Southern Pacific Company v. Marie Jensen

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation244 U.S. 205,61 L.Ed. 1086,37 S.Ct. 524
Docket NumberNo. 280,280
Decision Date28 February 1916

[Syllabus from pages 205-207 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Norman B. Beecher and Ray Rood Allen for plaintiff in error.

Messrs. E. Clarence Aiken, Harold J. Hinman, and Mr. Egburt E. Woodbury, Attorney General of New York, for defendant in error.

Mr. Christopher M. Bradley as amicus curiae.

Mr. Justice McReynolds delivered the opinion of the court:

Upon a claim regularly presented, the Workmen's Compensation Commission of New York made the following findings of fact, rulings, and award, October 9, 1914:

1. 'Christen Jensen, the deceased workman, was, on August 15, 1914, an employee of the Southern Pacific Company, a corporation of the state of Kentucky, where it has its principal office. It also has an office at Pier 49, North river, New York city. The Southern Pacific Company at said time was, and still is, a common carrier by railroad. It also owned and operated a steamship, El Oriente, plying between the ports of New York and Galveston, Texas.

2. 'On August 15, 1914, said steamship was berthed for discharging and loading at Pier 49, North river, lying in navigable waters of the United States.

3. 'On said date Christen Jensen was operating a small electric freight truck. His work consisted in driving the truck into the steamship El Oriente, where it was loaded with cargo, then driving the truck out of the vessel upon a gangway connecting the vessel with Pier 49, North river, and thence upon the pier, where the lumber was unloaded from the truck. The ship was about 10 feet distant from the pier. At about 10:15 A. M., after Jensen had been doing such work for about three hours that morning, he started out of the ship with his truck loaded with lumber, a part of the cargo of the steamship El Oriente, which was being transported from Galveston, Texas, to New York city. Jensen stood on the rear of the truck, the lumber coming about to his shoulder. In driving out of the port in the side of the vessel and upon the gangway, the truck became jammed against the guide pieces on the gangway. Jensen then reversed the direction of the truck and proceeded at third or full speed backward into the hatchway. He failed to lower his head and his head struck the ship at the top line, throwing his head forward and causing his chin to hit the lumber in front of him. His neck was broken and in this manner he met his death.

4. 'The business of the Southern Pacific Company in this state consisted at the time of the accident and now consists solely in carrying passengers and merchandise between New York and other states. Jensen's work consisted solely in moving cargo destined to and from other states.

5. 'Jensen left surviving him Marie Jensen, his widow, twenty-nine years of age, and Howard Jensen, his son, seven years of age, and Evelyn Jensen, his daughter, three years of age.

6. 'Jensen's average weekly wage was $19.60 per week.

7. 'The injury was an accidental injury and arose out of and in the course of Jensen's employment by the Southern Pacific Company, and his death was due to such injury. The injury did not result solely from the intoxication of the injured employee while on duty, and was not occasioned by the wilful intention of the injured employee to bring about the injury or death of himself or another.

'This claim comes within the meaning of chapter 67 of the Consolidated Laws as re-enacted and amended by chapter 41 of the Laws of 1914, and as amended by chapter 316 of the Laws of 1914.

'Award of compensation is hereby made to Marie Jensen, widow of the deceased, at the rate of $5.87 weekly during her widowhood, with two years' compensation in one sum in case of her marriage; to Harold Jensen, son of the deceased, at the rate of $1.96 per week, and to Evelyn Jensen, daughter of the deceased, at the rate of $1.96 per week until the said Harold Jensen and Evelyn Jensen respectively shall arrive at the age of eighteen years, and there is further allowed the sum of one hundred ($100) dollars for funeral expenses.'

