377 U.S. 184 (1964), 157, Parden v. Terminal R. Co.,

Docket Nº:No. 157
Citation:377 U.S. 184, 84 S.Ct. 1207, 12 L.Ed.2d 233
Party Name:Parden v. Terminal R. Co.,
Case Date:May 18, 1964
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 184

377 U.S. 184 (1964)

84 S.Ct. 1207, 12 L.Ed.2d 233



Terminal R. Co.,

No. 157

United States Supreme Court

May 18, 1964

Argued February 26-27, 1964




Operation of a common carrier railroad in interstate commerce by a State constituted a waiver of its sovereign immunity and consent to a suit brought in a federal court by employee of the railroad under the Federal Employer' Liability Act. Pp. 184-198.

311 F.2d 727, reversed.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question in this case is whether a State that owns and operates a railroad in interstate commerce may successfully plead sovereign immunity in a federal court suit brought against the railroad by its employee under the Federal [84 S.Ct. 1209] Employers' Liability Act.

Petitioners, citizens of the State of Alabama, brought suit in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Alabama against respondent Terminal Railway of the Alabama State Docks Department. They alleged that the Railway was a "common carrier by railroad . . . engaging in commerce between any of the several States" within the terms of the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 51-60, and sought damages under that Act for personal injuries sustained while employed by the

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Railway. Respondent State of Alabama, appearing specially, moved to dismiss the action on the ground that the Railway was an agency of the State and the State had not waived its sovereign immunity from suit. The District Court granted the motion, and the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed, 311 F.2d 727. We granted certiorari, 375 U.S. 810. We reverse.

The Terminal Railway is wholly owned and operated by the State of Alabama through its State Docks Department, and has been since 1927. Consisting of about 50 miles of railroad tracks in the area adjacent to the State Docks at Mobile, it serves those docks and several industries situated in the vicinity, and also operates an interchange railroad with several privately owned railroad companies. It performs services for profit under statutory authority authorizing it to operate "as though it were an ordinary common carrier." 1940 Code of Alabama (recompiled 1958), Tit. 38, § 17.1 It conducts substantial operations in interstate commerce. It has contracts and working agreements with the various railroad brotherhoods in accordance with the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq.; maintains its equipment in conformity with the Federal Safety Appliance Act, 45 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.; and complies with the reporting and bookkeeping requirements of the Interstate Commerce Commission. It is thus undisputably a common carrier by railroad engaging in interstate commerce.

Petitioners contend that it is consequently subject to this suit under the Federal Employers' Liability Act. That statute provides that

(e)very common carrier by railroad while engaging in commerce between any of the several States . . . shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier

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in such commerce,

and that, "[u]nder this chapter, an action may be brought in a district court of the United States. . . ." 45 U.S.C. §§ 51, 56. Respondents rely, as did the lower courts in dismissing the action, on sovereign immunity the principle that a State may not be sued by an individual without its consent. Although the Eleventh Amendment is not, in terms, applicable here, since petitioners are citizens of Alabama,2 this Court has recognized that an unconsenting State is immune from federal court suits brought by its own citizens, as well as by citizens of another state. Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1; Duhne v. New Jersey, 251 U.S. 311; Great Northern Life Ins. Co. v. Read, 322 U.S. 47, 51; Fitts v. McGhee, 172 U.S. 516, 524. See also Monaco v. Mississippi, 292 U.S. 313. Nor is the State divested of its immunity "on the mere ground that the case is one arising under the constitution [84 S.Ct. 1210] or laws of the United States." Hans v. Louisiana, supra, 134 U.S. at 10; see Duhne v. New Jersey, supra, 251 U.S. 311; Smith v. Reeves, 178 U.S. 436, 447-449; Ex parte New York, 256 U.S. 490, 497-498. But the immunity may, of course, be waived; the State's freedom from suit without its consent does not protect it from a suit to which it has consented. Clark v. Barnard, 108 U.S. 436, 447; Gunter v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co., 200 U.S. 273, 284; Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Comm'n, 359 U.S. 275. We think Alabama has consented to the present suit.

