314 U.S. 44 (1941), 20, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co. v. Kepner

Docket Nº:No. 20
Citation:314 U.S. 44, 62 S.Ct. 6, 86 L.Ed. 28
Party Name:Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co. v. Kepner
Case Date:November 10, 1941
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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314 U.S. 44 (1941)

62 S.Ct. 6, 86 L.Ed. 28

Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co.

v.

Kepner

No. 20

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 10, 1941

Reargued October 20, 1941

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF OHIO

Syllabus

1. Under § 6 of the Federal Employers Liability Act, as amended, the injured employee has the federal privilege of bringing his action in any district in which the railroad is doing business, though the district chosen be far from the district in which he resides or in which the cause of action arose, and in another State. P. 52.

2. A state court may not validly exercise its equitable jurisdiction to enjoin a resident of the State from prosecuting a cause of action arising under the Federal Employers Liability Act in a federal court of another State where the Act gave venue, on the ground that the prosecution in that district is inequitable, vexatious, and harassing to the carrier. P. 53.

137 Ohio St. 409; 30 N.E.2d 982, affirmed.

Certiorari, 312 U.S. 671, to review a decree affirming the dismissal on demurrer of a bill by the railroad company to enjoin Kepner from further prosecution of a suit in the federal court for the Eastern District of New York seeking recovery of damages under the Federal Employers Liability Act for injuries resulting from an accident in Ohio. The judgment was affirmed here by an equally divided court, 313 U.S. 542; subsequently, a petition for rehearing was granted, the judgment was vacated, and the case was restored to the docket for reargument, 313 U.S. 597.

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REED, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

We have for decision in this case the question whether a state court may validly exercise its equitable jurisdiction to enjoin a resident of the state from prosecuting a cause of action arising under the Federal Employers' Liability Act in a federal court of another state where that Act gave venue, on the ground that the prosecution in the federal court is inequitable, vexatious, and harassing to the carrier.

As the issue was deemed a federal question of substance,1 undecided by this Court and concerning which there was lack of uniformity in the state court decisions,2 certiorari was granted, 312 U.S. 671, the decree below affirmed here by an equally divided court, 313 U.S. 542, and the petition for rehearing allowed, 313 U.S. 597.

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This proceeding originally was brought by the petitioner, an interstate railroad, in the Court of Common Pleas of Hamilton County, Ohio, against the respondent Kepner, an injured resident employee, to enjoin his continued prosecution of a suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York under the Federal Employers' Liability Act for his injuries. The accident, according to the petition, occurred in Butler County, Ohio, a county adjacent to that of respondent's residence, through both of which counties petitioner's railroad ran. The petition further showed that suitable courts, state and federal, were constantly open, and that petitioner and the witnesses were available for process therein. It was stated the federal court chosen was seven hundred miles from the residence of the respondent and numerous witnesses; that to present the case properly required the personal attendance of approximately twenty-five locally available witnesses -- the crew, inspectors. and the medical attendants -- at a cost estimated to exceed the cost of the presentation of the case at a convenient point by $4,000, with no resulting benefit to the injured employee. Petitioner asserted these facts established that the continued prosecution of the federal court action would be an undue burden on interstate [62 S.Ct. 8] commerce and an unreasonable, improper, and inequitable burden upon petitioner itself.

The defendant railroad was doing business in the New York district where the damage suit was filed as appears from a copy of the complaint in the federal case made a part of the petition.

Respondent demurred for failure to state a cause of action and lack of jurisdiction of the subject of the action. The trial court sustained the demurrer and dismissed the action by an order which was sustained by the Court of Appeals and, on rehearing, by the Supreme

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Court of Ohio.3 The basis for the decision below was that the respondent employee was privileged to enjoy, without interference from a state court, the venue allowed by the Federal Employers' Liability Act.4

The statutory provision in regard to venue is in § 6, which, so far as pertinent, reads as follows:

Under this chapter, an action may be brought in a district court of the United States, in the district of the residence of the defendant, or in which the cause of action arose, or in which the defendant shall be doing business at the time of commencing such action.

