Mathison v. Minneapolis Street Ry. Co., Nos. 18,759-(44).

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Writing for the CourtTaylor
Citation126 Minn. 286
Decision Date03 July 1914
Docket NumberNos. 18,759-(44).
126 Minn. 286
Nos. 18,759-(44).
Supreme Court of Minnesota.
July 3, 1914.

Page 287

Action in the district court for Hennepin county to recover $26,000 for personal injury received by plaintiff while in the employ of the city of Minneapolis and engaged in paving along the tracks of defendant company. From an order, Jelley, J., overruling plaintiff's demurrer to that part of the answer which alleged that plaintiff, the city of Minneapolis and defendant company had accepted,

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were acting under, and were governed by, the provisions of part 2 of the Workmen's Compensation Act (G. S. 1913, §§ 8195-8230), plaintiff appealed. Affirmed.

Duxbury, Conzett & Pettijohn, for appellant.

Koon, Whelan & Hempstead, for respondent.

H. V. Mercer, by consent, filed a brief as amicus curiæ.

Davis, Kellogg & Severance, as amici curiæ, filed a brief in favor of respondent.


Plaintiff, an employee 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, p. 677, 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 of 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

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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 employees 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 law-making 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 employee may make radical innovations in pre-existing policies and rules of law, so long as they do not infringe some constitutional guaranty.

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. 291 (428); 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. 450; Union Pac. 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

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the employer to the employee, or in case of his death to his dependents, for injuries sustained in the course of the employment, "provided the employee was himself not wilfully negligent;" but the act does not apply to those railroads, or those employees 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 employee 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 employee was negligent, unless such negligence was wilful; nor that he had assumed the risk; nor that the injury was caused by the negligence of a co-employee. 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 employee declines to accept such provisions, the employer retains the benefit of such defenses.

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 defenses 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 employees and such railroads and railroad employees 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 Pac. Ry. Co. v. Mackey, 127 U. S. 205, 8 Sup. Ct. 1161, 32 L. ed. 107; Minneapolis & St. L. Ry. Co. v. Herrick, 127 U. S. 210, 8 Sup. Ct. 1176, 32 L. ed. 109; Tullis v. Lake Erie & W. Ry. Co.

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175 U. S. 348, 20 Sup. Ct. 136, 44 L. ed. 192; Mondou v. New York, N. H. & H. R. Ry. Co. 223 U. S. 1, 32 Sup. Ct. 169, 56 L. ed. 327, 38 L.R.A.(N.S.) 44; Missouri Pac. Ry. Co. v. Castle, 224 U. S. 541, 32 Sup. Ct. 606, 56 L. ed. 875; Vindicator Consol. Gold 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. L. 85, 86 Atl. 451; State v. Creamer, 85 Oh. St. 349, 97 N. E. 602, 39 L.R.A.(N.S.) 694. The power to abolish such defenses rests upon the principle that no person has any property right or vested interest in a rule of law, and that the legislature may change such rules at its pleasure. Munn v. Illinois, 94 U. S. 113, 24 L. ed. 77; Mondou v. New York, N. H. & H. Ry. Co. 223 U. S. 1, 32 Sup. Ct. 169, 56 L. ed. 327; Borgnis v. Falk Co. 147 Wis. 327, 133 N. W. 209; Sawyer v. El Paso & N. E. Ry. Co. 49 Tex. Civ. App. 106, 108 S. W. 719; Cunningham v. Northwestern Improvement Co. 44 Mont. 180, 119 Pac. 554; Bertholf v. O'Reilly, 74 N. Y. 509, 30 Am. Rep. 323; Deibeikis v. Link-Belt Co. 261 Ill. 454, 104 N. E. 211. Plaintiff contends, however, that the classifications made by the act are unwarranted, and that the constitutional requirement that all persons shall receive the equal protection of the laws is infringed, unless such defenses are abrogated as to all employers, or remain available to all employers, and unless the act applies to the classes excepted from its operation as well as to those included therein.

It is universally recognized that such constitutional provisions do not prohibit the legislature from prescribing valid rules and regulations, nor from imposing valid duties and obligations, nor from conferring valid rights and privileges, which apply only to those persons falling within a specified class and not to the general public. Legislation which applies alike...

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