Matheson v. Minneapolis St. Ry. Co.

Decision Date03 July 1914
Docket NumberNo. 18759[44].,18759[44].
Citation148 N.W. 71,126 Minn. 286
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court


Appeal from District Court, Hennepin County; Charles S. Jelley, Judge.

Action by Ole Matheson against the Minneapolis Street Railway Company, for personal injuries. From an order overruling a demurrer to defendant's answer, plaintiff appeals. Affirmed.

Syllabus by the Court

Laws enacted by the Legislature are presumed to be valid, and will not be declared invalid by the courts unless they clearly transgress some constitutional limitation.

The constitutional requirement that all persons shall receive the equal protection of the laws is not infringed by legislation, which applies only to those persons falling within a specified class, if it applies alike to all persons within such class, and reasonable grounds exist for making a distinction between those who fall within such class and those who do not.

When the Legislature has determined that a sufficient distinction exists between two classes of persons to justify applying rules to one class which do not apply to the other, such determination is binding upon the courts, unless they can point out that the distinction is purely fanciful and arbitrary, and that no substantial or logical basis exists therefor.

Excluding domestic servants, farm laborers, casual employés, and such railroads and railroad employés as are engaged in interstate commerce from the provisions of the workmen's compensation act does not render it unconstitutional as class legislation.

The Legislature may place employers, who become subject to part 2 of the act, in a different class from those who do not, and may also place employés who become subject thereto in a different class from those who do not; and abrogating the defenses of contributory negligence, assumption of risk, and negligence of a coemployé, in actions against employers who do not accept such part 2, and permitting such defenses in actions against employers who do accept such part 2, does not render the act invalid as class legislation.

Part 2 of the act substitutes the rights, remedies, and liabilities therein provided for those previously existing, and employers and employés subject thereto are limited to such rights and remedies; but such provisions impair no constitutional rights, as they apply only to those who have voluntarily chosen to become subject thereto, and such choice is no less optional because part 2 is presumed to have been accepted by all employers and employés who have not given notice to the contrary.

The act contains no provision prohibited by the state or federal Constitution and is valid. Duxbury, Conzett & Pettijohn, of St. Paul, for appellant.

Davis, Kellogg & Severance, of St. Paul, and H. V. Mercer, of Minneapolis, amicis curiae.

Koon, Whelan & Hempstead, of Minneapolis, for respondent.


Plaintiff, an employé of the city of Minneapolis, while engaged in laying paving along and near the railway track of defendant in one of the streets of that city, was struck by one of defendant's street cars and received injuries which necessitated the amputation of his leg. Alleging that the injury was caused by the negligence of the defendant, he brought this action to recover damages. Defendant, in its answer, among other things, alleged that plaintiff, the city, and defendant had all accepted, were acting under, and were governed by, the provisions of part 2 of chapter 467, Laws of 1913 (sections 8195-8230, G. S. 1913), commonly known as the Workmen's Compensation Act; and that plaintiff's rights were limited and confined to, and were measured and determined by, the relief provided for in part 2 of that act. Plaintiff demurred to this portion of the answer, and appealed from an order overruling the demurrer.

Plaintiff contends that the act violates sections 2, 4, 8, and 13 of article 1 of the Constitution of the state of Minnesota, and the fifth and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution to the United States, and is therefore unconstitutional and void. Whether this contention be well founded is the sole question for decision. The able arguments and exhaustive briefs presented have received attentive consideration and have been of much assistance.

We shall not stop to discuss the shortcomings and unsatisfactory results of the law of negligence as applied to present day industrial conditions; nor the desirability of providing more certain, effective, and inexpensive relief for injured workmen than the present common-law actions afford; nor the economic reasons for imposing upon an employer, not because he is at fault but as a burden incident to his business, the obligation to contribute to the support of employés disabled through injuries received in the course of their employment. Much consideration has been given to these questions by publicists and students of industrial, economic, and social problems; and it has become generally recognized that the common law fails to make adequate or equitable provision for the economic loss resulting from a disability which deprives the workman of his earning power. But changes in the laws, and in the public policies recognized in the laws, must emanate from the lawmaking power and not from the courts. The courts must administer the law as they find it, not as they may think it ought to be. Hence arguments showing the need for a change in the laws governing the relations of master and servant should be addressed to the legislative and not to the judicial branch of the government. The briefs have given considerable attention to these legislative questions, but it is sufficient, for present purposes, to say that the arguments advanced furnish ample basis for legislative action under the police power of the state; and that laws enacted for the purpose of adjusting and determining the respective rights and obligations of employer and employé may make radical innovations in preexisting policies and rules of law, so long as they do not infringe some constitutional guaranty.

