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HOWARD H. HUMPHRIES v. PITTSBURGH AND LAKE ERIE RAILROAD COMPANY (04/27/84)

filed: April 27, 1984.

HOWARD H. HUMPHRIES
v.
PITTSBURGH AND LAKE ERIE RAILROAD COMPANY, CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION AND THE BALTIMORE & OHIO RAILROAD COMPANY. APPEAL OF PITTSBURGH & LAKE ERIE RAILROAD COMPANY



No. 538 Pittsburgh, 1982, Appeal from the Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Civil Division at No. G.D. 75-23858.

COUNSEL

Alan M. Shapiro, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

John P. Gismondi, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

David P. Helwig, Pittsburgh, for Consolidated, participating party.

Wieand, Tamilia and Popovich, JJ.

Author: Popovich

[ 328 Pa. Super. Page 121]

This is an appeal from the Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, entered following an en banc Order denying appellant's (Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Co.'s) motion for judgment non obstante veredicto. Pa.R.App.P. 301(a). We affirm in a case of first impression.

On October 6, 1978, plaintiff-appellee (Howard H. Humphries) filed a complaint in trespass alleging, in relevant part, that:

THIRD: At all times relevant to this suit, the defendant[-appellant] was a common carrier of freight for hire and by rail and was engaged in interstate commerce.

FIFTH: Jurisdiction is conferred upon this court under and by virtue of the provisions of the Federal Employers' Liability Act of Congress . . . .

SIXTH: On or about May 19, 1978, at approximately 12:30 p.m., the plaintiff was performing his duties as a track laborer for the defendant on the defendant's single main track, Mon River Bridge, Homestead, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff was engaged in work which was within the scope of his employment. The plaintiff, along with three other

[ 328 Pa. Super. Page 122]

    servants of the defendant, was using a rail stretcher to perform his assigned duties. During the course of this activity, a bolt that was attached to the rail stretcher broke and the plaintiff was caused to fall to the ground by reason of the defendant's negligence with the result that the plaintiff suffered severe injuries and damages . . . .

In conclusion, a claim for damages in an amount in excess of $10,000.00 was sought.

Thereafter, following the disposition of various pretrial items (e.g., interrogatories, statements and depositions), the case proceeded to trial and a jury found for the plaintiff in the amount of $12,400.00. The plaintiff followed this with a submission of a motion seeking prejudgment interest pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure No. 238.*fn1 The court entered an order that remolded the verdict by "adding delay damages in the amount of $3,203.00, reflecting a total award of $15,603.00." What ensued was the filing of an

[ 328 Pa. Super. Page 123]

    appeal questioning the propriety of the award as to the delay damages.

More particularly, the issue preserved for our review*fn2 concerns whether Pennsylvania's Rule 238 may be invoked in a Federal Employers' Liability Act*fn3 suit heard in a court of common pleas. We believe it can be.

Our discussion starts with the proposition that state courts are forbidden from discriminating against a federal cause of action. This prohibition is manifested in the supremacy clause of Article VI of the United States Constitution, see Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386, 67 S.Ct. 810, 91 L.Ed. 967 (1947), and requires state courts to enforce federal law. Household Consumer Discount Co. v. Vespaziani, 490 Pa. 209, 415 A.2d 689 (1980). Since Congress has made available the state courts, as well as federal ones,*fn4 for the vindication of that right, it is our task to determine whether federal or state law governs the resolution of a given question concerning the federally created cause of action. Id.

Instantly, this means that "[s]ince [Humphries'] claim arises under a federal statute, whether prejudgment interest will be allowed is initially a question of federal law and not the law of the forum state. See Wallis v. Pan American Petroleum Corporation, 384 U.S. 63, 86 ...


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