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BRADFORD ELECTRIC LIGHT CO. v. CLAPPER

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: May 16, 1932.

BRADFORD ELECTRIC LIGHT CO., INC
v.
CLAPPER, ADMINISTRATRIX

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT.

Hughes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandies, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts; Cardozo took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Brandeis

[ 286 U.S. Page 150]

 MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This action for damages was brought in a court of New Hampshire under the employers' liability provisions of the Employers' Liability and Workmen's Compensation Act of that State, N. H. Public Laws, 1926, c. 302, to recover for the death of Leon J. Clapper, which the plaintiff claimed was due to his employer's negligence. The case

[ 286 U.S. Page 151]

     was removed to the federal court on the ground of diversity of citizenship; the defendant, Bradford Electric Light Co., Inc., being a citizen and resident of Vermont and the plaintiff, Jennie M. Clapper, administratrix, being a citizen and resident of New Hampshire. It appeared that the Company had its principal place of business in Vermont and lines extending into New Hampshire; that Leon Clapper, a resident of Vermont, was employed by it there as a lineman for emergency service in either State; and that in the course of his duties, he was sent to restore some burned-out fuses at a substation in New Hampshire and while doing so was killed. The Company, invoking the full faith and credit clause of the Federal Constitution, set up as a special defense that the action was barred by provisions of the Vermont Compensation Act; that the contract of employment had been entered into in Vermont, where both parties to it then, and at all times thereafter resided; and that the Vermont Act had been accepted by both employer and employee as a term of the contract.

The District Court ruled that the action was properly brought under the laws of the State of New Hampshire; that the action was based on a tort occurring in that State; and that the Vermont Workmen's Compensation Act had no extra-territorial effect. Accordingly, that court rejected the special defense and denied a motion to dismiss. The case was tried three times before a jury, the third trial resulting in a verdict for the plaintiff in the sum of $4,000. The judgment entered thereon was first reversed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. But upon a rehearing, the judgment of the trial court was affirmed, one judge dissenting. 51 F.2d 992, 999. The Company filed in this Court both an appeal and a petition for writ of certiorari. The appeal was denied, and certiorari granted. 284 U.S. 221.

[ 286 U.S. Page 152]

     The Vermont Workmen's Compensation Act provides that a workman hired within the State shall be entitled to compensation even though the injury was received outside the State, Vermont General Laws, c. 241, § 5770; that "employers who hire workmen within this state to work outside of the state, may agree with such workmen that the remedies under the provisions of this chapter shall be exclusive as regards injuries received outside this state by accident arising out of and in the course of such employment, and all contracts of hiring in this state shall be presumed to include such an agreement," § 5774; that every contract of employment made within the State shall be presumed to have been made subject to its provisions, unless prior to the accident an express statement to the contrary shall have been made, in writing, by one of the parties, § 5765; and that acceptance of the Act is "a surrender by the parties . . . of their rights to any other method, form or amount of compensation or determination thereof," § 5763. Neither the Company nor Leon Clapper filed a statement declining to accept any provision of the Vermont Act.

The New Hampshire Employers' Liability and Workmen's Compensation Act provides that the employer shall become subject to the workmen's compensation provisions of the Act only by filing a declaration to that effect, N. H. Public Laws, c. 178, § 4; and that even if the declaration is filed, the employee may, subsequent to the injury, still elect either to claim compensation, § 11, or to sue for damages at common law as modified by the employers' liability provisions of the Act. Failure to file such a declaration exposes the employer to a common law action of negligence in which the defenses of assumption of risk and injury by a fellow servant may not be interposed. §§ 2, 3. The Company filed in New Hampshire the declaration provided for by its statute.

[ 286 U.S. Page 153]

     Thus each State has a workmen's compensation law of the elective type; but their provisions differ sharply. The New Hampshire statute, unlike that of Vermont, permits the employee or his representative to elect, after the injury, to sue for damages as at common law; and it was as a result of such an election made by the administratrix that the case at bar arose. The main question for decision is whether the existence of a right of action for Leon Clapper's death should be determined by the laws of Vermont, where both parties to the contract of employment resided and where the contract was made, or by the laws of New Hampshire, where the employee was killed.