In due time the Southern Pacific Company objected to the award 'upon the grounds that the act does not apply, because the workman was engaged in interstate commerce on board a vessel of a foreign corporation of the state of Kentucky, which was engaged solely in interstate commerce; that the injury was one with respect to which Congress may establish, and has established, a rule of liability, and under the language of § 1141 [copied in the margin], the act has no application; on the ground that the act includes only those engaged in the operation of vessels other than those of other states and countries in foreign and interstate commerce, while the work upon which the deceased workman was engaged at the time of his death was part of the operation of a vessel of another state, engaged in interstate commerce, and hence does not come within the provisions of the act; further, that the act is unconstitutional, as it constitutes a regulation of and burden upon commerce among the several states, in violation of article 1, § 8, of the Constitution of the United States; in that it takes property without due process of law, in violation of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution; in that it denies the Southern Pacific Company the equal protection of the laws, in violation of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, because the act does not afford an exclusive remedy, but leaves the employer and its vessels subject to suit in admiralty; also that the act is unconstitutional in that it violates article 3, § 2, of the Constitution, conferring admiralty jurisdiction upon the courts of the United States.'

Without opinion, the appellate division approved the award and the court of appeals affirmed this action (215 N. Y. 514, L.R.A.1916A, 403, 109 N. E. 600, Ann. Cas. 1916B, 276), holding that the Workmen's Compensation Act applied to the employment in question and was not obnoxious to the Federal Constitution. It said: 'The scheme of the statute is essentially and fundamentally one by the creation of a state fund to insure the payment of a prescribed compensation based on earnings for disability or death from accidental injuries sustained by employees engaged in certain enumerated hazardous employments. The state fund is created from premiums paid by employers based on the pay roll, the number of employees, and the hazards of the employment. The employer has the option of insuring with any stock corporation or mutual association authorized to transact such business, or of furnishing satisfactory proof to the Commission of his own financial ability to pay. If he does neither, he is liable to a penalty equal to the pro rata premium payable to the state fund during the period of his noncompliance, and is subject to a suit for damages by the injured employee, or his legal representative in case of death, in which he is deprived of the defenses of contributory negligence, assumed risk, and negligence of a fellow servant. By insuring in the state fund, or by himself or his insurance carrier paying the prescribed compensation, the employer is relieved from further liability for personal injuries or death sustained by employees. Compensation is to be made without regard to fault as a cause of the injury, except where it is occasioned by the wilful intention of the injured employee to bring about the injury or death of himself or another, or results solely from his intoxication while on duty. Compensation is not based on the rule of damages applied in negligence suits, but, in addition to providing for medical, surgical, or other attendance or treatment and funeral expenses, it is based solely on loss of earning power. Thus, the risk of accidental injuries occurring with or without fault on the part either of employee or employer is shared by both, and the burden of making compensation is distributed over all the enumerated hazardous employments in proportion to the risks involved.' See also Walker v. Clyde S. S. Co. 215 N. Y. 529, 109 N. E. 604, Ann. Cas. 1916B, 87.

In New York C. R. Co. v. White (decited March 6th), 243 U. S. 188, 61 L. ed. 667, 37 Sup. Ct. Rep. 247, we held the statute valid in certain respects; and, considering what was there said, only two of the grounds relied on for reversal now demand special consideration. First. Plaintiff in error, being an interstate common carrier by railroad, is responsible for injuries received by employees while engaged therein under the Federal Employers' Liability Act of April 22, 1908 (35 Stat. at L. chap. 149, p. 65, Comp. Stat. 1916, § 8657), and no state statute can impose any other or different liability. Second. As here applied, the Workmen's Compensation Act conflicts with the general maritime law, which constitutes an integral part of the Federal law under art. 3, § 2, of the Constitution, and to that extent is invalid.

The Southern Pacific Company, a Kentucky corporation, owns and operates a railroad as a common carrier; also the steamship El Oriente, plying between New York and Galveston, Texas. The claim is that therefore rights and liabilities of the parties here must be determined in accordance with the Federal Employers' Liability Act. But we think that act is not applicable in the circumstances.

The First Federal Employers' Liability Act (June 11, 1906, 34 Stat. at L. 232, chap. 3073) extended in terms to all common carriers engaged in interstate or foreign commerce, and, because it embraced subjects not within the constitutional authority of Congress, was declared invalid. Employers' Liability Cases (Howard v. Illinois C. R. Co.) 207 U. S. 463, 52 L. ed. 297, 28 Sup. Ct. Rep. 141, Jan. 6, 1908. The later act is carefully limited and provides that 'every common carrier by railroad while engaging in...

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