Sinkler v. Missouri Pacific Railroad Company

RESPONDENT: Missouri Pacific Railroad Company
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 356 US 326 (1958)
ARGUED: Mar 12, 1958 / Mar 13, 1958
DECIDED: Apr 28, 1958

Facts of the case


Media for Sinkler v. Missouri Pacific Railroad Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 13, 1958 in Sinkler v. Missouri Pacific Railroad Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 12, 1958 in Sinkler v. Missouri Pacific Railroad Company

Earl Warren:

Number 133, Sinkler versus Northern Pacific Railroad Company.

Cornelius O. Ryan:

I'm ready for the petitioner, Your Honor.

Earl Warren:

Mr. Ryan.

Roy L. Arterbury:

I'm ready for the respondent.

Earl Warren:

You may proceed Mr. Ryan.

Cornelius O. Ryan:

Thank you.

May it please the Court.

This is a case under the Federal Employers' Liability Act.

The petitioner, Parris Sinkler, was the cook on the private car assigned to the general manager of the respondent, railroad.

That car came into the Union Station in Houston on March 30th, 1949 at the end of one of the respondent's trains.

After it arrived in the station while the petitioner was still aboard the car performing the duties of his employment, the car was switched from one track to another within the station.

In the course of that switching movement, and because of the negligence of the crew handling the car, the petitioner was injured.

Now, the crew handling the car as the record shows, were employees of Houston Belt and Terminal Railway Company, which is a corporation, separate from respondent although affiliated within a number of ways.

Respondent owned 50% of its stock and appointed in effect four of its eight directors, that is 50% of them, and there were a number of common employees.


Cornelius O. Ryan:

I do, Your Honor, yes.

There were a number of affiliations between respondent and Houston Belt and Terminal which we will go into in more detail later.

Now, petitioner continued to work after his accident being off for some months about a year after it in order to have an operation to repair some of the effects of it, but he went back to work and continued to work on his car.

He did not consult counsel until more than two years after the accident, and he then discovered that any action by him against Houston Belt and Terminal Railway Company, which would have of course to be a common law action in the State Courts of Texas, was barred by the Texas two-year statute of limitations.But his action against his employer under the three-year limitation statute applicable to the Employers' Liability Act was still open to him since less than three years had passed.He, therefore, filed this suit less than three years after the accident.

Now, the respondent's only defense which is now material is that Houston Belt and Terminal's employees were the negligent ones, that Houston Belt and Terminal Railway Company was, as to the Respondent, an independent contractor, and that therefore, respondent was not liable for the negligence of the switching crew and not liable for petitioner's injuries.

Petitioner obtained a judgment in the District Court of Harris County, Texas, upon a jury verdict which among other things found expressly upon special issues submitted under the Texas practice that Houston Belt and Terminal was respondent's agent and was not an independent contractor in performing the movement in question.

That judgment was reversed by the Court of Civil Appeals at Beaumont on appeal and judgment was there rendered that petitioner take nothing against the respondent.

How much is verdict?

Cornelius O. Ryan:

$15,000, Your Honor.

There is no question on appeal about the amount of the verdict and there was no question on appeal to the Court of Civil Appeals about the amount of it.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

There's no question about anything except whether or not (Inaudible) illegal.

Cornelius O. Ryan:

That's right, Your Honor.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

No question of negligence or anything else?

Cornelius O. Ryan:

No question of negligence or anything else.

No, Your Honor.