286 U.S. 145 (1932), 423, Bradford Electric Light Co., Inc. v. Clapper

Docket Nº:No. 423
Citation:286 U.S. 145, 52 S.Ct. 571, 76 L.Ed. 1026
Party Name:Bradford Electric Light Co., Inc. v. Clapper
Case Date:May 16, 1932
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 145

286 U.S. 145 (1932)

52 S.Ct. 571, 76 L.Ed. 1026

Bradford Electric Light Co., Inc.



No. 423

United States Supreme Court

May 16, 1932

Argued February 15, 16, 1932




1. A state statute is a "public act" within the meaning of the full faith and credit clause of the Federal Constitution. P. 154.

2. A federal court is bound equally with courts of the state in which it sits to observe the command of the full faith and credit clause. P. 155.

3. As regards the question whether a state is bound to recognize in its courts an Act of another state which is obnoxious to its public policy, different considerations may apply where the right claimed

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under the Act is the cause of action sued on, and where it is set up merely as a defense to an asserted liability. P. 160.

4. Through a contract made in Vermont, an employer domiciled and having its principal place of business there, and its employee, also a resident of that state, tacitly accepted the Vermont Workmen's Compensation Act, which provides that injury or death of an employee suffered in Vermont or elsewhere in the course of his employment, shall be compensated for only as by the Act provided, without recourse to actions based on tort, which it expressly excludes. The employee died of an injury he received while casually in New Hampshire about the employment, and left no New Hampshire dependents.


(1) That the Vermont statutory agreement is a defense to the employer against an action for death by wrongful act, brought in New Hampshire, in the federal court, by the personal representative of the deceased employee. P. 153.

(2) Refusal to recognize such defense is a failure to give full faith and credit to the Vermont statute, in violation of Art. IV, 1, of the Federal Constitution. P. 154.

(3) To recognize as a defense in another state the statutory relationship and obligations to which the parties to the employment subjected themselves under the Vermont Act is not to give that Act an extraterritorial application. P. 155.

(4) The fact that the New Hampshire Compensation Act permits employees to elect, after the injury, whether to sue for negligence or to avail themselves of its compensation provisions does not establish that it would be obnoxious to New Hampshire public policy to give effect, ut supra, to the Vermont statute in cases involving only the rights of residents of that state. P. 161.

5. Acceptance of the New Hampshire Workmen's Compensation Act by a Vermont employer in order to save certain common law defenses if sued by employees resident in the former state held not an abandonment of the employer's defense under the Vermont Act in respect of an employee who resided in Vermont and was injured while casually working in New Hampshire. P. 162.

51 F.2d 992, 999, reversed.

Certiorari to review the affirmance of a recovery in an action for death by wrongful act. See 284 U.S. 221.

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BRANDEIS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This action for damages was brought in a court of New Hampshire under the employers' liability provisions of the Employers' Liability and Workmen's Compensation Act of that state, N.H. Public Laws 1926, c. 178, to recover for the death of Leon J. Clapper, which the plaintiff claimed was due to his employer's negligence. The case

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was removed to the federal court on the ground of diversity of citizenship; the defendant, Bradford Electric Light Co., Inc., being a citizen and resident of Vermont and the plaintiff, Jennie M. Clapper, administratrix, being a citizen and resident of New Hampshire. It appeared that the company had its principal place of business in Vermont and lines extending into New Hampshire; that Leon Clapper, a resident of Vermont, was employed by it there as a lineman for emergency service in either state, and that, in the course of his duties, he was sent to restore some burned-out fuses at a substation in New Hampshire, and while doing so was killed. The company, invoking the full faith and credit clause of the Federal Constitution, set up as a special defense that the action was barred by provisions of the Vermont Compensation Act; that the contract of employment had been entered into in Vermont, where both parties to it then, and at all times thereafter resided, and that the Vermont act had been accepted by both employer and employee as a term of the contract.

