315 U.S. 698 (1942), 272, Miles v. Illinois Central Railroad Co.

Docket Nº:No. 272
Citation:315 U.S. 698, 62 S.Ct. 827, 86 L.Ed. 1129
Party Name:Miles v. Illinois Central Railroad Co.
Case Date:March 30, 1942
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 698

315 U.S. 698 (1942)

62 S.Ct. 827, 86 L.Ed. 1129



Illinois Central Railroad Co.

No. 272

United States Supreme Court

March 30, 1942

Argued February 10, 1942



Section 6 of the Federal Employers' Liability Act prevents a state court from enjoining, on the ground of the inconvenience or expense to the railroad, a resident citizen of the State from prosecuting or furthering an action under the Act (or receiving the proceeds of any judgment therein) in a state court of another State which has jurisdiction under the Act. P. 705.


Certiorari, 314 U.S. 602, to review a decree of injunction. The highest court of the State had refused a review by certiorari.

Page 699

REED, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

The effect of section 6 of the Federal Employers' Liability Act1 on the power of a state court to enjoin its citizens, on the ground of oppressiveness and inequity to the defendant carrier, from suing on a FELA claim in the state courts of another state, furthering such a suit in any manner, or receiving the proceeds of any judgment so obtained, is before us for decision.

The respondent, an Illinois corporation, hereafter referred to as the Illinois Central, brought an original bill in the Chancery Court of Shelby County, Tennessee, seeking to enjoin one of the petitioners here, Mrs. Miles, then the Tennessee administratrix of her husband, a resident of that State, from further prosecuting in a Missouri state court her FELA claim against the Illinois Central for the death of her husband, its employee. The fatal accident had occurred at Memphis, Tennessee. After a temporary injunction issued, Mrs. Miles promptly dismissed her Missouri suit and was discharged as administratrix by

Page 700

the Tennessee probate court. A Missouri administrator was then appointed at her suggestion, and he instituted another Missouri suit for the same cause of action. The Illinois Central filed an amended and supplemental bill, adding decedent's children, likewise residents of Tennessee, as defendants and enlarging its prayer to forbid furthering the new suit in any manner or receiving the proceeds of any judgment. A new temporary injunction was issued as prayed.

The grounds for the injunction were the inconvenience and expense to the Illinois Central of taking its Memphis employees to St. Louis, and the resulting burden upon interstate commerce. The anticipated extra expense was several hundred dollars per day for an estimated two days of actual trial and whatever additional time might be lost by continuances or delay. Inconvenience was expected through the withdrawal of some twelve to twenty employees and officials from their duties for the same period. The defense relied upon a timely plea that section 6 of the FELA prevented the enjoining of proceedings in the Missouri courts.

[62 S.Ct. 829] The trial court found that the continued prosecution of the pending Missouri case would be "oppressive and inequitable" to the Illinois Central and "a burden on the commerce and business of the complainant." As a matter of law, the court concluded, however, that the Illinois Central was not entitled to permanent injunctions. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the decree and made the temporary injunctions permanent. Further state review by certiorari in the Supreme Court of Tennessee was refused, and we granted certiorari to the Court of Appeals to settle an important federal question2 as to the applicability

Page 701

of section 6 of the FELA to this situation. 314 U.S. 602. Cf. Payne v. Knapp, 197 Iowa 737, 198 N.W. 62; Peterson v. Chicago, B. & Q. R. Co., 187 Minn. 228, 244 N.W. 823; Baltimore & O. R. Co. v. Kepner, 137 Ohio St. 409, 30 N.E.2d 982, aff'd, 314 U.S. 44.

The Kepner case dealt with the power of a state court to enjoin a resident from continued prosecution of a suit under the FELA in a distant federal district court on the ground of inequity, vexatiousness, and harassment. The decision denied the power to interfere with the privileges of federal venue "for the benefit of the carrier or the national transportation system."

