« AnteriorContinuar »
5. Among the instruments and agents to which the power extends are the railroads over which transportation from one State to another is conducted, the engines and cars by which such transportation is effected, and all who are in any wise engaged in such transportation, whether as common carriers or as their employees.
6. The duties of common carriers in respect of the safety of their employees, while both are engaged in commerce among the States, and the liability of the former for injuries sustained by the latter, while both are so engaged, have a real or substantial relation to such commerce, and therefore are within the range of this power.
In view of these settled propositions, it does not admit of doubt that the answer to the first of the questions before stated must be that Congress, in the exertion of its power over interstate commerce, may regulate the relations of common carriers by railroad and their employees, while both are engaged in such commerce, subject always to the limitations prescribed in the Constitution, and to the qualification that the particulars in which those relations are regulated must have a real or substantial connection with the interstate commerce in which the carriers and their employees are engaged.
We come, then, to inquire whether Congress has exceeded its power in that regard by prescribing the regulations embodied in the present act. It is objected that it has, (1) because the abrogation of the fellow-servant rule, the extension of the carrier's liability to cases of death, and the restriction of the defenses of contributory negligence and assumption of risk, have no tendency to promote the safety of the employees, or to advance the commerce in which they are engaged; (2) because the liability imposed for injuries sustained by one employee through the negligence of another, although confined to instances where the injured employee is engaged in interstate commerce, is not confined to instances where both employees are so engaged; and (3) because the act offends against the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution (a) by unwarrantably interfering with the liberty of contract, and (b) by arbitrarily placing all employers engaged in interstate commerce by railroad in a disfavored class, and all their employees engaged in such commerce in a favored class.
Briefly stated, the departure from the common law made by the portions of the act against which the first objection is leveled are these: (a) The rule that the negligence of one employee resulting in injury to another was not to be attributed to their common employer is displaced by a rule imposing upon the employer responsibility for such an injury, as was done at common law when the injured person was not an employee; (b) the rule exonerating an employer from liability for injury sustained by an employee through the concurring negligence of the employer and the employee is abrogated in all instances where the employer's violation of a statute enacted for the safety of his employees contributes to the injury, and in other instances is displaced by the rule of comparative negligence, whereby the exoneration is only from a proportional part of the
damages corresponding to the amount of negligence attributable to the employee; (c) the rule that an employee was deemed to assume the risk of injury, even if due to the employer's negligence, where the employee voluntarily entered or remained in the service with an actual or presumed knowledge of the conditions out of which the risk arose, is abrogated in all instances where the employer's violation of a statute enacted for the safety of his employees contributed to the injury; and (d) the rule denying a right of action for the death of one person, caused by the wrongful act or englect of another, is displaced by a rule vesting such a right of action in the personal representatives of the deceased, for the benefit of designated relatives.
Of the objection to these changes it is enough to observe:
First. “A person has no property, no vested interest, in any rule of the common law. That is only one of the forms of municipal law, and is no more sacred than any other. Rights of property which have been created by the common law cannot be taken away without due process; but the law itself, as a rule of conduct, may be changed at the will
of the legislature, unless prevented by constitutional limitations. Indeed, the great office of statutes is to remedy defects in the common law as they are developed, and to adapt it to the changes of time and circumstances.” Munn v. Illinois, 94 U. S. 113; Martin v. Pittsburgh & L. E. R. Co., 203 U. S. 284; Western U. Teleg. Co. v. Commercial Mill. Co., 218 U. S. 406.
Second. The natural tendency of the changes described is to impel the carriers to avoid or prevent the negligent acts and omissions which are made the bases of the rights of recovery which the statute creates and defines; and as whatever makes for that end tends to promote the safety of the employees and to advance the commerce in which they are engaged, we entertain no doubt that in making those changes Congress acted within the limits of the discretion confided to it by the Constitution. Lottery Case (Champion V. Ames), 188 U. S. 321; Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Riverside Mills, 219 U. S. 186.
We are not unmindful that that end was being measurably attained through the remedial legislation of the several states, but that legislation has been far from uniform, and it undoubtedly rested with Congress to determine whether a national law, operating uniformly in all the States, upon all carriers by railroad engaged in interstate commerce, would better subserve the needs of that commerce. The Lottawanna (Rodd v. Heartt), 21 Wall. 558; Baltimore & O. R. Co., v. Baugh, 149 U. S. 368.
The second objection proceeds upon the theory that, even although Congress has power to regulate the liability of a carrier for injuries sustained by one employee through the negligence of another, where all are engaged in interstate commerce, that power does not embrace instances where the negligent employee is engaged in intrastate com
merce. But this is a mistaken theory, in that it treats the source of the injury, rather than its effect upon interstate commerce, as the criterion of congressional power. As was said in Southern R. Co. v. United States, 222 U. S. 20, that power is plenary, and competently may be exerted to secure the safety of interstate transportation and of those who are employed therein, no matter what the source of the dangers which threaten it. The present act, unlike the one condemned in Employers' Liability Cases (Howard v. Illinois C. R. Co.), 207 U. S. 463, deals only with the liability of a carrier engaged in interstate commerce for injuries sustained by its employees while engaged in such commerce. And this being so, it is not a valid objection that the act embraces instances where the causal negligence is that of an employee engaged in intrastate commerce; for such negligence, when operating injuriously upon an employee engaged in interstate commerce, has the same effect upon that commerce as if the negligent employee were also engaged therein.
