Baker v. Texas & Pacific Railway Company

PETITIONER: Baker
RESPONDENT: Texas & Pacific Railway Company
LOCATION: United States Senate

DOCKET NO.: 363
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Texas

CITATION: 359 US 227 (1959)
ARGUED: Mar 25, 1959
DECIDED: Apr 06, 1959

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Baker v. Texas & Pacific Railway Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 25, 1959 in Baker v. Texas & Pacific Railway Company

Earl Warren:

Dovie Ray Baker et al., Petitioners, versus (Inaudible) Railroad Company.

Mr. Davis.

Harvey L. Davis:

Mr. Chief Justice Warren, may it please the Court.

This case is here on writ of certiorari to a Texas Court of Civil Appeal.

There are two basic questions involved there.

The first is whether the petitioners were denied their right to a trial by jury to determine whether Claude Baker, the deceased husband and father of petitioners was an employee of the railroad, the respondent, within the meaning of the Federal Employers' Liability Act.

And the second basic question is whether Claude Baker was such an employee of the railroad as a matter of law.

These are the pertinent facts.

Claude Baker was hired and he was paid by the W. H. Nichols & Company as a member of a crew to do a type of maintenance work called “grouting” along the main line roadbed of the Texas & Pacific Railroad.

He was killed by the negligence of one of the railroad trainman while he was working on the roadbed.

Now, this maintenance work of grouting consists of pumping into the roadbed by means of a hydraulic pump, a mixture of sand, cement and water to fill in voids under the roadbed and to force up water pockets and its purpose is to strengthen and to stabilize and straighten the roadbed.

The location for the grouting work was laid up by the engineering department of the railroad, and Claude Baker's job was to handle the cement.

He would pour cement into the cement mixture and other employees would pour the sand and water in it.

Baker would throw the cement sacks at his feet and occasionally would take the pile across the railroad tracks to be disposed of.

After Baker was killed, his widow filed for compensation insurance under the laws of Texas and was awarded a compensation award of some $7000 -- almost $8000, I believe it was.

Then her attorneys filed a common law suit for negligence against the railroad.

However, in the subsequent investigation of the suit, facts were discovered which led the attorneys to the belief that Baker was in fact and under the law an employee of the railroad and therefore the pleadings were amended to allege a cause of action against the railroad under the Act.

Now, the theory of the pleading was that the W. H. Nichols Company was not an independent contractor but was under the law and in fact an employee or an agent of the railroad and therefore Baker was an employee of the railroad and entitled to the benefits of the Act.

Potter Stewart:

May I ask you -- excuse me, Mr. Davis, so I can understand a little bit the Texas law?

It's true, I expect, is it, the -- the Texas Workmen's Compensation statute permits a widow such as the plaintiff here to sue a -- an alleged third party tortfeasor or -- at common law --

Harvey L. Davis:

Certainly.

Potter Stewart:

-- even after she has collected the compensation under the statute?

Harvey L. Davis:

Yes, sir.

Potter Stewart:

Is there any subrogation of anybody to complain?

Harvey L. Davis:

The right of subrogation is allowed to the insurance company, I believe.

Potter Stewart:

Up to the amount that they pay?

Harvey L. Davis:

We don't dispute that whatsoever.

Potter Stewart:

Up to the amount that they paid or --

Harvey L. Davis:

Right.

Potter Stewart:

And is it also true that the Texas Workmen's Compensation statute by its terms, accepts a workman who is covered by the Federal Employers' Liability Act?