320 U.S. 476 (1943), 26, Brady v. Southern Railway Co.

Docket Nº:No. 26
Citation:320 U.S. 476, 64 S.Ct. 232, 88 L.Ed. 239
Party Name:Brady v. Southern Railway Co.
Case Date:December 20, 1943
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 476

320 U.S. 476 (1943)

64 S.Ct. 232, 88 L.Ed. 239



Southern Railway Co.

No. 26

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 20, 1943

Argued October 19, 1943



1. Upon review here of a state court decision under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, the question whether the evidence was sufficient to justify submission of the case to the jury is for the determination of this Court. P. 479.

2. Only by a uniform federal rule as to the sufficiency of the evidence may litigants under the federal Act receive similar treatment in all States. P. 479.

3. Where, in a suit under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, the evidence is such that a verdict for the defendant is the only reasonable conclusion, the trial court should determine the proceeding by nonsuit, directed verdict, or otherwise in accordance with the applicable practice without submission to the jury, or by judgment non obstante veredicto. P. 479.

4. The rule as to when a directed verdict is proper is applicable to questions of proximate cause. P. 483.

5. Evidence in this case under the Federal Employers' Liability Act held insufficient to warrant submission of the case to the jury. P. 480.

(a) That the derailer was not equipped with a light was not evidence of negligence of the carrier. P. 480.

(b) Relative to misuse of the derailer, there was no evidence from which the jury could find negligence on the part of employees of the carrier other than the decedent. P. 481.

(c) The degree of care which it must exercise did not require the carrier to guard against a car striking the derailer from an unexpected direction. P. 483.

(d) Liability of the carrier cannot be predicated on the existence of the defective rail, since the rail was suitable for ordinary use, was not the proximate cause of the accident, and misuse of the derailer was not a danger reasonably to be anticipated. P. 482.

222 N.C. 367, 23 S.E.2d 334, affirmed.

CERTIORARI 319 U.S. 777, to review the reversal of a judgment for the plaintiff in an action under the Federal Employers' Liability Act.

Page 477

REED, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case arose under the Federal Employers' Liability Act.1 Certiorari to the Supreme Court of North Carolina was sought and granted to consider the retroactivity of the last amendment to the Act in conjunction with the contention that there was error in the ruling which held the case improperly submitted to the jury by the trial court. 319 U.S. 777. Our conclusion makes it unnecessary to consider the former problem.

The decedent, Earle A. Brady, was a brakeman. At the time of his death, he was employed in that capacity in interstate commerce by the respondent, Southern Railway Company. The accident occurred during a switching movement in Virginia. The freight train upon which decedent was acting as brakeman came north over a main line and passed a switch which led into a storage track running south parallel to and on the east of the main line. There were four other members of the crew -- the engineer, the fireman, the flagman, and the conductor.

After the entire train passed the switch, it was stopped and backed into the storage track to permit another northbound train to go through on the main line and to pick up twelve cars at the south end of the storage track. After the other train passed, decedent's train, without picking up the storage track cars, pulled out on to the main line, backed southwardly beyond a vehicular grade crossing

Page 478

which passed over the main line and the storage track about one-eighth of a mile south of the switchpoints, left the caboose and all the cars except the four nearest the engine on the main line, and returned north for the purpose of again backing into the storage track to pick up the storage track cars. After coupling these cars on to the four next to the engine, the intended movement was to pull out again on the main line, back the [64 S.Ct. 234] train southwardly to the cars left on the main line, couple up all the cars, and proceed on the journey to the north.

As the engine and four cars backed slowly into the storage track, the decedent was riding the southeastern step of the rear car, a gondola. It was 6:30 A.M. on Christmas morning, and so dark the work was carried on by lantern signals. The trucks hit the wrong end of a derailer, located three or four car lengths from the switch, which was closed so as to prevent cars on the storage track from drifting accidentally onto the main line.2 The contact derailed the cars and threw decedent to instant death under the wheels.

Damages were sought for the alleged negligence of the carrier in failing to furnish a reasonably safe place to work by reason of defects in the track and derailer and, we assume, since it was submitted to the jury and passed upon by the Supreme Court of North Carolina, 222 N.C. 367 at 370, 23 S.E.2d 334 at 337, by the act of some other employee in improperly closing the derailer after the beginning and

Page 479

before the fatal phase of the switching movement. Further, there was a charge of negligence in failing to provide a light or other warning to indicate the dangerous position of the derailer. A judgment for $20,000 was obtained in the Superior Court which was reversed in the state Supreme Court on the ground of the failure of the evidence to support the jury's verdict.

There is thus presented the problem of whether sufficient evidence of negligence is furnished by the record to justify the submission of the case to the jury. In Employers' Liability cases, this question must be determined by this Court finally. Through the supremacy clause of the Constitution, Art. VI, we are charged with assuring the act's authority in state courts. Only by a uniform federal rule as to the necessary amount of evidence may litigants under the federal act receive similar treatment in all states. Western & Atlantic R. Co. v. Hughes, 278 U.S. 496, 498; Chicago M. & St. P. R. Co. v. Coogan, 271 U.S. 472, 474. Cf. United Gas Public Service Co. v. Texas, 303 U.S. 123, 143. It is true that this Court has held that a state need not provide in FELA cases any trial by jury according to the requirements of the Seventh Amendment. Minneapolis & St.L. R. Co. v. Bombolis, 241 U.S. 211. But, when a state's jury system requires the court to determine the sufficiency of the evidence to support a finding of a federal right to recover, the correctness of its ruling is a federal question. The weight of the evidence under the Employers' Liability Act must be more than a scintilla before the case may be properly left to the discretion of the trier of fact -- in this case, the jury. Western & Atlantic R. v. Hughes, supra; Baltimore & Ohio R. Co. Co. v. Groeger, 266 U.S. 521, 524. Cf. Gunning v. Cooley, 281 U.S. 90, 94; Commissioners v. Clark, 94 U.S. 278, 284. When the evidence is such that, without weighing the credibility of the witnesses, there can be but...

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