[1] In considering the questions now before the court, it is proper to say, at the outset, that all laws enacted by the Legislature are presumed to be valid; and that it is the duty of the courts to declare them valid, unless they clearly transgress some limitation upon the power of the Legislature imposed by the state or federal Constitution. Roos v. State, 6 Minn. 428 (Gil. 291); State v. Corbett, 57 Minn. 345, 59 N. W. 317,24 L. R. A. 498;Lommen v. Minneapolis Gaslight Co., 65 Minn. 196, 68 N. W. 53,33 L. R. A. 437, 60 Am. St. Rep. 450;Union Pacific Ry. Co. v. United States, 99 U. S. 700, 25 L. Ed. 496;Powell v. Pennsylvania, 127 U. S. 678, 8 Sup. Ct. 992, 1257,32 L. Ed. 253.

The act in question provides that compensation shall be made by the employer to the employé, or in case of his death to his dependents, for injuries sustained in the course of the employment, ‘provided the employé was himself not willfully negligent’; but the act does not apply to those railroads, or those employés of railroads, that are subject to the laws of the United States enacted pursuant to the power to regulate commerce, nor to domestic servants, farm laborers, or persons whose employment is only casual. The act is separated into two divisions designated as part 1 and part 2. The provisions of part 2 apply only in the event that both employer and employé elect to become subject thereto. If either or both elect not to become subject to part 2, the provisions of part 1 apply. If the employer has elected not to become subject to part 2, he cannot interpose as a defense, in an action brought under part 1, that the employé was negligent, unless such negligence was willful; nor that he had assumed the risk; nor that the injury was caused by the negligence of a coemployé. Depriving the employer of the three defenses named, in case he elects not to become subject to part 2 of the act, is the only substantial change made by part 1 in the previously existing law. If the employer declines to accept the provisions of part 2, he loses the benefit of these three defenses; if he accepts the provisions of part 2, but the employé declines to accept such provisions, the employer retains the benefit of such defenses.

[2] It is claimed that the act violates the equality provisions of the state and federal Constitutions for the reason that it abrogates these three defenses, in actions under part 1, brought against employers who elect not to accept the provisions of part 2, but permits such defendants to be interposed, in actions under part 1, brought against other employers, and also for the reason that the act excludes from its provisions domestic servants, farm laborers, casual employés, and such railroads and railroad employés as are within the legislative domain of the United States. That the defenses mentioned may be entirely abolished, or abolished as to certain classes of employments only, is too well settled to require argument. Missouri Pacific Ry. Co. v. Mackey, 127 U. S. 205, 8 Sup. Ct. 1161, 32 L. Ed. 107;Minneapolis & St. Louis Ry. Co. v. Herrick, 127 U. S. 210, 8 Sup. Ct. 1176, 32 L. Ed. 109; Tullis v. Lake Erie & Western Ry. Co., 175 U. S. 348, 20 Sup. Ct. 136, 44 L. Ed. 192;Mondou v. New York, New Haven & Hartford River Ry. Co., 223 U. S. 1, 32 Sup. Ct. 169, 56 L. Ed. 327, 38 L. R. A. (N. S.) 44;Missouri Pacific Ry. Co. v. Castle, 224 U. S. 541, 32 Sup. Ct. 606, 56 L. Ed. 875;Vindicator, etc., Mining Co. v. Firstbrook, 36 Colo. 498, 86 Pac. 313,10 Ann. Cas. 1108;Borgnis v. Falk Co., 147 Wis. 327, 133 N. W. 209;Deibeikis v. Link-Belt Co., 261 Ill. 454, 104 N. E. 211;In re opinion of Justices, 209 Mass. 607, 96 N. E. 308;Ives v. South Buffalo Ry. Co., 201 N. Y. 271, 94 N. E. 431, 34 L. R. A. (N. S.) 162, Ann. Cas. 1912B, 156; Sexton v. Newark District Telegraph Co., 84 N. J. Law, 85, 86 Atl. 451;State ex rel. v. Creamer, 85 Ohio St. 349, 97 N. E. 602,39 L. R. A. (N. S.) 694. The power to...

To continue reading

Request your trial
140 cases
  • Mathison v. Minneapolis Street Ry. Co.
    • United States
    • Minnesota Supreme Court
    • July 3, 1914
  • Zancanelli v. Central Coal & Coke Co.
    • United States
    • Wyoming Supreme Court
    • July 11, 1918
    ... ... 607, ... 96 N.E. 308; Kentucky Co. v. Board, 170 S.W. 1166; ... Cunningham v. Northwestern Improvement Company, 119 ... P. 554; Matheson v. Street Railway Co., 148 N.W. 71; ... Ives v. South Buffalo Railroad Company, 201 N.Y ... 271, 94 N.E. 431; State ex rel. v. Clausen, 117 ... invoked. It is conceded that this has no reference to ... proceedings in the state courts ( Minneapolis & St. Louis ... R. R. Co. v. Bombolis, 241 U.S. 211, 217, 60 L.Ed. 961, ... 36 S.Ct. 595), but it is urged that the question is material ... for ... ...
  • Middleton v. Texas Power Light Co
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • March 3, 1919
    ... ... Minneapolis Street Ry. Co., 126 Minn. 286, 293, 148 N. W. 71, L. R. A. 1916D, 412 ...           The exclusion of employes where not more than four or ... ...
  • Hunter v. Colfax Consol. Coal Co.
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • November 24, 1915
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT