Southern Pacific Company v. Mary Schuyler

Decision Date24 February 1913
Docket NumberNo. 143,143
Citation57 L.Ed. 662,33 S.Ct. 277,227 U.S. 601
PartiesSOUTHERN PACIFIC COMPANY, Plff. in Err., v. MARY R. SCHUYLER and Rhea Schuyler, Edward Schuyler, Vera Schuyler, and Dorothy Schuyler, Infants, by Their Guardian ad Litem
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Maxwell Evarts, P. L. Williams, and E. M. Bagley for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 602-605 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Edward M. Cleary, Bert Schlesinger, Alfred W. Agee, and James B. McCracken for defendants in error.

Mr. Justice Pitney delivered the opinion of the court:

This is a review, under § 709, Rev. Stat. U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 575, of a judgment recovered against the plaintiff in error for damages on account of the death of one Charles Albert Schuyler, occasioned by the derailment of a mail train at Gertney, Utah, January 14, 1907, while the deceased was riding thereon. It appears that he was an assistant chief clerk in the United States railway mail service, and held a commission or certificate signed by the Postmaster General in the following form:

Postoffice Department, Washington, D. C.

To Whom Concerned:

The bearer hereof, Charles Albert Schuyler, has been appointed an assistant chief clerk railway mail service, with headquarters Ogden, Utah, and will be obeyed and respected accordingly. Railroad compaines are requested to extend to the holder of this commission the facilities of free transportation on the lines named on opposite page. If fare is charged, receipt should be given. Valid only when issued through the office of the Second Assistant Postmaster General and countersigned by James E. White.

G. B. Cortelyou.


James E. White,

General Superintendent.

On opposite page:

'Good between all stations Utah, Idaho, Nevada, California, Montana, and Colorado.'

The deceased had been called to go from Ogden, Utah, to Oakland, California, on account of the illness of his child. The child having died, he set out to return from Oakland to Ogden, and took the mail train in question with the knowledge of the train agent and conductor in charge, using as evidence of his right to transportation the commission above quoted. It was on this interstate journey that the train was derailed and the deceased came to his death, as already mentioned.

The defense (so far as here pertinent) was that the deceased was not traveling upon any official business that entitled him to free transportation under his commission, and that in riding free he was violating the act of Congress of June 29, 1906, commonly called the Hepburn act (34 Stat. at L. 584, 585, chap. 3591, § 1, U. S. Comp. Stat. Supp. 1911, pp. 1286, 1287), which forbids common carriers subject to the provisions of the act, after January 1, 1907, to 'directly or indirectly issue or give any interstate free ticket, free pass, or free transportation for passengers, except . . . to railway mail service employees, postoffice inspectors, customs inspectors, and immigration inspectors; . . . and any person, other than the persons excepted in this provision, who uses any such interstate free ticket, free pass, or free transportation, shall be subject to a like penalty.' It was therefore contended that the deceased was a trespasser, and that the defendant was under no legal duty to care for his safety.

In the trial court there was a verdict for the plaintiffs, and from the judgment thereon the present plaintiff in error appealed to the Utah supreme court, which at first reversed, and afterwards, on a rehearing, set aside the reversal, and affirmed the judgment below, subsequently denying the company's application for a new trial. 37 Utah, 581, 595, 612, 109 Pac. 458, 464, 1025.

The court held that there was no evidence to support a finding that the deceased was traveling on appellant's train in the discharge, or in pursuance, of duties pertaining to the railway mail service; and that upon the evidence adduced the only permissible inference was that he left Ogden and went to Oakland solely on account of the death of his child, and that he was on the return journey of that mission when the train was derailed.

But the court also found that the existence of the relation of carrier and passenger between the deceased and the railroad company, and a breach of the duty of care for the passenger's safety, resulting in his death, were so conclusively made to appear as to entitle respondents to a directed verdict on those issues, so that certain errors committed by the trial court in the instructions to the jury became of no consequence. The court said: 'That the car was derailed through the negligence of appellant, as alleged in the complaint, and that the deceased was killed by reason of such derailment, is, upon the record, not open to controversy. No substantial conflict is presented by the evidence on that subject.'

Upon the question of the relation of carrier and passenger the court reasoned as follows: 'When he left Ogden he entered a mail car in appellant's train. The evidence of his right to enter the mail car and be carried by appellant was the commission issued to him, which on its face entitled him to transportation between all stations in Utah, Nevada, and California. The commission, on its face, granted 'the facilities of free transportation on the lines named,' regardless of the question whether he was or was not in the discharge of public duties. It was issued to him before the Hepburn act took effect. The derailment and the deceased's death occurred fourteen days after the act took effect. It was admitted by the parties on the trial that the deceased used the commission on the trip as 'the evidence of his right to ride,—the evidence of his right of transportation,'—and that no question would be raised with respect to the exhibition of the commission to the conductor in charge of the train. The deceased, at Oakland, in the presence of the conductor and train agent, and with their knowledge, entered a mail car in a train about to leave for Ogden, and impliedly with their consent; at least, without their objection. In view of the stipulation, and upon the whole record, we think the only permissible inferences are, that the deceased, both in going to and in returning from Oakland, rode in the mail car with the knowledge and consent of appellant's conductors in charge of the train; that the appellant, its conductors and agents in charge of the train, and the deceased, in good faith, assumed and believed that the commission entitled him to so ride and to be transported in the mail car, regardless of the fact whether he was or was not on duty, and that the commission was so treated and so recognized by them, and as 'the evidence of his right of transportation.' There is nothing in the record to support the allegations in the answer that the deceased entered the mail car without appellant's knowledge or consent, or against its will, or with the intent, or for the purpose, of deceiving or defrauding the appellant or the government, or that he otherwise entered the car clandestinely or fraudulently, or in bad faith, or with any wrongful design or purpose. The evidence, quite conclusively, shows the contrary. The deceased was therefore not a trespasser.'

In dealing with the questions of law arising from this state of facts, the court...

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