Miles v. Illinois Cent Co

Decision Date30 March 1942
Docket NumberNo. 272,272
Citation315 U.S. 698,146 A.L.R. 1104,62 S.Ct. 827,86 L.Ed. 1129
PartiesMILES et al. v. ILLINOIS CENT. R. CO
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 316 U.S. 708, 62 S.Ct. 1037, 86 L.Ed. —-.

Mr. W. G. Cavett, of Memphis, Tenn., for petitioners.

Messrs. Thomas A. Evans and Larry Creson, both of Memphis, Tenn., for respondent.

Mr. Justice REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

The effect of section 6 of the Federal Employers' Liability Act1 on the power of a state court to enjoin its citizens, on the ground of oppressiveness and inequity to the defendant carrier, from suing on a F.E.L.A. claim in the state courts of another state, furthering such a suit in any manner, or receiving the proceeds of any judgment so obtained, is before us for decision.

The respondent, an Illinois corporation, hereafter referred to as the Illinois Central, brought an original bill in the Chancery Court of Shelby County, Tennessee, seeking to enjoin one of the petitioners here, Mrs. Miles, then the Tennessee administratrix of her husband, a resident of that State, from further prosecuting in a Missouri state court her F.E.L.A. claim against the Illinois Central for the death of her husband, its employee. The fatal accident had occurred at Memphis, Tennessee. After a temporary injunction issued, Mrs. Miles promptly dismissed her Missouri suit and was discharged as administratrix by the Tennessee probate court. A Missouri administrator was then appointed at her suggestion, and he instituted another Missouri suit for the same casue of action. The Illinois Central filed an amended and supplemental bill, adding decedent's children, likewise residents of Tennessee, as defendants, and enlarging its prayer to forbid furthering the new suit in any manner or receiving the proceeds of any judgment. A new temporary injunction was issued as prayed.

The grounds for the injunction were the inconvenience and expense to the Illinois Central of taking its Memphis employees to St. Louis and the resulting burden upon interstate commerce. The anticipated extra expense was several hundred dollars per day for an estimated two days of actual trial and whatever additional time might be lost by continuances or delay. Inconvenience was expected through the withdrawal of some twelve to twenty employees and officials from their duties for the same period. The defense relied upon a timely plea that section 6 of the F.E.L.A. prevented the enjoining of proceedings in the Missouri courts.

The trial court found that the continued prosecution of the pending Missouri case would be 'oppressive and inequitable' to the Illinois Central and 'a burden on the commerce and business of the complainant.' As a matter of law the court concluded, however, that the Illinois Central was not entitled to permanent injunctions. On appeal the Court of Appeals reversed the decree and made the temporary injunctions permanent. Further state review by certiorari in the Supreme Court of Tennessee was refused, and we granted certiorari to the Court of Appeals to settle an important federal question2 as to the ap- plicability of section 6 of the F.E.L.A. to this situation. 314 U.S. 602, 62 S.Ct. 177, 86 L.Ed. —-. Cf. Payne v. Knapp, Iowa 737, 198 N.W. 62; Peterson v. Chicago, B. & Q.R. Co., 187 Minn. 228, 244 N.W. 823; Baltimore & O.R. Co. v. Kepner, 137 Ohio St. 409, 30 N.E.2d 982, affirmed 314 U.S. 44, 62 S.Ct. 6, 10, 86 L.Ed. —-.

The Kepner case dealt with the power of a state court to enjoin a resident from continued prosecution of a suit under the F.E.L.A. in a distant federal district court on the ground of inequity, vexatiousness and harassment. The decision denied the power to interfere with the privileges of federal venue 'for the benefit of the carrier or the national transportation system.'

