340 U.S. 1 (1950), 15, Southern Railway Co. v. Mayfield

Docket Nº:No. 15
Citation:340 U.S. 1, 71 S.Ct. 1, 95 L.Ed. 3
Party Name:Southern Railway Co. v. Mayfield
Case Date:November 06, 1950
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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340 U.S. 1 (1950)

71 S.Ct. 1, 95 L.Ed. 3

Southern Railway Co.

v.

Mayfield

No. 15

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 6, 1950

Argued October 16, 1950

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF MISSOURI

Syllabus

In each of two suits brought in a Missouri state court under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, the plaintiff was not a resident of Missouri, the carrier was a foreign corporation, and the accident which gave rise to the claim occurred outside of Missouri. The State Supreme Court determined that the doctrine of forum non conveniens could not bar the suits; but it was not clear whether this holding was based on local law or upon a belief that it was required by federal law as enunciated by this Court.

Held: the judgment is vacated, and the cause is remanded, in order that the State Supreme Court may determine the availability of the principle of forum non conveniens according to its own local law. Pp. 2-3, 5.

(a) Neither Baltimore & O. R. Co. v. Kepner, 314 U.S. 44, nor Miles v. Illinois Central R. Co., 315 U.S. 698, limited the power of a state to deny access to its courts to persons seeking recovery under the Federal Employers' Liability Act if, in similar cases, the state, for reasons of local policy, denies resort to its courts and enforces its policy impartially, so as not to involve a discrimination against Employers' Liability Act suits nor against citizens of other states. P. 4.

(b) Nor is any such restriction imposed upon the states merely because the Employers' Liability Act empowers their courts to entertain suits arising under it. P. 4.

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(c) Even prior to § 1404(a) of the 1948 revision of the Judicial Code (28 U.S.C.), there was nothing in the Federal Employers' Liability Act which purported "to force a duty" upon the state courts to entertain or retain Federal Employers' Liability litigation "against an otherwise valid excuse." Pp. 5.

359 Mo. 827, 224 S.W.2d 105, judgment vacated and cause remanded.

In two suits brought in a Missouri state court under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, motions to dismiss under the doctrine of forum non conveniens were denied as beyond the jurisdiction of the court to grant. In original proceedings in mandamus to compel the trial court to exercise discretionary jurisdiction in disposing of the motions, the State Supreme Court denied relief. 359 Mo. 827, 224 S.W.2d 105. This Court granted certiorari. 339 U.S. 918. Judgment vacated and cause remanded, p. 5.

FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

These two cases had their origin in suits based on the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 35 Stat. 65, as amended, 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq., brought in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Missouri. It is superfluous to give concrete details regarding the parties, the circumstances of the injuries, and the considerations affecting the choice of forum. It suffices to state that, in both cases the plaintiff was not a resident of Missouri, the carrier was a

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foreign corporation, and the accident which gave rise to the claim of liability for negligence took place outside Missouri. In both, the doctrine of forum non conveniens was invoked; in both, the trial court denied the motion to dismiss the suit on that ground as beyond the jurisdiction of the court to grant. In both cases, original proceedings in mandamus were thereupon begun in the Supreme Court of Missouri to compel the trial court to exercise discretionary jurisdiction in disposing of the motions. After alternative writs of mandamus had issued and the causes had been consolidated for consideration, the writs were quashed by a single judgment. 369 Mo. 827, 224 S.W.2d 105. We brought the proceedings here for review, 339 U.S. 918, because they involved questions important to the enforcement of the Federal Employers' Liability Act by the courts of the States.

A decision by the highest court of a State determining that the doctrine of forum non conveniens cannot bar an action based on the Federal Employers' Liability Act, in the circumstances before us, may rest on one of three theories. (1) According to its own notions of procedural policy, a State may reject, as it may accept, the doctrine for all causes of action begun in its courts. If denial of a motion to dismiss an action under the Federal Employers' Liability Act is rested on such a general local practice, no federal issue comes into play. (It is assumed, of course, that the State has acquired jurisdiction over the defendant.) (2) By reason of the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Constitution, a State may not discriminate against citizens of sister States. Art. IV, § 2. Therefore, Missouri cannot allow suits by nonresident Missourians for liability under the Federal Employers' Liability Act arising out of conduct outside that State and discriminatorily deny access to its courts to

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a nonresident who is a citizen of another State. But if a State chooses to "[prefer] residents in access to often overcrowded Courts" and to deny such access...

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