Watson v. St. Louis, I.M. & S. Ry. Co., 211.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Eastern District of Arkansas
Citation169 F. 942
Decision Date01 June 1909
PartiesWATSON v. ST. LOUIS, I.M. & S. RY. CO.
Docket Number211.

169 F. 942

WATSON
v.
ST. LOUIS, I.M. & S. RY.
CO.

No. 211.

United States Circuit Court, E.D. Arkansas, Eastern Division.

June, 1909


Syllabus by the court

Under the commerce clause of the Constitution, Congress has the power to regulate the relation of master and servants of carriers by rail engaged in interstate transportation, if limited to employes while engaged in interstate service.

General expressions in an opinion which are not essential to a disposition of the cause, on points not presented nor argued to the court, are obiter, and are not permitted to control the judgment of the courts in subsequent cases; but when a question is directly involved in the issues raised, was determined by the trial court, is assigned as error in the assignment of errors on appeal, argued by counsel for all parties, and distinctly decided by the appellate court, a decision of such question is not obiter dictum, although the cause is disposed of on other grounds, and this applies specially when the question involves the power of Congress to enact the legislation.

The fifth amendment to the United States Constitution applies only to privileges and immunities which arise out of the natural and essential character of the national government, or are specifically granted or secured to all citizens or persons by the Constitution of the United States. Those fundamental rights which are inherent in and belong to all who live in a free government are privileges and immunities of state citizenship only, and not within the protection of the fifth amendment.

A statute, although it indirectly works harm and loss to individuals, is not a taking of property without due process of law within the meaning of that amendment.

A statute abolishing the fellow-servant rule, limiting its application to carriers by rail, is neither an arbitrary nor unreasonable classification.

The employer's liability act of Congress (Act April 22, 1908, c. 149, 35 Stat. 65) is a valid exercise of the powers granted to Congress by the commerce clause of the Constitution, as it is confined to common carriers by rail engaged in interstate commerce and employes while thus actually engaged. The fact that the act is not limited to injuries caused by the negligence of a fellow servant who is at the time engaged in interstate employment does not make the act, or that part of it abolishing the fellow-servant rule, unconstitutional.

The plaintiff, as administratrix of the estate of her deceased husband, seeks by this action to recover damages under the act of Congress approved April 22, 1908 (chapter 149, 35 Stat. 65) generally referred to as the 'Employer's Liability Act.' The material allegations of the complaint are: That the defendant is a railway corporation, a common carrier engaged in commerce between the states of Arkansas and Missouri; that on June 19, 1908, plaintiff's intestate was employed as fireman on one of defendant's locomotives then engaged in interstate commerce; and that the injuries causing the death of her intestate were caused by the negligent acts of defendant's agents and servants while he was so employed. The complaint then sets out very fully how the accident which caused the death of her intestate occurred, charging that it was caused by a collision with another train by reason of the negligence of the conductor and engineer of the train on which her intestate was employed as fireman in failing to meet the other train at a siding as directed by the train dispatcher. The jurisdiction of this court is invoked solely upon the ground that the action is one arising under the laws of the United States; there being no diversity of citizenship alleged. The defendant demurred to the complaint, setting up numerous grounds, but which may be summarized as follows: (1) That the complaint fails to state a cause of action. (2) That the act of Congress under which a recovery is sought is unconstitutional. [169 F. 943]

Johnson & Burr, for plaintiff.

J. W. Canada, E. B. Kinsworthy, Lewis Rhoton, and P. R. Andrews, for defendant.

The Attorney General of the United States, by leave of the court, filed a brief as amicus curiae on the constitutionality of the act.

TRIEBER, District Judge (after stating the facts as above).

Without setting out the complaint in full, it is sufficient to say that it states a good cause of action under the act of Congress. It alleges every fact necessary to show: That the death of plaintiff's intestate resulted [169 F. 944] from the negligence and wrongful acts of the conductor and engineer in charge of the train and locomotive on which her intestate was, at the time, employed and acting as a fireman; that at the time of the accident the train on which he was employed was engaged in transportation between the states of Arkansas and Missouri; that he left, him surviving, a widow and two children for whose benefit this action is brought by the plaintiff as administratrix of his estate, duly appointed by a court of competent jurisdiction.