This case is distinctly unlike Hans v. Louisiana, supra, where the action was a contractual one based on state bond coupons, and the plaintiff sought to invoke the

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federal question jurisdiction by alleging an impairment of the obligation of contract.3 Such a suit on state debt obligations without the State's consent was precisely the "evil" against which both the Eleventh Amendment and the expanded immunity doctrine of the Hans case were directed.4 Here, for the first time in this Court, a State's claim of immunity against suit by an individual meets a suit brought upon a cause of action expressly created by Congress. Two questions are thus presented: (1) Did Congress in enacting the FELA intend to subject a State to suit in these circumstances? (2) Did it have the power to do so, as against the State's claim of immunity?

We think that Congress, in making the FELA applicable to "every" common carrier by railroad in interstate commerce, meant what it said.5 That congressional

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statutes regulating railroads in interstate commerce apply to such railroads whether they are state owned or privately owned is hardly a novel proposition; it has twice been clearly affirmed by this Court. In United States v. California, 297 U.S. 175, the question was whether the federal Safety Appliance Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 2, 6, applicable by its terms to "[a]ny common carrier engaged in interstate commerce by railroad," applied to California's state-owned railroad. The Court unanimously held that [84 S.Ct. 1211] it did.6 In rejecting the argument that "the statute is to be deemed inapplicable to state-owned railroads because it does not specifically mention them," the Court said, in terms equally pertinent here:

No convincing reason is advanced why interstate commerce and persons and property concerned in it should not receive the protection of the act whenever a state, as well as a privately owned carrier, brings itself within the sweep of the statute, or why its all-embracing language should not be deemed to afford that protection.

297 U.S. at 185.

In California v. Taylor, 353 U.S. 553, the question was whether the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., applicable by its terms to "any . . . carrier by railroad, subject to the Interstate Commerce Act," applied to the same California state railroad. The Court, again unanimous, held that it did.7 After noting that


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statutes regulating interstate railroads, or their employees, have consistently been held to apply to publicly owned or operated railroads,

although "none of these statutes referred specifically to public railroads as being within their coverage," 353 U.S. at 562, the Court stated:

The fact that Congress chose to phrase the coverage of the Act in all-embracing terms indicates that state railroads were included within it. In fact, the consistent congressional pattern in railway legislation which preceded the Railway Labor Act was to employ all-inclusive language of coverage with no suggestion that state-owned railroads were not included.

353 U.S. at 564. As support for this proposition, the Court relied on three decisions involving the precise question presented by the instant case, in all of which it had been held that the FELA did authorize suit against a publicly owned railroad despite a claim of sovereign immunity. Mathewes v. Port Utilities Comm'n, 32 F.2d 913 (D.C.E.D.S.C.1929); Higginbotham v. Public Belt R. Comm'n, 192 La. 525, 188 So. 395 (1938); Maurice v. State, 43 Cal.App.2d 270, 110 P.2d 706 (Cal.Dist.C.A.1941). Thus, we could not read the FELA differently here without undermining the basis of our decision in Taylor.

Nor do we perceive any reason for reading it differently. The language of the FELA is at least as broad and all-embracing as that of the Safety Appliance Act or the Railway Labor Act, and its purpose is no less applicable to state railroads and their employees. If Congress made the judgment that, in view of the dangers of railroad work and the difficulty of recovering for personal

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injuries under existing rules, railroad workers in interstate commerce should be provided with the right of action created by the FELA, we should not presume to say, in the absence of express provision to the contrary, that it intended to exclude a particular group of such workers from the benefits conferred by the Act. To read a "sovereign immunity exception" into the Act would result, moreover, in a right without a remedy; it would mean that Congress made "every" interstate railroad liable in damages to injured employees, but left one class of such employees those whose employers happen to be state owned without any effective means of enforcing that liability. We are unwilling [84 S.Ct. 1212] to conclude that Congress intended so pointless and frustrating a result. We therefore read the FELA as authorizing suit in a Federal...

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