Minneapolis St Louis Railroad Company v. George Bombolis

Decision Date22 May 1916
Docket NumberNo. 478,478
Citation60 L.Ed. 961,36 S.Ct. 595,241 U.S. 211
PartiesMINNEAPOLIS & ST. LOUIS RAILROAD COMPANY, Plff. in Err., v. GEORGE BOMBOLIS, as Administrator of the Estate of Constantine Nanos, alias Gust Nanos, Deceased
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Frederick M. Miner and William H. Bremner for plaintiff in error.

Mr. George B. Leonard for defendant in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 212-214 intentionally omitted] Mr. Chief Justice White delivered the opinion of the court:

Counting upon the employers' liability act of 1908 (chap. 149, 35 Stat. at L. 65), as amended by the act of 1910 (chap. 143, 36 Stat. at L. 291, Comp. Stat. 1913, § 8662), the defendant in error sued in a state court to recover for the loss resulting from the death of Nanos, his intestate, alleged to have been occasioned by the negligence of the plaintiff in error while he, Nanos, was in its employ and engaged in interstate commerce.

Whatever may have been the controversies in the trial court prior to the verdict of the jury in favor of the plaintiff, and the contentions which were unsuccessfully urged in the court below to secure a reversal of the judgment entered thereon, on this writ of error they have all but one been abandoned, and hence have all but one become negligible. As the one question here remaining was also involved in five other cases pending under the employers' liability act on writs of error to the courts of last resort of Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma, those cases and this were argued together. As the other cases, however, involve additional questions, we dispose separately of this case in order to decide in this the one question which is common to them all, and thus enable the other cases if we deem it is necessary to do so, to be treated in separate opinions.

By the Constitution and laws of Minnesota in civil causes, after a case has been under submission to a jury for a period of twelve hours without a unanimous verdict, five sixths of the jury are authorized to reach a verdict, which is entitled to the legal effect of a unanimous verdict at common law. When in the trial of this case the court instructed the jury as to their right to render a verdict under such circumstances, the defendant company objected on the ground that, as the cause of action against it arose under the Federal employers' liability act,—in other words, was Federal in character,—the defendant was by the 7th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States entitled to have its liability determined by a jury constituted and reaching its conclusion according to the course of the common law, and hence to apply the state statute would be repugnant to the 7th Amendment. This objection, which was overruled and excepted to, was assigned as error in the court below, was there adversely disposed of (128 Minn. 112, 150 N. W. 385), and the alleged resulting error concerning such action is the one question which, we have said, is now urged for reversal.

It has been so long and so conclusively settled that the 7th Amendment exacts a trial by jury according to the course of the common law, that is, by a unanimous verdict (American Pub. Co. v. Fisher, 166 U. S. 464, 41 L. ed. 1079, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 618; Springville v. Thomas, 166 U. S. 707, 41 L. ed. 1172, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 717; Capital Traction Co. v. Hof, 174 U. S. 1, 43 L. ed. 873, 19 Sup. Ct. Rep. 580), that it is not now open in the slightest to question that if the requirements of that Amendment applied to the action of the state of Minnesota in adopting the statute concerning a less than unanimous verdict, or controlled the state court in enforcing that statute in the trial which is under review, both the statute and the action of the court were void because of repugnancy to the Constitution of the United States. The one question to be decided is therefore reduced to this: Did the 7th Amendment apply to the action of the state legislature and to the conduct of the state court in enforcing at the trial the law of the state as to what was necessary to constitute a verdict?

Two propositions as to the operation and effect of the 7th Amendment are as conclusively determined as is that concerning the nature and character of the jury required by that Amendment where applicable. (a) That the first ten Amendments, including, of course, the 7th, are not concerned with state action, and deal only with Federal action. We select from a multitude of cases those which we deem to be leading: Barron v. Baltimore, 7 Pet. 243, 8 L. ed. 672; Fox v. Ohio, 5 How. 410, 434, 12 L. ed. 213, 223; Twitchell v. Pennsylvania, 7 Wall. 321, 19 L. ed. 223; Brown v. New Jersey, 175 U. S. 172, 174, 44 L. ed. 119, 120, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 77; Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U. S. 78, 93, 53 L. ed. 97, 103. And, as a necessary corollary, (b) that the 7th Amendment applies only to proceedings in courts of the United States, and does not in any manner whatever govern or regulate trials by jury in state courts, or the standards which must be applied concerning the same. Livingston v. Moore, 7 Pet. 469, 552, 8 L. ed. 751, 781; Supreme Justice v. Murray (Supreme Justice v. United States) 9 Wall. 274, 19 L. ed. 658; Edwards v. Elliott, 21 Wall. 532, 22 L. ed. 487; Walker v. Sauvinet, 92 U. S. 90, 23 L. ed. 678; Pearson v. Yewdall, 95 U. S. 294, 24 L. ed. 436. So completely and conclusively have both of these principles been settled, so expressly have they been recognized without dissent or question almost from the beginning in the accepted interpretation of the Constitution, in the enactment of laws by Congress and proceedings in the Federal courts, and by state Constitutions and state enactments and proceedings in the state courts, that it is true to say that to concede that they are open to contention would be to grant that nothing whatever had been settled as to the power of state and Federal governments or the authority of state and Federal courts and their mode of procedure from the beginning. Doubtless it was this view of the contention which led the supreme court of Minnesota in this case and the courts of last resort of the other states in the cases which were argued with this to coincide in opinion as to the entire want of foundation for the proposition relied upon, and in the conclusion that to advance it was virtually to attempt to question the entire course of judicial ruling and legislative practice, both state and national, which had prevailed from the commencement. And it was, of course, presumably an appreciation of the principles so thoroughly settled which caused Congress, in the enactment of the employers' liability act, to clearly contemplate the existence of a concurrent power and duty of both Federal and state courts to administer the rights conferred by the statute in accordance with the modes of procedure prevailing in such courts. Indeed, it may not be doubted that it must have been the same point of view which has caused it to come to pass that during the number of years which have elapsed since the enactment of the employers' liability act and the safety appliance act, and in the large number of cases which have been tried in state courts, growing out of the rights conferred by those acts, the judgments in many of such cases having been here reviewed, it never entered the mind of anyone to suggest the new and strange view concerning the significance and operation of the 7th Amendment which was urged in this case and the cases which were argued with it.

Under these circumstances it would be sufficient to leave the unsoundness of the proposition to the demonstration to result from the application of the previous authoritative rulings on the subject, and the force of the reasoning inherently considered upon which they were based, as also upon its convincing power so aptly portrayed by the opinions of the courts below in this and the other cases which we have said were argued along with this. Cheapeake & O. R. Co. v. Carnahan, ——Va. ——, 86 S. E. 863; Chesapeake & O R. Co. v. Kelly, 160 Ky. 296, 169 S. W. 736, 161 Ky. 655, 171 S. W. 185; Louisville & N. R. Co. v. Stewart, 163 Ky. 823, 174 S. W. 744; St. Louis & S. F. R. Co. v. Brown, ——Okla. ——, 144 Pac. 1075. In view, however, of the grave misconception of the very...

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