This leaves only one other question to be determined: Is the act of Congress constitutional?

The constitutionality is attacked upon many grounds, but some of them have been so many times determined by the Supreme Court of the United States that they can no longer be considered as open questions, and for this reason will not be discussed in this opinion. That Congress has the power under the commerce clause of the Constitution to regulate the relation of master and servant to the extent that such regulations are confined solely to interstate commerce, and employes while engaged in such traffic, was fully determined in Employer's Liability Cases, 207 U.S. 463, 494, 28 S.Ct. 141, 52 L.Ed. 297, which arose under Act June 11, 1906, c. 3073, 32 Stat. 232 (U.S. Comp. St. Supp. 1907, p. 891). That act was held to be unconstitutional, but upon grounds other than a want of power on the part of Congress to enact it. It is true that the court, had it seen proper, might have declined to pass upon that question; but for reasons fully stated in the opinion the majority of the court considered it its duty to determine that question, and it did so in a very carefully considered opinion, after a most exhaustive argument of eminent counsel. Six of the justices concurred in this part of the opinion. Mr. Justice Peckham, in his concurring opinion, did not dissent from that conclusion, merely stating that 'he was not prepared to agree with all that is stated as to the power of Congress to legislate upon the subject of the relation between master and servant'; the Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Brewer agreeing with this view.

A carefully prepared opinion on an important question of law expressly decided by the trial court (see the opinions of the trial judges reported in 148 F. 986 (Brooks v. Southern Pac. Co.) and 997 (Howard v. Illinois Cent. R. Co)), properly brought before the court by the assignment of errors and the pleadings in the case, and which was fully and ably argued by counsel for all the parties, cannot be considered as obiter even if the action could be, and in fact was, determined upon other issues. This is peculiarly applicable to cases in which grave constitutional questions only are involved. Congress having evidenced by the enactment of the statute that, in its opinion, legislation on that subject should be enacted, when the constitutionality of such an act is questioned upon a number of grounds, among which is one attacking the power of Congress to legislate upon that subject, courts, as a rule, decide that question, even if the act must be held to be unconstitutional upon other grounds. If the power exists, Congress had indicated its desire to exercise it. The Supreme Court evidently presumed that, if the act is invalid for some reason other than a want of power to enact it, it would be re-enacted, omitting or [169 F. 945] changing those provisions which make it unconstitutional. That is what Congress did in this instance.

The act of 1906 was held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in an opinion filed on January 6, 1908, 207 U.S. 463, 28 Sup.Ct. 141, 52 L.Ed. 297. The President, on January 31, 1908, in a special message to Congress, called its attention to that decision and earnestly recommended the enactment of a statute to apply only to the class of cases upon which the court had decided it can constitutionally legislate, and, Congress being in session at that time, the present act was introduced, was carefully considered by the Judiciary Committee of the House, and thereafter enacted as a law at that session, and approved by the President on April 22, 1908, only a little more than three months after the Supreme Court had declared the former act unconstitutional. The same rule was followed in United States v. Delaware & Hudson Co. (decided May 3, 1909) 213 U.S. 366, 29 Sup.Ct. 527, 53 L.Ed. . . . . In a later case, decided at the same term at which the Employer's Liability Case was determined, the decision of the court on that point was treated as a final determination that the power existed. Adair v. United States, 208 U.S. 161, 178, 28 Sup.Ct. 277, 282, 52 L.Ed. 436, where it was said:

'In that case (the Employer's Liability Cases) the court sustained the authority of Congress, under its power to regulate interstate commerce, to prescribe the rule of liability as between interstate carriers and its employes in such interstate commerce in cases of personal injuries while actually engaged in such commerce.'

The rule as to what does not constitute a dictum is that a decision of a legal proposition within the issues of the case, presented and argued by counsel to the court, and by the court, with its reasons therefor, decided, is not obiter, although the court could have determined the case on other propositions, but elected to settle that proposition. Railroad Company v. Schutte, 103 U.S. 118, 143, 26 L.Ed. 327; Jones...