As in the Kepner case, there is in this case no occasion to go into the question of the availability as support for an injunction of a charge of interference with interstate commerce by reason of the burden of expense and inconvenience. The trial court found a burden on the commerce of the Illinois Central, but made no finding as to any burden on interstate commerce. Moreover, the Court of Appeals stated that the Illinois Central "expressly abandoned the contention" "that the prosecution of the suit in St. Louis was a burden on interstate commerce." No contention is made here that there is any such burden, or that the Illinois Central is not doing substantial business in Missouri, as found by the trial court. It operates daily passenger trains with its own crews into St. Louis over the St. Louis Terminal Company tracks, maintains passenger and freight offices, and had total receipts in St. Louis of a million and a half the year the suit was filed. Under the rule announced in Denver & R.G.W. R. Co. v. Terte, 284 U.S. 284, 287, the Illinois Central is properly suable in Missouri. In the Kepner case, 314 U.S. 44, 51, we pointed out, with a discussion of the applicable cases, that the carrier must submit to inconvenience and expense if there is jurisdiction, "although thereby interstate commerce is incidentally

Page 702

burdened." There is no occasion to repeat the comments here. The specific declaration in section 6 that the United States courts should have concurrent jurisdiction with those of the several states and the prohibition against removal point clearly to the conclusion that Congress has exercised its authority over interstate commerce to the extent of permitting suits in state courts, despite the incidental burden, where process may be obtained on a defendant, not merely soliciting business but actually carrying on railroading by operating trains and maintaining traffic offices within the territory of the court's jurisdiction.3

[62 S.Ct. 830] The real point of controversy here is whether that portion of section 6 of the FELA which holds litigation in the state court where it is instituted prevents the court of another state from enjoining citizens, within its jurisdiction, from continued prosecution of the suit on grounds of inequity. Here, as in Kepner's case, there is no question but what the Missouri court has venue of the proceeding. Here, too, we need to look no farther into Tennessee law than the opinion of the state's highest court in this record to conclude that, under state law, a court of equity may enjoin a resident citizen from attempting to enforce his rights, oppressively and inequitably,4 and that the expense and inconvenience hereinbefore set out resulted in oppressiveness and inconvenience in the eye of the state court.

Page 703

In the legislative history of section 6,5 the provision that removal may not be had from a "State court of competent jurisdiction" was added to the House bill on the floor of the Senate, and later accepted by the House, in order to assure a hearing to the employee in a state court. Words were simultaneously adopted recognizing the jurisdiction of the state courts by providing that the federal jurisdiction should be concurrent. The venue of state court suits was left to the practice of the forum. The opportunity to present causes of action arising under the FELA in the state courts came, however, not from the state law, but from the federal. By virtue of the Constitution, the courts of the several states must remain open to such litigants on the same basis that they are open to litigants with causes of action springing from a different source. This is so because the Federal Constitution makes the laws of the United States the supreme law of

Page 704

the land, binding on every citizen and every court and enforceable wherever jurisdiction is adequate for the purpose. Second Employers' Liability Cases, 223 U.S. 1, 56-59. The Missouri court here involved must permit this litigation. To deny citizens from other states, suitors under FELA, access to its courts would, if it permitted access to its own citizens, violate the Privileges and Immunities Clause. Constitution, Art. IV, § 2; McKnett v. St. Louis & S.F. Ry. Co., 292 U.S. 230, 233.6 Since the existence of the cause of action and the privilege [62 S.Ct. 831] of vindicating rights under the FELA in state courts spring from federal law, the right to use in state courts of proper venue where their jurisdiction is adequate is of the same quality as the right of sue in federal courts. It is no more subject to interference by state action than was the federal venue in the Kepner case.

This is not to say that states cannot control their courts. We do not deal here with the power of Missouri, by judicial decision or legislative enactment, to regulate the use of its courts generally as was approved in the Douglas or the Chambers cases, note 6, supra. We are considering another state's power to so control its own citizens that they cannot exercise the federal privilege of litigating a federal right in the court of another state.

Page 705

State courts have assumed the right to enjoin their citizens from proceeding in the courts of other states. This was done, for example, in Reed's Administratrix v. Illinois Central R. Co., 182 Ky. 455, 206 S.W. 794. The basis of the decision was the inequity of allowing a suit at a distant point in a state or federal court, page 464.7 Reed's case was relied upon by Kern v. Cleveland, C., C.& St.L. Ry., 204 Ind. 595, 185 N.E. 446, for the authority of a state court to enjoin its citizens from inequitable conduct under the FELA. Other state courts deny their authority to issue such injunctions.8


To continue reading