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CARVER v. CONRAIL

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA


December 27, 1984

ROBERT C. CARVER
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION

The opinion of the court was delivered by: LUONGO

LUONGO, Ch. J.

 Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq. At trial, liability was conceded and the jury awarded plaintiff damages amounting to $8,660.00. Plaintiff now moves under Pa.R.Civ.P. 238 *fn1" for prejudgment interest in the amount of $902.00. Because I conclude that Rule 238 should not apply in an FELA suit, I will deny the motion.

 The availability of interest in an action arising under a federal statute is governed by federal law, not the law of the forum state. See Norfolk & Western Railway Co. v. Liepelt, 444 U.S. 490, 493, 62 L. Ed. 2d 689, 100 S. Ct. 755 (1980) ("questions concerning the measure of damages in an FELA action are federal in character"); Faulkenberry v. Louisiana & Arkansas Railway Co., 551 F.2d 650 (5th Cir. 1977). Title 28 U.S.C. § 1961 provides for postjudgment interest on money damages recovered in federal court. Neither this section nor the FELA itself, however, contains any provision concerning the availability of prejudgment interest as part of a plaintiff's compensation. A number of courts have concluded on the basis of Congress' silence that state laws authorizing prejudgment interest cannot be invoked in an FELA action. E.g., Faulkenberry, 551 F.2d at 651; Kozar v. Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Co., 449 F.2d 1238, 1244 (6th Cir. 1971); Louisiana & Arkansas Railway Co. v. Pratt, 142 F.2d 847, 849 (5th Cir. 1944) (Congress' silence concerning prejudgment interest is "indicative of a considered purpose that no interest should be allowed in [FELA] actions prior to verdict;" state statutes are therefore superseded); Wicks v. Central Railroad Company of New Jersey, 129 N.J. Super. 145, 322 A.2d 488, cert. denied, 66 N.J. 317, 331 A.2d 17 (1974).

 Despite the authority cited above, I am not persuaded that the FELA's silence alone forecloses further consideration of whether prejudgment interest should be awarded. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a federal statute's failure to provide for prejudgment interest does not automatically prevent a federal court from awarding such interest in an action brought under the statute. Rodgers v. United States, 332 U.S. 371, 373, 92 L. Ed. 3, 68 S. Ct. 5 (1947). Absent an express statutory prohibition, the decision whether to grant prejudgment interest should depend upon Congress' purpose in enacting the statute under which the case arises and upon general equitable principles. Id.2

 On the basis of the factors described in Rodgers, I conclude that Pennsylvania's prejudgment interest rule should not be applied in an FELA action. The Third Circuit, in holding that federal courts must apply Pennsylvania's Rule 238 in diversity cases, determined that the availability of prejudgment interest has a substantive impact on the rights of litigants. Jarvis v. Johnson, 668 F.2d 740, 746 (3d Cir. 1982). Accord Renner v. Lichtenwalner, 513 F. Supp. 271, 273 (E.D. Pa. 1981). One of Congress' major purposes in enacting the FELA was to create nationwide uniformity with respect to compensation for injured railroad employees. Norfolk & Western Railway Co. v. Liepelt, 444 U.S. 490, 493, 62 L. Ed. 2d 689, 100 S. Ct. 755 n.5 (1980). This goal would be undermined if federal courts were to modify judgments in FELA cases on the basis of state substantive laws concerning damages. Application of Pennsylvania's prejudgment interest rule would also be inconsistent with the FELA's more specific purposes. The district court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania described the nature and significance of these purposes as follows:

 

FELA reflects the dissatisfaction of Congress with the common law duty of master to his servant. This statute supplants that duty with the far more drastic duty of paying damages for injury or death at work due in whole or in part to the employer's negligence. The general congressional intent was to provide liberal recovery for the injured worker. . . . FELA seeks to adjudge the cost of human injury and the inescapable expense of railroading, equitably between the worker and the carrier. . . . FELA enlarges the rights of railroad employees to recover for injuries by stripping the employer of his common law defenses and for all practical purposes the inquiry is limited to the question of whether negligence of the employer played any part, however small, in the injury which is the subject of the suit. . . . It is evident that Congress, by enacting FELA, has adjusted the equities between the railroad employer and the injured employee. To grant prejudgment interest would undermine the equities that have been balanced by the Act itself. This court does not believe that prejudgment interest should apply in FELA cases.

 Camplese v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 594 F. Supp. 44, 47-48 (M.D. Pa. 1984) (citations omitted) (emphasis original).

 I recognize that the Pennsylvania Superior Court came to a contrary conclusion in Humphries v. Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Co., 328 Pa. Super. 119, 476 A.2d 919 (1984). Although state and federal courts have concurrent jurisdiction over FELA actions, federal courts retain the ultimate responsibility for interpreting and applying federal law. See Conover v. Montemuro, 477 F.2d 1073, 1081 (3d Cir. 1973); Dugas v. Kansas City Southern Railway Lines, 473 F.2d 821, 826-27 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 414 U.S. 823, 38 L. Ed. 2d 56, 94 S. Ct. 124 (1973); Thomas v. Hempt Brothers, 371 Pa. 383, 392, 89 A.2d 776, 780 (1952), rev'd on different grounds, 345 U.S. 19, 73 S. Ct. 568, 97 L. Ed. 751 (1953). In any case, I find Judge Rambo's reasoning in Camplese to be persuasive. The Humphries court's reasoning consists primarily of a demonstration that the FELA and 28 U.S.C. § 1961 do not prohibit prejudgment interest. Although I accept this proposition, I cannot accept the superior court's conclusion that courts *fn3" are therefore free to apply Pennsylvania's Rule 238 in an FELA action. *fn4" Because the application of state law concerning prejudgment interest would undermine the policies of the FELA, I will deny plaintiff's motion.

 ORDER

 This 24th day of December, 1984, it is

 ORDERED that the Motion of plaintiff Robert C. Carver for Prejudgment Interest under Pa.R.Civ.P. 238 is DENIED.


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