Next in order is the objection that the provision in Section 5, declaring void any contract, rule, regulation, or device, the purpose or intent of which is to enable a carrier to exempt itself from the liability which the act creates, is repugnant to the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution as an unwarranted interference with the liberty of contract. But of this it suffices to say, in view of our recent decisions in Chicago, B. & Q. R. Co. v. McGuire, 219 U. S. 549, and Baltimore & O. R. Co. v. Interstate Commerce Commission, 221 U. S. 612, that if Congress possesses the power to impose that liability, which we here hold that it does, it also possesses the power to insure its efficacy by prohibiting any contract, rule, regulation, or device in evasion of it.
It follows that the answer to the second of the questions before stated must be that Congress has not exceeded its power by prescribing the regulations embodied in the present act.
The third question, whether those regulations supersede the laws of the States in so far as the latter cover the same field, finds its answer in the following extracts from the opinion of Chief Justice Marshall in M'Culloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 4 L. ed. 579:
(P. 405) “If any one proposition could command the universal assent of mankind, we might expect it would be this,--that the government of the Union, though limited in its powers, is supreme within its sphere of action. This would seem to result necessarily from its nature. It is the government of all; its powers are delegated by all; it represents all, and acts for all. Though any one State may be willing to control its operations, no State is willing to allow others to control them. The nation, on those subjects on which it can act, must necessarily bind its component parts. But this question is not left to mere reason: the people have, in express terms, decided it, by saying, 'this Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof,' ‘shall be the supreme law of the land,' and by requiring that the members of the
state legislatures, and the officers of the executive and judicial departments of the States, shall take the oath of fidelity to it. The government of the United States, then, though limited in its powers, is supreme; and its laws, when made in pursuance of the Constitution, form the supreme law of the land, ‘anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.'
"The grant of power to Congress in the Constitution to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several States, it is conceded, is paramount over all legislative powers which, in consequence of not having been granted to Congress, are reserved to the States. It follows that any legislation of a State, although in pursuance of an acknowledged power reserved to it, which conflicts with the actual exercise of the power of Congress over the subject of commerce, must give way before the supremacy of the national authority.”
True, prior to the present act, the laws of the several States were regarded as determinative of the liability of employers engaged in interstate commerce for injuries received by their employees while engaged in such commerce. But that was because Congress, although empowered to regulate that subject, has not acted thereon, and because the subject is which falls within the police power of the States in the absence of action by Congress.
And now that Congress has acted, the laws of the States, in so far as they cover the same field, are superseded, for necessarily that which is not supreme must yield to that which is.
We come next to consider whether rights arising under the congressional act may be enforced, as of right, in the courts of the States when their jurisdiction, as prescribed by local laws, is adequate to the occasion. The first of the cases now before us was begun in one of the superior courts of the State of Connecticut, and, in that case, the Supreme Court of Errors of the State answered the question in the negative.
We are quite unable to assent to the view that the enforcement of the rights which the congressional act creates was originally intended to be restricted to the Federal courts. The act contains nothing which is suggestive of such a restriction, and in this situation the intention of Congress was reflected by the provision in the general jurisdictional act, “That the Circuit Courts of the United States shall have original cognizance, concurrent with the courts of the several States, of all suits of a civil nature, at common law or in equity, where the matter in dispute exceeds, exclusive of interest and costs, the sum or value of two thousand dollars, and arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States.
This is emphasized by the amendment engrafted upon the original act in 1910, to the effect that “the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States under this act shall be concurrent with that of the courts of the several States, and no case arising under this act, and brought in any State court of competent jurisdiction, shall be removed to any court of the United States." The amendment, as appears by its language,
instead of granting jurisdiction to the state courts, presupposes that they already possessed it.
The suggestion that the Act of Congress is not in harmony with the policy of the State, and therefore that the courts of the State are free to decline jurisdiction, is quite inadmissible, because it presupposes what in legal contemplation does not exist. When Congress, in the exertion of the power confided to it by the Constitution, adopted that act, it spoke for all the people and all the States, and thereby established a policy for all. That policy is as much the policy of Connecticut as if the act had emanated from its own legislature, and should be respected accordingly in the courts of the State.
We are not disposed to believe that the exercise of jurisdiction by the State courts will be attended by any appreciable inconvenience or confusion; but, be this as it may, it affords no reason for declining a jurisdiction conferred by law. The existence of the jurisdiction creates an implication of duty to exercise it, and that its exercise may be onerous does not militate against that implication. Besides, it is neither new nor unusual in judicial proceedings to apply different rules of law to different situations and subjects, even although possessing some elements of similarity, as where the liability of a public carrier for personal injuries turns upon whether the injured person was a passenger, an employee, or a stranger. But it never has been supposed that courts are at liberty to decline cognizance of cases of a particular class merely because the rules of law to be applied in their adjudication are unlike those applied in other cases.
We conclude that rights arising under the act in question may be enforced, as of right, in the courts of the States when their jurisdiction, as prescribed by local laws, is adequate to the occasion.
(The court reversed the Mondou case, and sustained the judg
ments in the other three so as to uphold the act.)
Note.-See Champion vs. Ames, page 91, for another example of Federal police power, as affecting interstate commerce.
8. The Patent and Copyright Clause as Affecting Commerce and Price
The Constitution in Article 1, Section 9, provides that "Congress shall have power to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."
SIDNEY HENRY, ET AL., v. A. B. DICK COMPANY.
224 U. S. 1. March 11, 1912.
The complainant, the A. B. Dick Company, brought an action for the infringement of two letters patent, owned by it, covering a