Griffith v. Cole Bros.

Decision Date18 December 1917
Docket Number31814
Citation165 N.W. 577,183 Iowa 415
PartiesMARY E. GRIFFITH, Appellee, v. COLE BROTHERS et al., Appellants
CourtIowa Supreme Court


Appeal from Story District Court.--E. M. MCCALL, Judge.

THE Workmen's Compensation Act provides that, when the action of the tribunals created by the act are certified to the district court, it "shall render decree in accordance therewith." The order certified in this case found that the employer was under no liability for the death of the employee, caused by a stroke of lightning. The district court took a contrary view, and gave the claimant a judgment for $ 3,000. The employer appeals.


Miller & Wallingford, for appellants.

C. G Lee, I. R. Meltzer, T. G. Garfield, and C. W. Garfield, for appellee.





The statute (Section 34, Chapter 147, Acts of the Thirty-fifth General Assembly) provides that:

"Any party in interest may present certified copy of an order or decision of the commissioner or a decision of an arbitration committee from which no claim for review has been filed * * * or a memorandum of agreement approved by the commissioner, and all papers in connection therewith, to the district court * * * whereupon said court shall render a decree in accordance therewith."

The position of appellants is that the district court had no power to do what it did, because the words "in accordance therewith" refer to the order or decision, and nothing else, and that the formulation of decree cannot be affected by the words "all papers in connection with same:" in fewer words, that the district court is bound by the final conclusion reached, and cannot consider the record upon which the conclusion certified rests. Appellants insist this contention is sustained because it was said, in Fischer v. Priebe, 178 Iowa 512, 160 N.W. 48:

"It was not within the authority of the court to review or reverse or modify the award. Its function in the matter was simply to receive the award certified to it and 'render a decree in accordance therewith and notify the parties.' This is what seems to have been done, and we find no error therein."

That this is purely arguendo, is not necessary to decision, and does not decide what appellant claims, is made manifest by consideration of the situation to which these words were addressed. The complaint was that the district court had made an allowance which the commissioner had not made. We held that the commissioner did make such allowance, that it is not objected to, and, in effect, that insufficient objection is made to whatever the district court did do. It is manifest that, when we found the court had made no original allowance, it became utterly unnecessary to determine whether it had power to make one.

The Fischer case makes no reference to Hunter v. Colfax Cons. Coal Co., 175 Iowa 245, 157 N.W. 145, 154 N.W. 1037, and indeed, refers to no decision. In the Hunter case, at 308, we deal with an express objection that the act works "an improper delegation of judicial power, and a denial of judicial hearing; that the courts are compelled to enter judgment upon the award without further hearing; that there is no provision for appeal from the judgment on the award except the limited one permitted by the act; that the judgment must be modified by the court, if modified by the commissioner, and that this works a denial of and taking property without due process of law." It is self-evident that to pass upon this objection made it necessary to determine whether the powers given, or the limitations put upon, the district court made the statute vulnerable to these objections. Of course, this could not be determined without bindingly passing upon what these powers and limitations are. We found them to be of such character as that the objections were not well taken.

We hold, first, there is no ouster of the courts where the act is rejected, and then proceed to say:

"A somewhat more difficult question arises when the provisions of the act are accepted. In that case, if the parties cannot come to an agreement, compensation fixed by statute schedule is awarded by arbitration provided for in the act. In a sense, then, the acceptance of the statute operates to take from the courts so much of the controversy as is determined by the applying of the statute schedules through the agency of the statute arbitrators. Before we reach the question whether, if this constitute a total ouster of the jurisdiction of the courts, it would invalidate the act, we of course have to determine whether such total ouster is so effected. We are forced to deal with this question as one of first impression, because no decision that sustains the Compensation Act of other states is applicable. The Washington Act and that of Massachusetts reserve recourse to the courts and full judicial review. In Sabre's case (Vt.), 85 A. 693, a delegation is sustained because, in the end, the matter may get to the Supreme Court and have full review. Borgnis v. Falk Co., (Wis.) 133 N.W. 209, sustains the Wisconsin act, with a holding that there is review if the act be without power, or fraudulent; that, if the board act without or in excess of its jurisdiction, there may be action in court to set aside the award, and that this may also be done if its findings of fact are not supported by the evidence. Our act has no such reservations, in terms, and, therefore, these decisions afford us no light." (314, 315).

In determining that there is not a total ouster of the courts, and that, therefore, the act is valid, we group certain things as being jurisdictional,--things upon which the power of the statute tribunals to act at all hinges. On this head, we said:

"The very basis of power to award compensation under the act is that its provisions must first be accepted; that the claimant must be an employe; that he must have sustained personal injuries; that they must have arisen out of and in course of the employment; and that the compensation shall be at rates fixed by the statute." (317)

We point out that Sabre v. Rutland R. Co., 86 Vt. 347 (85 A. 693), holds that, as the Constitution provides courts shall be open for trial of all cases proper and cognizable, therefore, the courts, regardless of statute, may determine whether the board created has gone beyond the powers granted it. And we add:

"We are in no doubt that the very structure of the law of the land and the inherent power of the courts would enable them to interfere, if what we have defined to be the jurisdiction conferred upon the arbitration committee were by it exceeded; that they could inquire whether the act was being enforced against one who had rejected it, whether the claiming employe was an employe, whether he was injured at all, whether his injury was one arising out of such employment, * * * or, acceptance (of the act) being conceded, * * * into whether that body attempted judicial functions in violation of, or not granted by, the act."

We sustain the act for being in analogy with the rule that makes contracts lawful which provide that the value of certain property and other like matters shall be determined by a certain person therein named, and that his decision shall be final, and say that such contracts are usually upheld as lawful because "they do not oust the courts of their jurisdiction over the subject matter, but only provide a safe and speedy manner of fixing definitely some fact which is usually of a complex and difficult nature," and because, when such fact is determined in the manner provided by the contract, "the parties are at liberty, after so fixing such fact, to go into court and litigate such differences as may still exist between them" (315, 316). We say that, "so far as specific delegation goes, the arbitration committee can do no more than to find that the employe should have compensation under some item of the statute schedule, and the commissioner may, on investigation, make a finding that an award thus made shall be modified or terminated. It is manifest that this does not in terms deprive the courts of all jurisdiction in the premises;" that there are "provisions that indicate it is not intended, literally at least, to give the statutory arbitrators all the powers that courts have" (317),--and, in commenting upon the appeal allowed, we hold that, "though the act does not in terms provide for judicial review except by said appeal, the statute does not take from the courts all jurisdiction in the premises." We conclude thus:

"All of which establishes that the statute works no complete ouster of jurisdiction. * * * The utmost it does is to provide administrative machinery for applying rates of compensation fixed by the legislature, as between parties who have agreed to have the amount of compensation, merely, thus determined. The effect of statutes never challenged, so far as we are advised, which limit recovery for negligence causing death, is to compel the courts to do what here is done by the arbitrators." (318, 319)

In Des Moines Union R. Co. v. Funk, decided January 27, 1919, it is recognized that certiorari will lie "where the objection made is clearly one of jurisdictional nature, and it satisfactorily appears that the proceeding sought to be reviewed is wholly unauthorized," as a mere right of appeal in such case would not be a speedy or adequate remedy, within the meaning of the statute.

The Massachusetts Act (Acts & Resolves of Massachusetts, 1912 Ch. 571, Sec. 14) is on this point quite similar to our own. It provides that when "copies of * * * decision of the board * * * and all papers in connection therewith [have been...

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