Mobile, Jackson Kansas City Railroad Company v. Turnipseed

Citation219 U.S. 35,31 S.Ct. 136,55 L.Ed. 78
Decision Date19 December 1910
Docket NumberNo. 59,59
PartiesMOBILE, JACKSON, & KANSAS CITY RAILROAD COMPANY, Plff. in Err., v. J. A. TURNIPSEED, Administrator, etc
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Mr. James N. Flowers and Messrs. May, Flowers, & Whitfield for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 36-39 intentionally omitted] Mr. C. H. Alexander for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice Lurton delivered the opinion of the court:

This was an action in tort for the wrongful killing of Ray Hicks, a section foreman in the service of the railroad company. There was a judgment for the plaintiff in a circuit court of the state of Mississippi, which was affirmed by the supreme court of the state.

The Federal questions asserted, which are supposed to give this court jurisdiction to review the judgment of the supreme court of the state, arise out of the alleged repugnancy of §§ 3559 and 1985 of the Mississippi Code to that clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution which guarantees to every person the equal protection of the laws.

Section 3559 of the Mississippi Code of 1892, being a rescript of § 193 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, abrogates, substantially, the common-law fellow-servant rule as to 'every employee of a railroad corporation.' It is urged that this legislation, applicable only to employees of a railroad company, is arbitrary, and a denial of the equal protection of law, unless it be limited in its effect to employees imperiled by the hazardous business of operating railroad trains or engines, and that the Mississippi supreme court had, in prior cases, so defined and construed this legislation. Ballard v. Mississippi Cotton Oil Co. 81 Miss. 532, 62 L.R.A. 407, 95 Am. St. Rep. 476, 34 So. 533; Bradford Constr. Co. v. Heflin, 88 Miss. 314, 12 L.R.A.(N.S.) 1040, 42 So. 174, 8 A. & E. Ann. Cas. 1077.

It is now contended that the provision has been construed in the present case as applicable to an employee not subject to any danger or peril peculiar to the operation of railway trains, and that therefore the reason for such special classification fails, and the provision, so construed and applied, is invalid as a denial of the equal protection of the law.

This contention, shortly stated, comes to this: that although a classification of railway employees may be justified from general considerations based upon the hazardous character of the occupation, such classification becomes arbitrary and a denial of the equal protection of the law the moment it is found to embrace employees not exposed to hazards peculiar to railway operation.

But this court has never so construed the limitation imposed by the 14th Amendment upon the power of the state to legislate with reference to particular employments as to render ineffectual a general classification resting upon obvious principles of public policy, because it may happen that the classification includes persons not subject to a uniform degree of danger. The insistence, therefore, that legislation in respect of railway employees generally is repugnant to the clause of the Constitution guaranteeing the equal protection of the law, merely because it is not limited to those engaged in the actual operation of trains, is without merit.

The intestate of the defendant in error was not engaged in the actual operation of trains. But he was nevertheless engaged in a service which subjected him to dangers from the operation of trains, and brought him plainly within the general legislative purpose. The case in hand illustrates the fact that such employees, though not directly engaged in the management of trains, are nevertheless within the general line of hazard inherent in the railway business. The deceased was the foreman of a section crew. His business was to keep the track in repair. He stood by the side of the track to let a train pass by; a derailment occurred, and a car fell upon him and crushed out his life.

In the late case of Louisville & N. R. Co. v. Melton, 218 U. S. 36, 54 L. ed. 921, 30 Sup. Ct. Rep. 676, an Indiana fellow-servant act was held applicable to a member of a railway construction crew who was injured while engaged in the construction of a coal tipple alongside of the railway track. This whole matter of classification was there considered. Nothing more need be said upon the subject, for the case upon this point is fully covered by the decision referred to.

The next error arises upon the constitutionality of § 1985 of the Mississippi Code of 1906. That section reads as follows:

'Injury to persons or property by railroads prima facie evidence of want of skill, etc.—In all actions against railroad companies for damages done to persons or property, proof of injury inflicted by the running of the locomotives or cars of such company shall be prima facie evidence of the...

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