Bruce Shanks v. Delaware, Lackwanna Western Railroad Company

Decision Date30 November 1915
Docket NumberNo. 477,477
Citation60 L.Ed. 436,239 U.S. 556,36 S.Ct. 188
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Joseph A. Shay, Nash Rockwood, and L. M. McKelvey for plaintiff in error.

Messrs. Alexander Pope Humphrey and W. S. Jenney for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice Van Devanter delivered the opinion of the court:

Shanks sued the railroad company for damages resulting from personal injuries suffered through its negligence while he was in its employ, and rested his right to recover upon the employers' liability act of Congress. His injuries were received in New Jersey, and his action was brought in the supreme court of New York. He prevailed at the trial, but in the appellate division the judgment was reversed, with a direction that his complaint be dismissed without prejudice to any remedy he might have under the law of New Jersey, and this was affirmed by the court of appeals, the ground of the appellate rulings being that at the time of the injury he was not employed in interstate commerce. 163 App. Div. 565, 148 N. Y. Supp. 1034; 214 N. Y. 413, 108 N. E. 644. To obtain a review of the judgment of the court of appeals he sued out this writ of error, which was directed to the supreme court because the record was then in its possession. See Atherton v. Fowler, 91 U. S. 143, 23 L. ed. 265; Wurts v. Hoagland, 105 U. S. 701, 26 L. ed. 1109; Sioux Remedy Co. v. Cope, 235 U. S. 197, 59 L. ed. 193, 35 Sup. Ct. Rep. 57.

In so far as its words are material here, the employers' liability act declares that 'every 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 in such commerce' [35 Stat. at L. 65, chap. 149, Comp. Stat. 1913, § 8657], if the injury results in whole or in part from the negligence of the carrier or of any of its officers, agents, or employees. Thus it is essential to a right of recovery under the act not only that the carrier be engaged in interstate commerce at the time of the injury, but also that the person suffering the injury be then employed by the carrier in such commerce. And so it results where the carrier is also engaged in intrastate commerce, or in what is not commerce at all, that one who, while employed therein by the carrier, suffers injury through its negligence, or that of some of its officers, agents, or employees, must look for redress to the laws of the state wherein the injury occurs, save where it results from the violation of some Federal statute, such as the safety appliance acts.

The facts in the present case are these: The railroad company was engaged in both interstate and intrastate transportation, and was conducting an extensive machine shop for repairing parts of locomotives used in such transportation. While employed in this shop, Shanks was injured through the negligence of the company. Usually his work consisted in repairing certain parts of locomotives, but on the day of the injury he was engaged solely in taking down and putting into a new location an overhead countershaft—a heavy shop fixture—through which power was communicated to some of the machinery used in the repair work.

The question for decision is, Was Shanks at the time of the injury employed in interstate commerce within the meaning of the employers' liability act? What his employment was on other occasions is immateriral, for, as before indicated, the act refers to the service being rendered when the injury was suffered.

Having in mind the nature and usual course of the business to which the act relates and the evident purpose of Congress in adopting the act, we think it speaks of interstate commerce, not in a technical legal sense, but in a practical one better suited to the occasion (see Swift &...

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