Seaboard Air Line Railway v. Renn/Opinion of the Court
This was an action by an employee of a railroad company to recover from the latter for personal injuries suffered through its negligence. The plaintiff had a verdict and judgment under the employers' liability act of Congress (chap. 149, 35 Stat. at L. 65, Comp. Stat. 1913, § 8657; chap. 143, 36 Stat. at L. 291), the judgment was affirmed (--N. C. --, 86 S. E. 964), and the defendant brings the case here.
The original complaint was exceedingly brief and did not sufficiently allege that at the time of the injury the defendant was engaged and the plaintiff employed in interstate commerce. During the trial the defendant sought some advantage from this, and the court, over the defendant's objection, permitted the complaint to be so amended as to state distinctly the defendant's engagement and the plaintiff's employment in such commerce. Both parties conceded that what was alleged in the amendment was true in fact and conformed to the proofs, and that point has since been treated as settled. The defendant's objection was that the original complaint did not state a cause of action under the act of Congress, that with the amendment the complaint would state a new cause of action under that act, and that, as more than two years had elapsed since the right of action accrued, the amendment could not be made the medium of introducing this new cause of action consistently with the provision in § 6 that 'no action shall be maintained under this act unless commenced within two years from the day the cause of action acrued.' Whether in what was done this restriction was in effect disregarded is a Federal question and subject to re-examination here, however much the allowance of the amendment otherwise might have rested in discretion or been a matter of local procedure. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Burnette, 239 U.S. 199, 60 L. ed. --, 36 Sup. Ct. Rep. 75. If the amendment merely expanded or amplified what was alleged in support of the cause of action already asserted, it related back to the commencement of the action, and was not affected by the intervening lapse of time. Texas & P. R. Co. v. Cox, 145 U.S. 593, 603, 604, 36 L. ed. 829, 832, 833, 12 Sup. Ct. Rep. 905; Atlantic & P. R. Co. v. Laird, 164 U.S. 393, 41 L. ed. 485, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 120; Hutchinson v. Otis, 190 U.S. 552, 555, 47 L. ed. 1179, 1181, 23 Sup. Ct. Rep. 778; Missouri, K. & T. R. Co. v. Wulf, 226 U.S. 570, 576, 57 L. ed. 355, 363, 33 Sup. Ct. Rep. 135, Ann. Cas. 1914B, 134; Crotty v. Chicago G. W. R. Co. 95 C. C. A. 91, 169 Fed. 593. But if it introduced a new or different cause of action, it was the equivalent of a new suit, as to which the running of the limitation was not theretofore arrested. Sicard v. Davis, 6 Pet. 124, 140; 8 L. ed. 342, 348; Union P. R. Co. v. Wyler, 158 U.S. 285, 39 L. ed. 983, 15 Sup. Ct. Rep. 877; United States v. Dalcour, 203 U.S. 408, 423, 51 L. ed. 248, 251, 27 Sup. Ct. Rep. 58. The original complaint set forth that the defendant was operating a line of railroad in Virginia, North Carolina, and elsewhere; that the plaintiff was in its employ; that when he was injured he was in the line of duty and was proceeding to get aboard one of the defendant's trains, and that the injury was sustained at Cochran, Virginia, through the defendant's negligence in permitting a part of its right of way at that place to get and remain in a dangerous condition. Of course, the right of action could not arise under the laws of North Carolina when the causal negligence and the injury occurred in Virginia; and the absence of any mention of the laws of the latter state was at least consistent with their inapplicability. Besides, the allegation that the defendant was operating a railroad in states other than Virginia was superfluous if the right of action arose under the laws of that state, and was pertinent only if it arose in interstate commerce, and therefore under the act of Congress. In these circumstances, while the question is not free from difficulty, we cannot say that the court erred in treating the original complaint as pointing, although only imperfectly, to a cause of action under the law of Congress. And this being so, it must be taken that the amendment merely expanded or amplified what was alleged in support of that cause of action, and related back to the commencement of the suit, which was before the limitation had expired.
Error is assigned upon a refusal to instruct the jury, as matter of law, that there was no evidence of actionable negligence on the part of the defendant, and that the evidence conclusively established an assumption by the plaintiff of the risk resulting in his injury. Both courts, trial and appellate, held against the defendant upon these points. They involve an appreciation of all the evidence and the inferences which admissibly might be drawn therefrom; and it suffices to say that we find no such clear or certain error as would justify disturbing the concurring conclusions of the two courts upon these questions. Great Northern R. Co. v. Knapp, 240 U.S. 464; 60 L. ed. --, 36 Sup. Ct. Rep. 399; Baugham v. New York, P. & N. R. Co. decided this day [[[241 U.S. 237]], 60 L. ed. , 36 Sup. Ct. Rep. 592].
Complaint also is made of the instructions given upon the measure of damages. The criticism is directed against mere fragments of this part of the charge, and the objections made at the time were not such as were calculated to draw the trial court's attention to the particular complaint now urged. The inaccuracies were not grave and the charge as a whole was calculated to give the jury a fair understanding of the subject. The defendant, therefore, is not in a position to press the complaint, especially as it was not dealt with in the opinion of the appellate court. See Magniac v. Thompson, 7 Pet. 348, 390, 8 L. ed. 709, 723; McDermott v. Severe, 202 U.S. 600, 610, 50 L. ed. 1162, 1168, 26 Sup. Ct. Rep. 709; Illinois C. R. Co. v. Skaggs, 240 U.S. 66, 60 L. ed. --, 36 Sup. Ct. Rep. 249.