The District Court ruled that the action was properly brought under the laws of the State of New Hampshire; that the action was based on a tort occurring in that state, and that the Vermont Workmen's Compensation Act had no extraterritorial effect. Accordingly, that court rejected the special defense and denied a motion to dismiss. The case was tried three times before a jury, the third trial resulting in a verdict for the plaintiff in the sum of $4,000. The judgment entered thereon was first reversed by the circuit court of appeals. But, upon a rehearing, the judgment of the trial court was affirmed, one judge dissenting. 51 F.2d 992, 999. The company filed in this Court both an appeal and a petition for writ of certiorari. The appeal was denied, and certiorari granted. 284 U.S. 221.

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The Vermont Workmen's Compensation Act provides that a workman hired within the state shall be entitled to compensation even though the injury was received outside the state, Vermont General Laws, c. 241, § 5770; that

employers who hire workmen within this state to work outside of the state, may agree with such workmen that the remedies under the provisions of this chapter shall be exclusive as regards injuries received outside this state by accident arising out of and in the course of such employment, and all contracts of hiring in this state shall be presumed to include such an agreement,

§ 5774; that every contract of employment made within the state shall be presumed to have been made subject to its provisions, unless prior to the accident an express statement to the contrary shall have been made, in writing, by one of the parties, § 5765, and that acceptance of the Act is "a surrender by the parties . . . of their rights to any other method, form or amount of compensation or determination thereof," § 5763. Neither the company nor Leon Clapper filed a statement declining to accept any provision of the Vermont Act.

The New Hampshire Employers' Liability and Workmen's Compensation Act provides that the employer shall become subject to the workmen's compensation provisions of the Act only by filing a declaration to that effect, N.H. Public Laws, c. 178, § 4, and that, even if the declaration is filed, the employee may, subsequent to the injury, still elect either to claim compensation, § 11, or to sue for damages at common law as modified by the employers' liability provisions of the Act. Failure to file such a declaration exposes the employer to a common law action of negligence in which the defenses of assumption of risk and injury by a fellow servant may not be interposed. Sections 2, 3. The company filed in New Hampshire the declaration provided for by its statute.

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Thus, each state has a workmen's compensation law of the elective type, but their provisions differ sharply. The New Hampshire statute, unlike that of Vermont, permits the employee or his representative to elect, after the injury, to sue for damages as at common law, and it was as a result of such an election made by the administratrix that the case at bar arose. The main question for decision is whether the existence of a right of action for Leon Clapper's death should be determined by the laws of Vermont, where both parties to the contract of employment resided and where the contract was made, or by the laws of New Hampshire, where the employee was killed.

First. It clearly was the purpose of the Vermont Act to preclude any recovery by proceedings brought in another state for injuries received in the course of a Vermont employment. The provisions of the Act leave no room for construction.1 The statute declares in terms that, when a workman is hired within the state, he shall be entitled to compensation thereunder for injuries received outside, as well as inside, the state unless one of the parties elects to reject the provisions of the Act. And it declares further that, for injuries wherever received, the remedy under the statute shall exclude all other rights and remedies of the employee or his personal representative. If the accident

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had happened in Vermont, the statute plainly would have precluded the bringing of an action for damages in New Hampshire under its Employers' Liability Act.2 For such action is predicated on a tort, and in Vermont an injury resulting from the employer's negligence is not a tort, if the provisions of the Compensation Act have been accepted. The question is whether the fact that the injury occurred in New Hampshire leaves its courts free to subject the employer to liability as for a tort; that is, may the New Hampshire courts disregard the relative rights of the parties as determined by the laws of Vermont where they resided and made the contract of employment; or must they give effect to the Vermont Act, and to the agreement implied therefrom, that the only right of the employee against the employer, in case of injury, shall be the claim for compensation provided by the statute?

Second. If the conflict presented were between the laws of a foreign country and those of New Hampshire, its courts would be free, so far as the restrictions of federal law are concerned, to attach legal consequences to acts done within the state, without reference to the undertaking of the parties, entered into at their common residence abroad, that such consequences should not be enforced between them. But the conflict here is between the...

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