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U.S. Supreme Court

Southern Pacific Co. v. Industrial Acc. Comm'n, 251 U.S. 259 (1920)

Southern Pacific Co. v. Industrial

Accident Commission of California

No. 118

Submitted December 18, 1919

Decided January 5, 1920

251 U.S. 259




Certiorari is the proper means of reviewing a judgment of a state court affirming an award against a railroad company under a workmen's compensation law where the federal question upon which the applicability, as distinct from the validity, of that law depends is whether the injured employee was engaged in interstate commerce. P. 251 U. S. 262.

A lineman engaged in the necessary work of wiping the insulators supporting a main wire, in use at the time as a conductor of electricity which, flowing from it through a transformer, and thence along the trolley-wires of a railroad, moved cars in interstate and intrastate commerce, held employed in interstate commerce within the Federal Employers' Liability Act. Id.

178 Cal. 20 reversed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

Page 251 U. S. 262

MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

William T. Bulter, husband of respondent Mary E. Butler, was killed at Oakland, California, while employed by the Southern Pacific Company as an electric lineman. The supreme court of the state affirmed an award rendered by the California Industrial Commission against the company, and the cause is properly here by writ of certiorari.

The fatal accident, which occurred June 21, 1917, arose out of and happened in the course of deceased's employment. He

"received an electric shock while wiping insulators, which caused him to fall from a steel power pole, producing injury which proximately caused his death."

At that time, the company, a common carrier by railroad, maintained a power house at Fruitvale, California, where it manufactured the electric current which moved its cars engaged in both interstate and intrastate commerce. From the generators, this current passed along main lines or cables, through a reduction and transforming station, to the trolley wires, and thence to the motors. When he received the electric shock, deceased was engaged in work on one of the main lines necessary to keep it in serviceable condition. If such work was part of interstate commerce, the Workmen's Compensation Act of the state is inapplicable, and the judgment below must be reversed. Otherwise, it must be affirmed. Employers' Liability Act,

Page 251 U. S. 263

April 22, 1908, ch. 149, 35 Stat. 65; New York Central R. Co. v. Winfield, 244 U. S. 147; New York Central R. Co. v. Porter, 249 U. S. 168.

Generally, when applicability of the Federal Employers' Liability Act is uncertain, the character of the employment in relation to commerce may be adequately tested by inquiring whether, at the time of the injury, the employee was engaged in work so closely connected with interstate transportation as practically to be a part of it. Pedersen v. Delaware, Lackawanna & Western R. Co., 229 U. S. 146, 229 U. S. 151; Shanks v. Delaware, Lackawanna & Western R. Co., 239 U. S. 556, 239 U. S. 558; New York Central R. Co. v. Porter, supra; Kinzell v. Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Ry. Co., 250 U. S. 130, 250 U. S. 133.

Power is no less essential than tracks or bridges to the movement of cars. The accident under consideration occurred while deceased was wiping insulators actually supporting a wire which then carried electric power so intimately connected with the propulsion of cars that, if it had been short-circuited through his body, they would have stopped instantly. Applying the suggested test, we think these circumstances suffice to show that his work was directly and immediately connected with interstate transportation, and an essential part of it.

The judgment of the court below is reversed, and the cause remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Reversed and remanded.


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