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16 practice notes
  • Equitable Life Assur. Soc. v. Gillan, Civil Action No. 103.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Nebraska
    • April 12, 1945
    ...was that on any other of the several matters on which the case as a whole depended." In Watson v. St. Louis I. M. & S. Ry. Co., C.C.Ark., 169 F. 942, 945, affirmed 223 U.S. 745, 32 S.Ct. 533, 56 L.Ed. 639, the court said: "The rule as to what does not constitute a dictum is that a decision ......
  • Myers v. United States, No. 2
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • October 25, 1926
    ...204; United States v. Title Insurance Co., 265 U. S. 472, 486, 44 S. Ct. 621, 68 L. Ed. 1110; Watson v. St. Louis, etc., Ry. Co. (C. C.) 169 F. 942, 944, 945. Although he was intensely hostile to Marbury v. Madison, and refused to recognize it as authoritative, I do not find that Mr. Jeffer......
  • Hunter v. Colfax Consolidated Coal Co., 30268
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • April 6, 1916
    ...107, 8 S.Ct. 1161; Mobile, J. & K. C. R. Co. v. Turnipseed. 219 U.S. 35, 55 L.Ed. 78, 31 S.Ct. 136; Watson v. St. Louis, I. M. & S. R. Co., 169 F. 942. 4. As to the elimination by the act of various defenses resting on risks assumed by the employe. the taking of such defenses has been gener......
  • St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad Co. v. Heyser
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Arkansas
    • June 20, 1910
    ...210 U.S. 281, 52 L.Ed. 1061, 28 S.Ct. 616; Smeltzer v. St. Louis & S. F. Rd. Co., 158 F. 649; Watson v. St. Louis, I. M. & S. Ry. Co., 169 F. 942; Schlemmer v. Buffalo, R. & P. Ry. Co., 205 U.S. 1, 51 L.Ed. 681, 27 S.Ct. 407; Holland v. Chicago, R. I. & P. Ry. Co., 139 Mo.App. 702, 123 S.W.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
16 cases
  • Equitable Life Assur. Soc. v. Gillan, Civil Action No. 103.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Nebraska
    • April 12, 1945
    ...was that on any other of the several matters on which the case as a whole depended." In Watson v. St. Louis I. M. & S. Ry. Co., C.C.Ark., 169 F. 942, 945, affirmed 223 U.S. 745, 32 S.Ct. 533, 56 L.Ed. 639, the court said: "The rule as to what does not constitute a dictum is that a decision ......
  • Myers v. United States, No. 2
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • October 25, 1926
    ...204; United States v. Title Insurance Co., 265 U. S. 472, 486, 44 S. Ct. 621, 68 L. Ed. 1110; Watson v. St. Louis, etc., Ry. Co. (C. C.) 169 F. 942, 944, 945. Although he was intensely hostile to Marbury v. Madison, and refused to recognize it as authoritative, I do not find that Mr. Jeffer......
  • Hunter v. Colfax Consolidated Coal Co., 30268
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • April 6, 1916
    ...107, 8 S.Ct. 1161; Mobile, J. & K. C. R. Co. v. Turnipseed. 219 U.S. 35, 55 L.Ed. 78, 31 S.Ct. 136; Watson v. St. Louis, I. M. & S. R. Co., 169 F. 942. 4. As to the elimination by the act of various defenses resting on risks assumed by the employe. the taking of such defenses has been gener......
  • St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad Co. v. Heyser
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Arkansas
    • June 20, 1910
    ...210 U.S. 281, 52 L.Ed. 1061, 28 S.Ct. 616; Smeltzer v. St. Louis & S. F. Rd. Co., 158 F. 649; Watson v. St. Louis, I. M. & S. Ry. Co., 169 F. 942; Schlemmer v. Buffalo, R. & P. Ry. Co., 205 U.S. 1, 51 L.Ed. 681, 27 S.Ct. 407; Holland v. Chicago, R. I. & P. Ry. Co., 139 Mo.App. 702, 123 S.W.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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