First. It clearly was the purpose of the Vermont Act to preclude any recovery by proceedings brought in another State for injuries received in the course of a Vermont employment. The provisions of the Act leave no room for construction.*fn1 The statute declares in terms that when a workman is hired within the State, he shall be entitled to compensation thereunder for injuries received outside, as well as inside, the State, unless one of the parties elects to reject the provisions of the Act. And it declares further that for injuries wherever received the remedy under the statute shall exclude all other rights and remedies of the employee or his personal representative. If the accident

[ 286 U.S. Page 154]

     had happened in Vermont, the statute plainly would have precluded the bringing of an action for damages in New Hampshire under its employers' liability act.*fn2 For such action is predicated on a tort; and in Vermont an injury resulting from the employer's negligence is not a tort, if the provisions of the Compensation Act have been accepted. The question is whether the fact that the injury occurred in New Hampshire leaves its courts free to subject the employer to liability as for a tort. That is, may the New Hampshire courts disregard the relative rights of the parties as determined by the laws of Vermont where they resided and made the contract of employment; or must they give effect to the Vermont Act, and to the agreement implied therefrom, that the only right of the employee against the employer, in case of injury, shall be the claim for compensation provided by the statute?

Second. If the conflict presented were between the laws of a foreign country and those of New Hampshire, its courts would be free, so far as the restrictions of federal law are concerned, to attach legal consequences to acts done within the State, without reference to the undertaking of the parties, entered into at their common residence abroad, that such consequences should not be enforced between them. But the conflict here is between the laws of two States; and the Company in setting up as a defense a right arising under the Vermont statute, invokes Art. IV, § 1, of the Federal Constitution, which declares that "full faith and credit shall be given in each State to the public acts . . . of every other State." That a statute

[ 286 U.S. Page 155]

     is a "public act" within the meaning of that clause is settled. Modern Woodmen of America v. Mixer, 267 U.S. 544, 550, 551; Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Dunken, 266 U.S. 389, 393. See Tennessee Coal, Iron & R. Co. v. George, 233 U.S. 354, 360; Chicago & Alton R. Co. v. Wiggins Ferry Co., 119 U.S. 615, 622.*fn3 A federal court sitting in New Hampshire is bound equally with courts of the State to observe the command of the full faith and credit clause, where applicable.*fn4 The precise question for decision is whether that clause is applicable to the situation here presented.

Third. The administratrix contends that the full faith and credit clause is not applicable. The argument is that to recognize the Vermont Act as a defense to the New Hampshire action would be to give to that statute an

[ 286 U.S. Page 156]

     extra-territorial effect, whereas a State's power to legislate is limited to its own territory. It is true that full faith and credit is enjoined by the Constitution only in respect to those public acts which are within the legislative jurisdiction of the enacting State. See National Mutual Bldg. & Loan Assn. v. Brahan, 193 U.S. 635, 647; Olmsted v. Olmsted, 216 U.S. 386, 395.*fn5 But, obviously, the power of Vermont to effect legal consequences by legislation is not limited strictly to occurrences within its boundaries. It has power through its own tribunals to grant compensation to local employees, locally employed, for injuries received outside its borders, compare Quong Ham Wah Co. v. Industrial Accident Comm., 255 U.S. 445, dismissing writ of error, 184 Cal. 26; 192 Pac. 1021, and likewise has power to exclude from its own courts proceedings for any other form of relief for such injuries.*fn6

[ 286 U.S. Page 157]

     The existence of this power is not denied. It is contended only that the rights thus created need not be recognized in an action brought in another State; that a provision which Vermont may validly enforce in its own courts need not be given effect when the same facts are presented for adjudication in New Hampshire.

The answer is that such recognition in New Hampshire of the rights created by the Vermont Act, can not, in any proper sense, be termed an extra-territorial application of that Act.*fn7 Workmen's compensation acts are

