Johnston v. Chi. & N. W. Ry. Co.

Decision Date07 May 1929
Docket NumberNo. 39245.,39245.
Citation208 Iowa 202,225 N.W. 357
PartiesJOHNSTON v. CHICAGO & N. W. RY. CO.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Appeal from District Court, Kossuth County; James De Land, Judge.

In the district court, this was an appeal under the Workmen's Compensation Law, by the defendant railway company from the action of the industrial commissioner, in affirming an award granted to the plaintiff, as an employee of the defendant company, by the deputy industrial commissioner, sitting as a board of arbitration; arbitrators having been waived. The trial court affirmed the action of the industrial commissioner. The defendant company appeals. Reversed.Davis, McLaughlin & Hise and James C. Davis, Jr., all of Des Moines, for appellant.

H. W. Hanson, of Des Moines, for appellee.

WAGNER, J.

The facts in this case are not in dispute. The defendant company operates a railroad, one terminus being at Eagle Grove, Iowa, and the other at Elmore, Minn., and each day in the week, except Sunday, runs a local or way freight train from the former to the latter place. This train carries both interstate and intrastate shipments. The service rendered is to pick up and set out cars at the various stations between the terminals, do the station switching, and unload and load such freight as might be destined to, or consigned from, any of the stations along the route. At the time in question, the plaintiff was in the employ of the defendant company as a “station helper” at Algona. The duties of the plaintiff were to perform various kinds of work about the station, including the loading and unloading of freight. It goes without saying that freight consigned to Algona would necessarily have to be unloaded before the interstate train could proceed upon its journey. On December 23, 1925, there was coupled in, and moved as an integral part of the freight train, a refrigerator car, in which there were no interstate shipments, but only intrastate consignments; but in other cars comprising a portion of the train were articles of interstate commerce, which were being transported by it to a destination in another state. The aforesaid car, containing the intrastate shipments, which were of a perishable nature, was a refrigerator car.

Upon the arrival of the train at Algona, the plaintiff, in conformity with his duties, assisted in unloading the local freight. He entered the refrigerator car, picked up one or more of the shipments, and in stepping from the car to the station platform fell and was severely injured. After the unloading of the freight, said refrigerator car, with the rest of the train, proceeded to its terminal destination. The plaintiff filed with the industrial commissioner his application for arbitration. The defendant filed an answer, admitting the employment and the injury, but alleged that at the time of the injury the plaintiff was engaged in interstate commerce, and that the industrial commissioner was without jurisdiction to hear the facts or determine the merits of the claim. The deputy industrial commissioner, sitting as a board of arbitration, granted plaintiff an award as against the defendant. On a review before the commissioner, the decision of the board of arbitration was affirmed. On appeal to the district court, the action of the commissioner was affirmed, and from this latter action the defendant company has appealed to this court.

The commissioner, in rendering his decision, admits that this is a “border line case,” but found that the appellee, at the time of his injury, was not employed in interstate commerce. The Federal Employers' Liability Act provides: “Every common carrier by railroad while engaging in commerce between any of the several states or territories, or between any of the states and territories, or between the District of Columbia and any of the states or territories, or between the District of Columbia or any of the states or territories and any foreign nation or nations, shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier in such commerce.” Section 8657, U. S. Comp. Stat., 35 Stat. 65 (45 USCA § 51).

[1] Under the undisputed facts, the train was an interstate train, and the appellant was engaged in interstate commerce. North Carolina Railroad Co. v. Zachary, 232 U. S. 248, 34 S. Ct. 305, 58 L. Ed. 591;Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway Co. v. Wright, 239 U. S. 548, 36 S. Ct. 185, 60 L. Ed. 431;Northern Pacific Railway Co. v. Washington, 222 U. S. 370, 32 S. Ct. 160, 56 L. Ed. 237;New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Co. v. Carr, 238 U. S. 260, 35 S. Ct. 780, 59 L. Ed. 1298;Hester v. East Tennessee & W. N. C. R. Co. (C. C. A.) 254 F. 787;Waters v. Guile (C. C. A.) 234 F. 532. The controlling question in this case is: Was the appellee, at the moment of his injury, employed in interstate commerce, or in performing labor so closely related thereto as to be practically a part of it?

