272 U.S. 605 (1926), Napier v. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company

Citation:272 U.S. 605, 47 S.Ct. 207, 71 L.Ed. 432
Party Name:Napier v. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company
Case Date:November 29, 1926
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 605

272 U.S. 605 (1926)

47 S.Ct. 207, 71 L.Ed. 432



Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 29, 1926




The Boiler Inspection Act, as amended, has so occupied the field of regulating locomotive equipment on interstate highways that state legislation requiring cab curtains and automatic firebox doors is

Page 605

precluded, and such matter are left to the regulatory power reposed by the Act in the Interstate Commerce Commission. P. 608.

2 F.2d 891 affirmed.

188 Wis. 232 reversed.

No. 87. Appeal from a decree of the District Court (December 1924) enjoining the Attorney General of Georgia from enforcing a state law requiring the complaining carrier to equip the fireboxes of its locomotives with automatic doors.

Nos. 310, 311. Error to a judgment of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin which affirmed judgments dismissing suits to set aside an order of the State Railroad Commission, based on statute, prescribing cab curtains.

BRANDEIS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases require a determination of the scope and effect of the federal Locomotive Boiler Inspection Act.

Page 607

February 17, 1911, c. 103, 36 Stat. 913, as amended by Act March 4, 1915, c. 169, 38 Stat. 1192, and Act June 7, 1924, c. 355, 43 Stat. 659. The main question, which is the same in the three cases, is one of statutory construction. It is whether the Boiler Inspection Act has occupied the field of regulating locomotive equipment used on a highway of interstate commerce, so as to preclude state legislation. Congress obviously has power to do so. Compare Northern Pacific R. Co. v. Washington, 222 U.S. 370; Pennsylvania R. Co. v. Public Service Commission, 250 U.S. 566; Oregon-Washington R. Co. & Nav. Co. v. Washington, 270 U.S. 87.

No. 87 involves a Georgia statute which prescribes an automatic door to the firebox. Act Aug. 18, 1924; Georgia Laws 1924, p. 173. That case is here on direct appeal from a final decree of the federal district court, entered December 23, 1924, granting the injunction. 2 F.2d 891. Nos. 310 and 311 involve a Wisconsin statute which prescribes a cab curtain, Wisconsin Statutes, § 1806a, as added by chapter 139, Laws of 1923. These cases are here on writs of error to the Supreme Court of that state, which affirmed a judgment denying the injunction. 188 Wis. 232. In Georgia, the details of the device were prescribed by the legislature. In Wisconsin, the specifications were prescribed by an order of the state Railroad Commission. In each case, an interstate carrier sought to enjoin state officials from enforcing, in respect to locomotives used on its lines, a state law which prohibits use within the state of locomotives not equipped with the device prescribed. Some of the engines were being operated entirely within the state, some across the state line to and from adjoining states. It is conceded that the federal Safety Appliance and Boiler Inspection Acts apply to a locomotive used on a highway of interstate commerce, even if it is operated wholly within one state and is not engaged in hauling interstate freight or passengers. Southern Ry. Co. v.

Page 608

United States, 222 U.S. 20; Texas & Pacific Ry. v. Rigsby, 241 U.S. 33.

Prior to the passage of the Boiler Inspection Act, Congress had, by the Safety Appliance Act and several amendments, itself made requirements concerning the equipment of locomotives used in interstate commerce. It had required a power driving wheel brake, automatic couplers, grabirons or handholds, drawbars, safety ash pans, and sill steps. Act March 2, 1893, c.196, 27 Stat. 531; Act March 2, 1903, c. 976, 32 Stat. 943; Act May 30, 1908, c. 225, 35 Stat. 476; Act April 14, 1910, c. 160, 36 Stat. 298. Congress first conferred upon the Interstate Commerce Commission power in respect to locomotive equipment in 1911. The original Act applied only to the boiler. it is entitled:

An act to promote the safety of employees and travelers upon railroads by compelling common carriers engaged in interstate commerce to equip their locomotives with safe and suitable boilers and appurtenances thereto.

The provisions of that Act were extended in 1915 to "include the entire locomotive and tender and all parts and appurtenances thereof." In 1924, § 2 of the original Act was amended to read as follows:

That it shall be unlawful for any carrier to use or permit to be used on its line any locomotive unless said locomotive, its boiler, tender, and all parts and appurtenances thereof are in proper condition and safe to operate in the service to which the same are put, that the same may be employed in the active service of such carrier without unnecessary peril to life or limb, and unless said locomotive, its boiler, tender, and all parts and appurtenances thereof have been inspected from time to time in accordance with the provisions of this Act and are able to withstand such test or tests as may be prescribed in the rules and regulations hereinafter provided for.

Other sections confer upon inspectors and the Commission power to prescribe requirements and establish rules

Page 609

to secure compliance with the provisions of § 2. From time to time since the passage of the original Act, the Commission has required that locomotives used in interstate commerce be equipped with various devices.{1} But it has made no order requiring either a particular type of firebox door or a cab curtain. Nor has Congress legislated specifically in respect to either device.

The Georgia Act provides that the

automatic door shall be so constructed and operated by steam, compressed air, or electricity, as deemed best and most efficient by officer of such railroad. The device for operating such door shall be so constructed that it may be operated by the fireman of said engine by means of a push-button or other appliance located on the floor of the engine deck or floor of the tender . . . to enable the fireman while firing such engine by pressure with his feet to operate such door for...

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