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BRADFORD ELECTRIC LIGHT CO. v. CLAPPER

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 ...


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