249 U.S. 152 (1919), 102, Middleton v. Texas Power & Light Company

Docket Nº:No. 102
Citation:249 U.S. 152, 39 S.Ct. 227, 63 L.Ed. 527
Party Name:Middleton v. Texas Power & Light Company
Case Date:March 03, 1919
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 152

249 U.S. 152 (1919)

39 S.Ct. 227, 63 L.Ed. 527

Middleton

v.

Texas Power & Light Company

No. 102

United States Supreme Court

March 3, 1919

Submitted December 18, 1918

ERROR TO THE COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS, THIRD SUPREME

JUDICIAL DISTRICT, OF THE STATE OF TEXAS

Syllabus

There is a strong presumption that discriminations in state legislation are based on adequate grounds, and the mere fact that a law regulating certain classes might properly have included others does not condemn it under the equal protection clause. P. 157.

The Texas Workmen's Compensation Act, regulating the rights and

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liabilities of employers and employees respecting disabling and fatal injuries in the employment, is expressly inapplicable to domestic servants, farm laborers, common carrier railway employees, laborers in cotton gins, and employees of employers employing not more than five. Held that there are adequate grounds for each of these exceptions. Id.

The discrimination resulting between employees engaged in the same kind of work where one employer exercises his option to come under the act and another does not is likewise consistent with the equal protection clause. P. 159.

Construed as binding all employees who remain in the employment after notice that their employer has subscribed to compensation insurance under it, the act is not open to the objection of being optional to the employer while compulsory upon his employees when he accepts it, since the latter, by thus remaining, exercise their option also. P. 161.

As the status of employer and employee is voluntary, and in view of their different relations to the common undertaking, it is clearly within legislative discretion, and not a denial of equal protection, to leave the initiative to the former in adopting the new terms of employment, with the option to the latter of accepting them, too, after notice, or withdrawing from the service. Id.

A plan imposing upon the employer responsibility for making compensation for disabling or fatal injuries, irrespective of the question of fault, and requiring the employee to assume all risk of damages over and above the statutory schedule, when established as a reasonable substitute for the legal measure of duty and responsibility previously existing, may be made compulsory upon employees as well as employers without depriving either of liberty in violation of the due process clause. P. 163.

108 Tex. 96 affirmed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

PITNEY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE PITNEY delivered the opinion of the Court.

Alleging that, in the month of December, 1913, he was in the employ of the Texas Power & Light Company in the

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State of Texas, and while so employed received serious personal injuries through the bursting of a steam pipe due to the negligence of his employer and its agents, Middleton sued the company in a district court of that state to recover his damages. The defendant interposed an answer in the nature of a plea in abatement setting up that, at the time of the accident and at the commencement of the action, defendant was the holder of a policy of liability and compensation insurance, issued in its favor by a company lawfully transacting such business in the state, conditioned to pay the compensation provided by the Texas Workmen's Compensation Act, which was approved April 16, 1913, and took effect on the 1st day of September in that year (c. 179, Acts of 33d Legislature), of which fact the plaintiff had proper and timely notice as provided by the act, and that no claim for the compensation provided in the act with respect to the alleged injury had been made by plaintiff, [39 S.Ct. 228] but, on the contrary, he had refused to receive such compensation, with other matters sufficient to bring defendant within the protection of the act. Plaintiff took a special exception in the nature of a demurrer, upon the ground (among others) that the act was in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The exception was overruled, the plea in abatement sustained, and the action dismissed. On appeal to the Court of Civil Appeals, it was at first held that the judgment must be reversed (178 S.W. 956), but, upon an application for a rehearing, the constitutional questions were certified to the supreme court of the state. That court sustained the constitutionality of the law (108 Tex. 96), and, in obedience to its opinion, the Court of Civil Appeals set aside its former judgment and affirmed the judgment of the district court. Thereupon the present writ of error was sued out under § 237, Judicial Code, as amended by Act of September 6, 1916, c. 448, § 2, 39 Stat. 726.

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Thus, we have presented, from the standpoint of an objecting employee, the question whether the Texas Employers' Liability Act is in conflict with the due process and equal protection provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The act creates an employers' insurance association, to which any employer of labor in the state, with exceptions to be mentioned, may become a subscriber, and out of the funds of this association, derived from premiums on policies of liability insurance issued by it to subscribing members and assessments authorized against them if necessary, the compensation provided by the act as due on account of personal injuries sustained by their employees, or on account of death resulting from such injuries, is to be paid. This is a stated compensation, fixed with relation to the employe's average weekly wages, and accrues to him absolutely when he suffers a personal injury in the course of his employment incapacitating him from earning wages for as long a period as one week, or to his representatives or beneficiaries in the event of his death from such injury, whether or not it be due to the negligence of the employer or his servants or agents. Such compensation is the statutory substitute for damages otherwise recoverable because of injuries suffered by an employee or his death occasioned by such injuries when due to the negligence of the employer or his servants, it being declared that the employee of a subscribing employer, or his representatives or beneficiaries in case of his death, shall have no cause of action against the employer for damages except where a death is caused by the willful act or omission or gross negligence of the employer. Employers who do not become subscribers are subject, as before, to suits for damages based on negligence for injuries to employees or for death resulting therefrom, and are deprived of the so-called "common law defenses" of fellow servant's negligence and assumed risk, and also of contributory

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negligence as an absolute defense, it being provided that, for contributory negligence, damages shall be diminished except where the employer's violation of a statute enacted for the safety of employees contributes to the injury or death, but that, where the injury is caused by the willful intention of the employee to bring it about, the employer may defend on that ground. Every employer becoming a subscriber to the insurance association is required to give written or printed notice to all his employees that he has provided for the payment by the association of compensation for injuries received by them in the course of their employment. Under certain conditions, an employer holding a liability policy issued by an insurance company lawfully transacting such business within the state is to be deemed a subscriber within the meaning of the act. There are administrative provisions, including procedure for the determination of disputed claims. By § 2 of Part 1, it is enacted as follows:

The provisions of this act shall not apply to actions to recover damages for the personal injuries or for death resulting from personal injuries sustained by domestic servants, farm laborers, nor to the employees of any person, firm or corporation operating any railway as a common carrier, nor to laborers engaged in working for a cotton gin, nor to employees of any person, firm or corporation having...

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