[2] It is the contention of the appellee that, the industrial commissioner having made the finding that at the time of the injury the plaintiff was employed in intrastate commerce, the same stands upon the same footing as the verdict of a jury and is binding upon the lower court, and also this court. It is only where there is a conflict in the evidence that the findings of the commissioner are conclusive. There is no dispute relative to the facts in this case. When the facts are not in dispute, or if there is not sufficient competent evidence to support the findings of the commissioner, then said findings are not binding upon the courts, and the order based thereon may be reviewed and set aside. Tunnicliff v. Bettendorf, 204 Iowa, 168, 214 N. W. 516;Rish v. Iowa Portland Cement Co., 186 Iowa, 443, 170 N. W. 532;Bidwell Coal Co. v. Davidson, 187 Iowa, 809, 174 N. W. 592, 8 A. L. R. 1058;Norton v. Day Coal Co., 192 Iowa, 160, 180 N. W. 905;Kent v. Kent, 202 Iowa, 1044, 208 N. W. 709;Johnson v. City of Albia, 203 Iowa, 1171, 212 N. W. 419;Flint v. Eldon, 191 Iowa, 845, 183 N. W. 344. Since the facts are not in dispute, the conclusion to be drawn therefrom, as to whether or not the appellee, at the time of the injury, was employed in intrastate commerce or interstate commerce, or in performing labor so closely related to interstate commerce as to be practically a part of it, is for the determination of the court, regardless of the conclusion arrived at by the industrial commissioner.

Moreover, the defendant in its answer raises the question of the jurisdiction of the commissioner to hear the facts or determine the merits of the claim. In Bidwell Coal Co. v. Davidson, supra, we said: “It is argued in this case that we are bound by the fact finding of the board of arbitration, and the finding of the commissioner on review. It is true that, as to disputed facts which do not go to the jurisdiction, we are bound by the finding of the commissioner; but where the only question presented is whether or not the jurisdictional fact exists, entitling the person to be heard before the commissioner, we have a right to review the action of the commissioner, even to the extent of finding the fact to be other than the commissioner found it.”

[3] It is provided by section 1453 of the Code that any order or decision of the industrial commissioner may be modified, reversed, or set aside on one or more of the following grounds: * * * (1) If the commissioner acted without or in excess of his powers. * * * (4) If there is not sufficient competent evidence in the record to warrant the making of the order or decision.” It is apparent that, if the facts bring the case within the Federal Employers' Liability Act (45 USCA §§ 51-59), then the industrial commissioner was without power or jurisdiction to grant relief, for in that event the employee must resort to the federal act. Des Moines Railway Co. v. Funk, 185 Iowa, 330, 170 N. W. 529;New York Central Railroad Co. v. Winfield, 244 U. S. 147, 37 S. Ct. 546, 61 L. Ed. 1045, L. R. A. 1918C, 439, Ann. Cas. 1917D, 1139;Erie Railroad Co. v. Winfield, 244 U. S. 170, 37 S. Ct. 556, 61 L. Ed. 1057, Ann. Cas. 1918B, 662.

This brings us to a consideration of the pivotal and controlling question in the case: Was the appellee, at the time of his injury, employed in interstate commerce, or in performing labor so closely related thereto as to be practically a part of it? This is indeed a troublesome question. Two of our most recent pronouncements involving the Federal Employers' Liability Act (45 USCA §§ 51-59) are Slatinka v. U. S. Railway Administration, 194 Iowa, 159, 188 N. W. 20, 24 A. L. R. 608, and Mulstay v. Des Moines Union Railway Co., 195 Iowa, 513, 192 N. W. 439, in both of which cases it was held that the injured employee's rights were controlled by the act. In the Slatinka Case, a résumé of many decisions is given.

[4] It is a well-recognized principle that, in construing a federal act, the decisions of the United States courts are binding and conclusive upon the state courts. State v. Eckenrode, 148 Iowa, 173, 127 N. W. 56;Smith v. Interurban Railway Co., 186 Iowa, 1045, 171 N. W. 134.

[5] It is true that the “station helper” had duties to perform other than what he was doing at the identical moment of his injury, but the test is: Was he, at that moment, employed in interstate commerce, or work so closely related to it as to be practically a part of it? Shanks v. Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Co., 239 U. S. 556, 36 S. Ct. 188, 60 L. Ed. 436, L. R. A. 1916C, 797;New York Central & Hudson Railroad Co. v. Carr, 238 U. S. 260, 35 S. Ct. 780, 59 L. Ed. 1298;Illinois Central Railroad Co. v. Behrens, 233 U. S. 473, 34 S. Ct. 646, 58 L. Ed. 1051, Ann. Cas. 1914C, 163;Pederson v. Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Co., 229 U. S. 146, 33 S. Ct. 648, 57 L. Ed. 1125, Ann. Cas. 1914C, 153;Slatinka v. U. S. Railway Administration, 194 Iowa, 159, 188 N. W. 20, 24 A. L. R. 608;Mulstay v. Des Moines Union Railway Co., 195 Iowa, 513, 192 N. W. 439.

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