[ 286 U.S. Page 158]

     treated, almost universally, as creating a statutory relation between the parties -- not, like employer's liability acts, as substituting a statutory tort for a common law tort. See Cudahy Packing Co. v. Parramore, 263 U.S. 418, 423; Mulhall v. Nashua Mfg. Co., 80 N. H. 194, 197; 115 Atl. 449; Matter of Cameron v. Ellis Construction Co., 252 N. Y. 394, 396; 169 N. E. 622; Chandler v. Industrial Commission, 55 Utah 213, 217; 184 Pac. 1020; Anderson v. Miller Scrap Iron Co., 169 Wis. 106, 113, 117, 118; 170 N. W. 275; 171 N. W. 935. The relation between Leon Clapper and the Company was created by the law of Vermont; and as long as that relation persisted its incidents were properly subject to regulation there. For both Clapper and the Company were at all times residents of Vermont; the Company's principal place of business was located there; the contract of employment was made there; and the employee's duties required him to go into New Hampshire only for temporary and specific purposes, in response to orders given him at the Vermont office. The mere recognition by the courts of one State that parties by their conduct have subjected themselves to certain obligations arising under the law of another State is not to be deemed an extra-territorial application of the law of the State creating the obligation.*fn8 Compare

[ 286 U.S. Page 159]

     Trust Co. v. Grosman, 245 U.S. 412. It is true that the full faith and credit clause does not require the enforcement of every right conferred by a statute of another State. There is room for some play of conflicting policies. Thus, a plaintiff suing in New Hampshire on a statutory cause of action arising in Vermont might be denied relief because the forum fails to provide a court with jurisdiction of the controversy; see Chambers v. Baltimore & Ohio R. Co., 207 U.S. 142, 148, 149; compare Douglas v. New York, N. H. & H. R. Co., 279 U.S. 377; or because it fails to provide procedure appropriate to its determination, see Tennessee Coal, Iron & R. Co. v. George, 233 U.S. 354, 359; compare Slater v. Mexican National R. Co., 194 U.S. 120, 128, 129; or because the enforcement of the right conferred would be obnoxious to the public policy of the forum, compare Bothwell v. Buckbee, Mears Co., 275 U.S. 274, 277-279; Union Trust Co. v. Grosman, 245 U.S. 412; Bond v. Hume, 243 U.S. 15, 25; Converse v. Hamilton, 224 U.S. 243, 260, 261; or because the liability imposed is deemed a penal one, see Galveston, H. & S. A. Ry. Co. v. Wallace, 223 U.S. 481, 490, compare Stewart v. Baltimore & Ohio R. Co., 168 U.S. 445, 448. But the Company is in a position different from that of a plaintiff who seeks to enforce a cause of action conferred by the laws of another State. The right which it claims should be given effect is set up by way of defense to an asserted liability; and to a defense different considerations apply. Compare Home Ins. Co. v. Dick, 281 U.S. 397, 407, 408. A State may, on occasion, decline to enforce a foreign cause of action. In so doing, it merely denies a remedy, leaving unimpaired the plaintiff's substantive right, so that he is free to enforce it elsewhere. But to refuse to give effect to a substantive defense under the applicable law of another State, as under the circumstances here presented, subjects the defendant to irremediable liability. This may not be done. Compare Modern Woodmen Page 161} of America v. Mixer, 267 U.S. 544, 550, 551; Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Dunken, 266 U.S. 389; Royal Arcanum v. Green, 237 U.S. 531. See also Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Brown, 234 U.S. 542; Atchison, T. & S. F. Ry. Co. v. Sowers, 213 U.S. 55, 69.

Moreover, there is no adequate basis for the lower court's conclusion that to deny recovery would be obnoxious to the public policy of New Hampshire. No decision of the state court has been cited indicating that recognition of the Vermont statute would be regarded in New Hampshire as prejudicial to the interests of its citizens.*fn9 In support of the contention that the provision of the Vermont Act is contrary to the New Hampshire policy, it is urged that New Hampshire's compensation law is unique among workmen's compensation acts in that it permits the injured employee to elect, subsequent to injury, whether to bring a suit based upon negligence or to avail himself of the remedy provided by the Act; and that the legislature of New Hampshire has steadily refused to withdraw this privilege.*fn10 But the mere fact that the Vermont legislation does not conform to that of New

[ 286 U.S. Page 162]

     Hampshire does not establish that it would be obnoxious to the latter's public policy to give effect to the Vermont statute in cases involving only the rights of residents of that State incident to the relation of employer and employee created there. Northern Pacific R. Co. v. Babcock, 154 U.S. 190, 198. Nor does sufficient reason appear why it should be so regarded. The interest of New Hampshire was only casual. Leon Clapper was not a resident there. He was not continuously employed there. So far as appears, he had no dependent there. It is difficult to see how the State's interest would be subserved, under such circumstances, by burdening its courts with this litigation.

