MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the court.
The St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad Company, a Missouri corporation engaged in commerce as a carrier of freight and passengers through Tennessee and other States, was sued in one of the courts of Tennessee by the plaintiff in error, Delk, for damages alleged to have been sustained by him while engaged in the discharge of his duties as an employe of the company. On the petition of the railroad company the case was removed to the Circuit Court of the United States on the ground of diversity of citizenship.
The declaration contained several counts, but the basis of the plaintiff's claim is the alleged failure of the railroad company to provide proper automatic couplers, as required by the act of Congress of March 2, 1893, known as the original Safety Appliance Act. 27 Stat. 531. The company filed a plea, putting in issue the material allegations of the declaration. It also proceeded on the ground that the injuries complained of were caused by the plaintiff's own fault in not observing proper care in doing the work in which he was engaged when injured.
Upon a trial of the case in the Federal court there was a verdict and judgment in favor of the plaintiff for $7,500. The company moved for a new trial, and the trial court
The title of the Safety Appliance statute declared it to be "An act to promote the safety of employes and travelers upon railroads by compelling common carriers engaged in interstate commerce to equip their cars with automatic couplers and continuous brakes and their locomotives with driving-wheel brakes, and for other purposes." 27 Stat. 531, c. 196.
The provisions of the act, so far as it is material to set them out, appear in the opinion of Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railway Co. v. United States, just decided, ante, p. 559. The Circuit Court of Appeals well said, in the present case, that while the general purpose of the statute was to promote the safety of employes and travelers, its immediate purpose was to provide a particular mode to effect that result, namely, the equipping of each car used in moving interstate traffic with couplers, coupling automatically by impact and which can be uncoupled without the necessity of men going between the ends of the cars.
The material facts out of which the suit arises and as to which there seems to be no dispute are these: The defendant company received lumber to be carried from Giles, Arkansas, to Memphis, Tennessee. In order that the consignee might receive the lumber, the car containing it was delivered, October 2, 1906, to the Union Railway Company, known as the Belt Line. But it was promptly returned the next day to the present defendant because of a defect in the coupling and uncoupling appliance on one end of it. The car in question was in a new
On the morning after the return of the car, October 4, 1906, Delk, acting under instructions of the agent of the defendant company, undertook to switch certain cars out of the string of nine cars, so as to get two empty cars and three coal cars for removal to some other part of the company's line. The remaining facts upon which the Circuit Court of Appeals proceeded cannot, that court said, be better stated than they are in the brief for the Interstate Commerce Commission, in whose behalf special counsel appeared in that court. Those facts are set out in the opinion of the court below as follows: "The cars were on the track extending in the general direction of east and west, the engine being on the western end of the nine cars. The nine cars were drawn off this team track on to the lead track. The eastern-most two cars, being empties, were left on the team track. The remaining seven cars were then pushed back on the team track. The eastern-most two cars of the seven cars, loaded with brick, were left on the team track. The remaining five cars were again drawn on to the lead track, the three cars loaded with coal were left thereon. The engine, with the remaining two cars, again went upon the team track, and defendant in error undertook to couple the eastern end of the two cars attached to the engine to the western end of the two cars just left on the team track, but owing to a defect in the coupler on the eastern end of the two cars attached to the engine, the coupling could not be made without a man going between the ends of the cars. The defect on car K.C., F.S. & M. No. 21,696 was this: The chain connecting the uncoupling lever to the lock pin or lock block was disconnected, owing to a break in the lock
The majority of the Circuit Court of Appeals (Judges Severens and Richards) held that the car, with the defective coupler, was, at the time of the injury in question and within the meaning of the act, engaged in interstate commerce. Judge Severens said: "The plaintiff in error claims that it was not, and was laid by for repairs. But we are inclined to think otherwise. Its cargo had not yet reached its destination and was not then ready for the delivery to the consignee wherewith the commerce would have ended.
Nor were the Judges of the Circuit Court of Appeals in accord as to the meaning and scope of the Safety Appliance Act — Judges Lurton and Severens holding that the statute, reasonably construed, did not impose on the carrier an absolute duty to provide automatic couplers of the kind specified by Congress, and did not subject the carrier to the penalties prescribed, if it appeared that due care and diligence was exercised in meeting the requirements of the act. Judge Richards was of opinion that the statute did not make care and diligence on the part of the carrier ingredients in the act condemned, and that, independently of any inquiry as to its care or diligence, the carrier was liable to the penalty, if the coupler used was not, in fact, such a one as the statute required. The Circuit Court of Appeals, in its opinion, said that the trial court gave the law to the jury by stating the language of the statute, but in such a way as to lead the jury to suppose that the statute imposed an absolute duty on the carrier to keep its cars in good order at all times. An order was therefore made reversing the judgment of the Circuit Court and directing the case to be sent back for a new trial. But this court granted a writ of certiorari and the case is here primarily for the review of the judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals.
The construction of the statute, adopted by a majority of the Circuit Court of Appeals to the effect that the act did not impose upon the carrier an absolute duty to provide and keep proper couplers at all times and under all circumstances, but was bound only to the extent of its
One other matter requires notice, particularly in view of the decision to-day in Schlemmer v. Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburg Ry. Co., in which it is held that under the original Safety Appliance Act, and until that act was amended by that of April 22, 1908, 35 Stat. 65, c. 149, contributory negligence on the part of the party injured, where such negligence was the proximate cause of the injury, was a valid defence for the interstate carrier. It was contended at the trial of this case that the court erred in not instructing the jury, as matter of law, in accordance with the defendant's request, that the plaintiff was guilty of contributory negligence of such a character as to bar him from relief. The rule upon that subject is well settled by the authorities. It is that "when the evidence given at the trial, with all inferences that the jury could justifiably draw from it, is insufficient to support a verdict for the plaintiff, so that such a verdict, if returned, must be set aside, the court is not bound to submit the case to the jury but may direct a verdict for the defendant." Pleasants v. Fant, 22 Wall. 116, 122; Phoenix Ins. Co. v. Doster, 106 U.S. 30, 32; Randall v. Baltimore & Ohio R.R. Co., 109 U.S. 478, 482; Con. Mut. L. Ins. Co. v. Lathrop, 111 U.S. 612, 615. In the Doster Case, it was said that where a cause fairly depends upon the weight or effect of the testimony, it is one for the consideration and determination of the jury under proper instructions as to the principles of law involved. These rules being applied in the present case, we are clear that the court would have erred if it had taken the case from the jury and directed a verdict for the company. The evidence in this case was by no means all one way. There was fair ground for difference of opinion, and
In this state of the record what must be done with the case? As the case is here upon certiorari to review the judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals, this court has the entire record before it with the power to review the action of that court as well as direct such disposition of the case as that court might have done when hearing the writ of error sued out for the review of the action of the
For the reason stated, the judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals must be reversed; but as we do not perceive that any error of law was committed in the Circuit Court, to the prejudice of the carrier, the judgment of the latter court must be affirmed.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE LURTON did not participate in the decision by this court in this case.