American Railroad Company of Porto Rico v. Federico Didricksen

Citation33 S.Ct. 224,227 U.S. 145,57 L.Ed. 456
Decision Date27 January 1913
Docket NumberNo. 72,72
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Messrs. N. B. K. Pettingill and F. L. Cornwell for plaintiff in error.

No brief was filed for defendants in error.

Mr. Justice Lurton delivered the opinion of the court:

This is an action under the employers' liability act of April 22, 1908 (35 Stat. at L. 65, chap. 149), before its amendment by the act of April 5, 1910 [36 Stat. at L. 291, chap. 143, U. S. Comp. Stat. Supp. 1911, p. 1324]. The plaintiffs were the surviving parents of Pedro Didricksen, an employee of the American Railroad of Porto Rico, who died from an injury sustained while in its service.

1. Many errors have been assigned. One as signed, but not noticed in the brief of plaintiff in error, goes to the capacity of the plaintiffs to maintain the action.

That the deceased left neither wife nor children is not denied. That the plaintiffs were, therefore, as his surviving parents, the sole beneficiaries under the statute, is also conceded.

One of the defenses made by the answer was that the plaintiffs had not been appointed administrators, as required by law, and had therefore no right to maintain this suit under the liability act of 1908. This was met after the jury had been summoned, by a motion, as shown by the plaintiffs' bill of exceptions, 'to amend the complaint by making the following interlineation: 'That plaintiffs are the duly appointed personal representatives of the deceased, appointed by the district court of the Island of Porto Rico,' which leave is granted by the court.' To this amendment the defendant excepted. A journal entry of the same date shows that, in support of the motion, the plaintiffs produced a certain certificate from the district court of Porto Rico, and that the complaint was amended by interlining the words, after the word 'support,''they were further the only personal representatives of the deceased.'

This certificate is not in the transcript, and we have no way of knowing its sufficiency as an appointment. The case went to the jury upon the issue of the capacity of the plaintiffs to sue, as well as upon the other issues. The court neither gave nor refused any instruction upon this point, and there was a general verdict for the plaintiffs.

2. The evidence upon the merits of the case, though obscure and meager as to the circumstances of the accident, was such as to justify its submission to the jury.

3. The complaint averred that the cars composing the train in charge of the deceased as conductor were not equipped as required by the safety appliance act of March 2, 1903 (32 Stat. at L. 943, chap. 976, U. S. Comp. Stat. Supp. 1911, p. 1314). There was some evidence tending to show that one or more of the couplers were not in repair, and some evidence tending to show that this had a causal connection with the accident. The court instructed the jury that the safety appliance act applied to Porto Rico. Was this error?

The acts of March 2, 1893 (27 Stat. at L. 531, chap. 196, U. S. Comp. (Stat. 1901, p. 3174), and April 1, 1896 (29 Stat. at L. 85, chap. 87, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 3175), related only to railroad companies engaged in interstate commerce. The traffic wholly confined to a territory of the United States was therefore not within either. But the act of March 2, 1903, amended the former acts and extended their provisions to 'common carriers by railroad in the territories and the District of Columbia.'

That the employers' liability act of April 22, 1908 (35 Stat. at L. 65, chap. 149, U. S. Comp. Stat. Supp. 1911, p. 1322), does apply to Porto Rico, is plain, since it, on its face, extends to the District of Columbia, the territories, the Panama Canal Zone, and other 'possessions' of the United States. That it did extend to Porto Rico was expressly decided in American R. Co. v. Birch, 224 U. S. 547, 56 L. ed. 879, 32 Sup. Ct. Rep. 603. The question as to whether the safety appliance act extended to that Island was reserved in the Birch Case.

We are of opinion that the act does extend to Porto Rico. It is true that the term, 'possessions' of the United States is not used as in the liability act. The act does, however, provide that the former acts of which it is amendatory 'shall be held to apply to common carriers by railroad in the territories and the District of Columbia,' etc. Though for all purposes the Island of Porto Rico has not been fully incorporated into the United States, it obviously is not foreign territory, nor its citizens aliens. Gonzales v. Williams, 192 U. S. 1, 15, 48 L. ed. 317, 322, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 177. Its organization is in most essentials that of those political entities known as territories. It has a territorial legislature and a territorial system of courts. By the 14th section of the Foraker act of 1900 (31 Stat. at L. 80, chap. 191), 'the statutory laws of the United States not locally inapplicable . . . have the same force and...

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