Chicago, Rock Island Pacific Railway Company v. Lizzie Wright, No. 167

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtVan Devanter
Citation239 U.S. 548,60 L.Ed. 431,36 S.Ct. 185
PartiesCHICAGO, ROCK ISLAND, & PACIFIC RAILWAY COMPANY, Plff. in Err., v. LIZZIE L. WRIGHT and Henry C. Berge, Administrators, etc
Docket NumberNo. 167
Decision Date10 January 1916

239 U.S. 548
36 S.Ct. 185
60 L.Ed. 431
CHICAGO, ROCK ISLAND, & PACIFIC RAILWAY COMPANY, Plff. in Err.,

v.

LIZZIE L. WRIGHT and Henry C. Berge, Administrators, etc.

No. 167.
Argued November 30, 1915.
Decided January 10, 1916.

Messrs. E. P. Holmes and Paul E. Walker for plaintiff in error.

Messrs. George W. Berge and Halleck F. Rose for defendants in error.

Page 549

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

This was an action against a railroad company by personal representatives to recover for the death of their intestate, an employee of the company, resulting from a collision of two locomotives on the company's railroad at Lincoln, Nebraksa. One of the locomotives was a switch engine returning to the city from an adjacent transfer track, and the other a road engine on the way to a distant repair shop. The former was in charge of a switching crew, and the latter of an engine crew in which the intestate was the engineer. At the place of the collision the track is in a deep and curved cut which shortens the view along the track. The causal negligence set up in the petition included allegations that the defendant negligently failed to provide a suitable rule regulating the speed and movement of switch engines through the cut; that the switch engine was being run through the cut at a negligent, reckless, and dangerous rate of speed, and without its engineer having it under control, and that when the employees in charge of it came within view of the other engine they negligently jumped to the ground without reversing their engine or attempting to stop it, notwithstanding it reasonably and safely could have been stopped in time to prevent the collision. The answer denied all that was alleged in the petition, and charged the intestate with gross contributory negligence and an assumption of the risk. The petition described the road engine as moving from one point to another in Nebraska, and said nothing about interstate commerce, but the answer alleged that this engine was being taken to a point in another state, and that the defendant was engaged and the intestate was employed in interstate commerce. At the trial the evidence disclosed that the defendant was operating a railroad extending through Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and other

Page 550

states; that the road engine was on the way from Phillipsburg, Kansas, to Council Bluffs, Iowa; that the train order under which the intestate was proceeding at the time read, 'Engine 1486 will run extra Fairbury to Albright,' both points being in Nebraska, and that when Albright was reached another order was to be given, covering the remainder of the trip. Notwithstanding the allegation in the answer and this evidence, the court submitted the case to the jury, as if it were controlled by the employers' liability act of Nebraska, and not by the act of Congress. The plaintiff had a verdict and judgment, and the latter was affirmed by the supreme court of the state. 94 Neb. 317, 143 N. W. 220, 96 Neb. 87, 146 N. W. 1024. The defendant prosecutes this writ of error.

It is entirely clear that taking the road engine from Phillipsburg, Kansas, to Council Bluffs, Iowa, was an act of interstate commerce, and that the intestate, while participating in that act, was employed in such commerce. That the engine was not in commercial use, but merely on the way to a repair shop, is immaterial. It was being taken from one state to another, and this was the true test of whether it was moving in interstate commerce. See North Carolina R. Co. v. Zachary, 232 U. S. 248, 259, 58 L. ed. 591, 595, 34 Sup. Ct. Rep. 305, Ann. Cas. 1914C, 159. The courts of the state rested their decision to the contrary upon the train order under which the intestate was proceeding, and upon the decisions in Chicago & N. W. R. Co. v. United States, 21 L.R.A.(N.S.) 690, 93 C. C. A. 450, 168 Fed. 236, and United States v. Rio Grande Western R. Co. 98 C. C. A. 293, 174 Fed. 399. In this they misconceived the meaning of the trian order and the effect of the decisions cited. The order was given by a division train despatcher, and meant that between the points named therein the engine would have the status of an extra train, and not that it was going merely from one of those points to the other. The cases cited arose under the safety appliance acts of Congress, and what was decided was that those acts were not in-

Page 551

tended to penalize a carrier for hauling to an adjacent and convenient place of repair a car with defective appliances, when the sole purpose of the movement was to have the defect corrected, and the car was hauled alone, and not in connection with other cars in commercial use. It was not held or suggested that such a hauling from one state to another was not a movement in interstate commerce, but only that it was not penalized by those acts.

As the injuries resulting in the intestate's death were sustained while the company was engaged, and while he was employed by it, in interstate commerce, the company's responsibility was governed by the employers' liability act of Congress, chap. 149, 35 Stat. at L. 65, chap. 143, 36 Stat. at L. 291, Comp. Stat. 1913, § 8662; and as that act is exclusive and supersedes state laws upon the subject, it was error to submit the case to the jury as if the state act were controlling. Wabash R. Co. v. Hayes, 234 U. S. 86, 89, 58 L. ed. 1226, 1230, 34 Sup. Ct. Rep. 729, 6 N. C. C. A. 224, and cases cited.

But error affords no ground for reversal where it is not prejudicial, and here it is plain that the company was not...

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65 practice notes
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  • Mississippi Cent R. Co. v. Knight, 24615
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