Reed v. Pennsylvania Railroad Company

RESPONDENT: Pennsylvania Railroad Company

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

ARGUED: May 01, 1956
DECIDED: Jun 11, 1956

Facts of the case


Media for Reed v. Pennsylvania Railroad Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - May 01, 1956 in Reed v. Pennsylvania Railroad Company

Earl Warren:

Number 621, Martha C. Reed, versus Pennsylvania Railroad.

Mr. Lord.

Joseph S. Lord, III:

May it please the Court, Your Honors.

This case is here on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, to review the decision of that Court affirming the decision of the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania which dismissed the petitioner's complaint filed in that court under the provisions of the Federal Employers' Liability Act.

The question of coverage was raised by a motion to dismiss.

The District Court decided it adversely to the plaintiff and dismissed the action because without the federal jurisdiction, there being no diversity, there was no basis for federal jurisdiction.

The action arises out of an accident which happened on July 19th, 1951.

Erroneously stated in our brief as July 15th, 1951, although I think the typographical error is not material.

The accident happened at the 32nd Street Office building of the respondent, defendant Railroad Company.

That was in Philadelphia.

At that office, and these facts are without contradiction, there are on file some 325,000 original tracings from which blueprints are made.

The tracings cover and the blueprints made from them also cover every single part of the respondent's system, all of its mechanical equipment, all of its cars, all of its locomotives, its engines, its bridges, its package.

It covers the entire system which extends into ten different states and the District of Columbia.

It is the only place on the entire system where these original tracings are kept and it is the only on the entire system where the blueprints are made for the use in shops and in repairing of trucks, bridges, and other structures.

Sixty seven percent of the blueprints that are made in the 32nd Street Office building or 32nd Street Office building, yes, go into states other than Pennsylvania.

And the cars which they cover, of course, are operated over the respondent's entire 10 state and District of Columbia system.

The method in which the work is done is that orders come in from the various repair shops which themselves are located in various parts of the country for the blueprints that are needed in order to maintain, repair and keep functioning the respondent's equipment and trackage.

The prints were made, as I say, in the 32nd Street Office and are then sent to the various repair shops where the work of maintenance and repair is done or to the various locations where the track work is done or where track repairs are done.

The plaintiff's position in this scheme of things was the duty of picking up in the mornings the orders as they came in from the various repair shops.

The orders would call for a specified blueprint of a specified car or track or whatever it maybe, and it was her duty to select from among the 325,000 original tracings that were on file there, the proper one so that the proper blueprint could be made from it.

She would then take the -- the original tracing having selected it from its proper place in the file and having made the proper selection to the blueprint maker who would make from that, from her selection the blueprint that the tracing called for.

She also had the correlative and equally important duty of replacing in its proper place in the files the original tracing.

I say an important duty because obviously, it was important that she get it back in the right place so that the next person looking for it wouldn't have to look through 325,000 original tracings before they came across it.

On these facts, the District Court and the Circuit Court in affirming held that the -- in effect, that the petitioner's duties did not further interstate commerce.

As we see it, the lower court, and I'm speaking here of the Court of Appeals, fell into two basic and fundamental errors.

Fundamental errors which require, it seems to us, reversal and fundamental errors which were allowed to go uncorrected would emasculate the 1939 Amendment to the Federal Employers' Liability Act.

The first error into which the Court fell was its unstated premise although nonetheless clearly apparent from its opinion that the words interstate commerce, in the -- even in the amended Act were equated with what we may call the classical staff of railroading, the engines, the breaks, the tracks and the switches.

And that almost physical proximity, physical contact with this stuff of railroading was required in order for an employee to be covered by the Act.

Now that truncated view, if you will, of the Act fails utterly to give any significance whatsoever to the enlarging words of the 1939 amendment.

And here it's important, it seems to me, to contrast the words that were used in the 1939 amendment with the language that was used in the original act or rather the second act of 1908.