Sixth. The administratrix urges that the Company had in fact accepted the provision of the New Hampshire Compensation Act, which reserves to the employee the right to elect to sue for damages as at common law. It was upon this ground, primarily, that the Circuit Court of Appeals based, upon the rehearing, the affirmance of the judgment of the District Court. The circumstances under which the acceptance of the New Hampshire Act was filed show that the Company did not intend thereby to abandon its rights under the Vermont law in respect to Leon Clapper or other employees similarly situated. It had had occasion to hire in New Hampshire residents of that State for employment there in connection with the operation of its lines in that State. In case of injury of such employees, failure to accept the New Hampshire Act would have made the petitioner liable to an action for negligence in which it would have been denied the defenses of assumption of risk and injury by a fellow servant. Jutras v. Amoskeag Mfg. Co., 84 N. H. 171, 173; 147 Atl. 753; Levesque v. American Box & Lumber Co., 84 N. H. 543; 153 Atl. 10. Its acceptance is to be construed as referable only to such New Hampshire employees,

[ 286 U.S. Page 163]

     and not as bringing under the New Hampshire Act employees not otherwise subject to it.

We are of opinion that the rights as between the Company and Leon Clapper or his representative are to be determined according to the Vermont Act. The judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals must accordingly be reversed. We have no occasion to consider whether if the injured employee had been a resident of New Hampshire, or had been continuously employed there, or had left dependents there, recovery might validly have been permitted under New Hampshire law.

Reversed.

MR. JUSTICE CARDOZO took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Disposition

51 F.2d 992, 999, reversed.

MR. JUSTICE STONE, concurring.

I agree that in the circumstances of the present case, the courts of New Hampshire, in giving effect to the public policy of that state, would be at liberty to apply the Vermont statute and thus, by comity, make it the applicable law of New Hampshire. In the absence of any controlling decision of the New Hampshire courts, I assume, as does the opinion of the Court, that they would do so and that what they would do we should do. Hence, it seems unnecessary to decide whether that result could be compelled, against the will of New Hampshire, by the superior force of the full faith and credit clause.

If decision of that question could not be avoided, I should hesitate to say that the Constitution projects the authority of the Vermont statute across state lines into New Hampshire, so that the New Hampshire courts, in fixing the liability of the employer for a tortious act committed within the state, are compelled to apply Vermont law instead of their own. The full faith and credit clause

[ 286 U.S. Page 164]

     has not hitherto been thought to do more than compel recognition, outside the state, of the operation and effect of its laws upon persons and events within it. Bonaparte v. Tax Court, 104 U.S. 592; Atchison, T. & S. F. Ry. Co. v. Sowers, 213 U.S. 55; Olmsted v. Olmsted, 216 U.S. 386; Tennessee Coal, Iron & R. Co. v. George, 233 U.S. 354; Hood v. McGehee, 237 U.S. 611; see Union Trust Co. v. Grosman, 245 U.S. 412, 415, 416; Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Brown, 234 U.S. 542, 547.

It is true that in this case the status of employer and employe, terminable at will, was created by Vermont laws operating upon them while they were within that state. I assume that the fact of its creation there must be recognized elsewhere, whenever material. But I am not prepared to say that that status, voluntarily continued by employer and employe and given a locus in New Hampshire by their presence within the state, may not be regulated there according to New Hampshire law, or that the legal consequences of acts of the employer or employe there, which grow out of or affect the status in New Hampshire, must, by mandate of the Constitution, be either defined or controlled, in the New Hampshire courts, by the laws of Vermont rather than of New Hampshire.

The interest, which New Hampshire has, in exercising that control, derived from the presence of employer and employe within its borders, and the commission of the tortious act there, is at least as valid as that of Vermont, derived from the fact that the status is that of its citizens, and originated when they were in Vermont, before going to New Hampshire. I can find nothing in the history of the full faith and credit clause, or the decisions under it, which lends support to the view that it compels any state to subordinate its domestic policy, with respect to persons and their acts within its borders, to the laws of any other. On the contrary, I think it should be interpreted as leaving the courts of New Hampshire free, in

[ 286 U.S. Page 165]

     the circumstances now presented, either to apply or refuse to apply the law of Vermont, in accordance with their own interpretation of New Hampshire policy and law.


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