As in the Kepner case, there is in this case no occasion to go into the question of the availability as support for an injunction of a charge of interference with interstate commerce by reason of the burden of expense and inconvenience. The trial court found a burden on the commerce of the Illinois Central but made no finding as to any burden on interstate commerce. Moreover, the Court of Appeals stated that the Illinois Central 'expressly abandoned the contention' 'that the prosecution of the suit in St. Louis was a burden on interstate commerce.' No contention is made here that there is any such burden or that the Illinois Central is not doing substantial business in Missouri, as found by the trial court. It operates daily passenger trains with its own crews into St. Louis over the St. Louis Terminal Company tracks, maintains passenger and freight offices and had total receipts in St. Louis of a million and a half the year the suit was filed. Under the rule announced in Denver & R.G.W.R. Co. v. Terte, 284 U.S. 284, 287, 52 S.Ct. 152, 153, 76 L.Ed. 295, the Illinois Central is properly subable in Missouri. In the Kepner case, 314 U.S. 44, 51, 62 S.Ct. 6, 9, 86 L.Ed. —-, we pointed out, with a discussion of the applicable cases, that the carrier must submit to inconvenience and expense, if there is jurisdiction, 'although thereby interstate commerce is in- cidentally burdened.' There is no occasion to repeat the comments here. The specific declaration in section 6 that the United States courts should have concurrent jurisdiction with those of the several states and the prohibition against removal point clearly to the conclusion that Congress has exercised its authority over interstate commerce to the extent of permitting suits in state courts, despite the incidental burden, where process may be obtained on a defendant, not merely soliciting business but actually carrying on railroading by operating trains and maintaining traffic offices within the territory of the court's jurisdiction.3

The real point of controversy here is whether that portion of section 6 of the F.E.L.A., which holds litigation in the state court where it is instituted, prevents the court of another state from enjoining citizens, within its jurisdiction, from continued prosecution of the suit on grounds of inequity. Here, as in Kepner's case, there is no question but what the Missouri court has venue of the proceeding. Here, too, we need to look no farther into Tennessee law than the opinion of the state's highest court in this record to conclude that under state law a court of equity may enjoin a resident citizen from attempting to enforce his rights, oppressively and inequitably,4 and that the expense and inconvenience hereinbefore set out resulted in oppressiveness and inconvenience in the eye of the state court.

In the legislative history of section 6,5 the provision that removal may not be had from a 'State court of competent jurisdiction' was added to the House bill on the floor of the Senate and later accepted by the House, in order to assure a hearing to the employee in a state court. Words were simultaneously adopted recognizing the jurisdiction of the state courts by providing that the federal jurisdiction should be concurrent. The venue of state court suits was left to the practice of the forum. The opportunity to present causes of action arisng under the F.E.L.A. in the state courts came, however, not from the state law but from the federal. By virtue of the Constitution, the courts of the several states must remain open to such litigants on the same basis that they are open to litigants with causes of action springing from a different source. This is so because the Federal Constitution makes the laws of the United States the supreme law of the land, binding on every citizen and every court and enforceable wherever jurisdiction is adequate for the purpose. Second Employers' Liability Cases (Mondou v. New York, N.H. & H.R. Co.), 223 U.S. 1, 56—59, 32 S.Ct. 169, 177, 178, 56 L.Ed. 327, 38 L.R.A.,N.S., 44. The Missouri court here involved must permit this litigation. To deny citizens from other states, suitors under F.E.L.A., access to its courts would, if it permitted access to its own citizens, violate the Privileges and Immunities Clause. Constitution, Art. IV, § 2; McKnett v. St. Louis & S.F. Ry. Co., 292 U.S. 230, 233, 54 S.Ct. 690, 691, 78 L.Ed. 1227.6 Since the existence of the cause of action and the privilege of vindicating rights under the F.E.L.A. in state courts spring from federal law, the right to use in state courts of proper venue where their jurisdiction is adequate is of the same quality as the right of sue in federal courts. It is no more subject to interference by state action than was the federal venue in the Kepner case.

This is not to say that states cannot control their courts. We do not deal here with the power of Missouri by judicial decision or legislative enactment to regulate the use of its courts generally as was approved in the Douglas or the Chambers cases, note 6 supra. We are considering another state's power to so control its own citizens that they cannot exercise the federal privilege of litigating a federal right in the court of another state.

State courts have assumed the right to enjoin their citizens from proceeding in the courts of other states. This was done, for example, in Reed's Adm'r'x v. Illinois Central R. Co., 182 Ky. 455, 206 S.W. 794. The basis of the decision was the inequity of allowing a suit at a distant point in a state or federal court, 182 Ky. page 464, 206 S.W. 794.7 Reed's case was relied upon by Kern v. Cleveland, C., C.& St. L. Ry., 204 Ind. 595, 185 N.E. 446, for the authority of a state court to enjoin its citizens from inequitable conduct under the F.E.L.A. Other state courts deny their authority to issue such injunctions.8

The permission granted by Congress to sue in state courts may be exercised only where the carrier is found doing business. If suits in federal district courts at those points do not unduly burden interstate commerce, suits in similarly located state courts cannot be burdensome. As Congress...

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