Apr. 5, 1910, c. 143, Sec. 1, 36 Stat. 291, as amended March 3, 1911, c. 231, Sec. 291, 36 Stat. 1167, 45 U.S.C. § 56.

When the second Employers' Liability Act was enacted, venue of actions under it was left to the general venue statute, 35 Stat. 65, which fixed the venue of suits in the United States courts based in whole or in part upon the Act in districts of which the defendant was an inhabitant.5 Litigation promptly disclosed what Congress considered deficiencies in such a limitation of the right of railroad employees to bring personal injury actions,6 with the result that the present language was added.7

The reason for the addition was said to be the injustice to an injured employee of compelling him to go to the possibly far distant place of habitation of the defendant

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carrier with consequent increased expense for the transportation and maintenance of witnesses, lawyers, and parties away from their homes.8 The legislative history throws little light on the reason for the choice of the three standards for determining venue: the residence of the carrier, the place where it is doing business, or the place where the cause of action arose. At one time, the amendatory bill fixed venue as

the district of the residence of either the plaintiff or the defendant, or in which the cause of action arose, or in which the defendant shall be found at the time of commencing such action.9

Fears were expressed that so wide a choice might result in injustice to the carrier, p. 2257. No doubt this language was actually considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee as well as the language of the general venue statute for which the Committee was providing an exception. Specific attention was called in the Senate report to the Macon Grocery case, interpreting the general venue statute. That statute placed venue in the residence of either party where the jurisdiction was founded on diversity of citizenship alone. The language finally adopted must have been deliberately chosen to enable the plaintiff, in the words of Senator Borah, who submitted the report on the bill, "to find the corporation at any point or place or State where it is actually carrying on business, and there lodge his action, if he chooses to do so."10

When petitioner sought an injunction in the Ohio court against the further prosecution of the federal court action in [62 S.Ct. 9] New York, the petition alleged that prosecution of the New York action would entail "an undue burden" on interstate commerce. No objection to the decree below upon that explicit ground appears in the petition for

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certiorari either in the specification of errors or reasons for granting the writ. In petitioner's brief on the merits, it is pointed out that this Court held, in Denver & R.G.W. R. Co. v. Terte, 284 U.S. 284, that the disadvantages of litigation far from the scene of the accident are not substantial enough to justify a state court in forbidding the continuation of the litigation in a district where the lines of the carrier run. This accords with Hoffman v. Missouri ex rel. Foraker, 274 U.S. 21, where it was said the carrier must

submit, if there is jurisdiction, to the requirements of orderly, effective administration of justice, although thereby interstate commerce is incidentally burdened.11

Since the carrier's exhibit of respondent's New York petition shows an allegation that it is doing business in New York, we assume that business to be such as is contemplated by the venue provisions of Section 6. There is therefore no occasion to consider further the suggestion that the suit in New York creates an inadmissible burden upon interstate commerce.

The real contention of petitioner is that, despite the admitted venue, respondent is acting in a vexatious and inequitable manner in maintaining the federal court suit in a distant jurisdiction when a convenient and suitable forum is at respondent's doorstep. Under such circumstances, petitioner asserts power, abstractly speaking, in the Ohio court to prevent a resident under its jurisdiction

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from doing inequity. Such power does exist.12 In the Matzinger case, the Supreme Court of Ohio exercised this power to prevent the continuation of a personal injury suit in Illinois by a resident under its jurisdiction on an Ohio cause of action. Such power has occasionally been exercised by one state over its citizens seeking to enforce in other states remedies under the Employers' Liability Act against defendants, locally available for the litigation.13 At times, the injunction has been refused.14

We read the opinion of the Supreme Court of Ohio to express the view that, if it were not for Section 6 of the Employers' Liability Act, the requested injunction would be granted on the undisputed facts of the petition. Section 6 establishes venue for an action in the federal courts. As such venue is a privilege created by federal statute15 and...

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