week.

7. The injury was an accidental injury and arose out of

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and in the course of Jensen's employment by the Southern Pacific Company, and his death was due to such injury. The injury did not result solely from the intoxication of the injured employee while on duty, and was not occasioned by the willful intention of the injured employee to bring about the injury or death of himself or another.

This claim comes within the meaning of Chapter 67 of the Consolidated Laws as reenacted and amended by Chapter 41 of the Laws of 1914, and as amended by Chapter 316 of the Laws of 1914.

Award of compensation is hereby made to Marie Jensen, widow of the deceased at the rate of $5.87 weekly during her widowhood, with two years' compensation in one sum in case of her marriage; to Harold Jensen, son of the deceased at the rate of $1.96 per week, and to Evelyn Jensen, daughter of the deceased at the rate of $1.96 per week until the said Harold Jensen and Evelyn Jensen respectively shall arrive at the age of eighteen years, and there is further allowed the sum of one hundred ($100) dollars for funeral expenses.

In due time, the Southern Pacific Company objected to the award

upon the grounds that the act does not apply, because the workman was engaged in interstate commerce on board a vessel of a foreign corporation of the State of Kentucky, which was engaged solely in interstate commerce; that the injury was one with respect to which Congress may establish, and has established, a rule of liability, and under the language of § 114 * [copied

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in the margin], the act has no application; on the ground that the act includes only those engaged in the operation of vessels other than those of other states and countries in foreign and interstate commerce, while the work upon which the deceased workman was engaged at the time of his death was part of the operation of a vessel of another state, engaged in interstate commerce, and hence does not come within the provisions of the act; further, that the act is unconstitutional, as it constitutes a regulation of and burden upon commerce among the several states, in violation of Article I, § 8, of the Constitution of the United States; in that it takes property without due process of law, in violation of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution; in that it denies the Southern Pacific Company the equal protection of the laws, in violation of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, because the act does not afford an exclusive remedy, but leaves the employer and its vessels subject to suit in admiralty; also that the act is unconstitutional in that it violates Article III, § 2, of the Constitution, conferring admiralty jurisdiction upon the courts of the United States.

Without opinion, the appellate division approved the award and the Court of Appeals affirmed this action (215 N.Y. 514, 519), holding that the Workmen's Compensation Act applied to [37 S.Ct. 527] the employment in question and was not obnoxious to the federal Constitution. It said:

The scheme of the statute is essentially and fundamentally one by the creation of a state fund to insure the payment of a prescribed compensation based on earnings for disability or death from accidental injuries sustained by employees engaged in certain enumerated hazardous employments. The state fund is created from premiums

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paid by employers based on the payroll, the number of employees, and the hazards of the employment. The employer has the option of insuring with any stock corporation or mutual association authorized to transact...

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