Hilton v. South Carolina Public Railways Commission

RESPONDENT:South Carolina Public Railways Commission
LOCATION:Mississippi Governor’s Office

DOCKET NO.: 90-848
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: South Carolina Supreme Court

CITATION: 502 US 197 (1991)
ARGUED: Oct 08, 1991
DECIDED: Dec 16, 1991

Keating L. Simons, III – on behalf of the Respondent
Robert J. Beckham – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Hilton v. South Carolina Public Railways Commission

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 08, 1991 in Hilton v. South Carolina Public Railways Commission

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – December 16, 1991 in Hilton v. South Carolina Public Railways Commission

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 90-848, Hilton versus South Carolina Public Railways Commission will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

This is a case involving the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, sometimes called FELA.

The statute was enacted to give protection under federal law to workers who are injured in the nation’s railroad transportation system.

This case presents a question that we have addressed before, whether the injured worker can sue under the Act if the railroad is owned and operated by a state.

Hilton, who is the petitioner here, brought suit alleging that he sustained injuries while he was working for a railroad which was owned by a state entity.

The state entity is the respondent, the South Carolina Public Railways Commission.

We granted certiorari to the Supreme Court of the State of South Carolina after it ruled that Hilton’s State Court action must be dismissed.

As I have indicated, we face this general issue before.

In Parden versus Terminal Railway, a case decided in 1964, we held that a railway worker could sue a state-owned railroad in Federal Court.

In a later case, though, Welch versus the Texas Department of Highways which was decided in 1987, we overruled the part of the 1964 case.

In Welch, we said that states have immunity from FELA suits when the action is commenced in Federal Court.

Hilton brought this suit in the State Court and the question now before us is whether Parden overruled Welch on such broad grounds that the FELA suit against the state may not be maintained in a State Court either.

Today, we hold that Parden is still good law as applied to FELA suits commenced in State Courts.

There are strong considerations for adherence to stare decisis in this case and insufficient counter-veiling justifications for departure from that doctrine.

The issue today is one of statutory construction and Congress has accepted our Parden interpretation for almost 30 years.

Many states have legislated relying on Parden and therefore, excluded railroad workers from their workman’s compensation schemes.

To overrule Parden would require an extensive legislative response from these state and would dislodge the settled rights and expectations of both employees and employers.

For all these reasons we decline to depart from our precedents.

We hold that FELA does create a cause of action against state on railroads and it is enforceable in State Court under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

The judgment of the Supreme Court of the State of South Carolina is reversed.

Justice Blackmun concurs in the judgment; Justice O’Connor has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Scalia joins.

Justice Thomas took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.