MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioner brought this action in a Georgia state court claiming damages from the respondent railroad under the Federal Employers' Liability Act. 45 U. S. C. § 51 et seq.
First. The Georgia Court of Appeals held that "Stripped of its details, the petition shows that the plaintiff was injured while in the performance of his duties when he stepped on a large clinker lying alongside the track in the railroad yards. . . . The mere presence of a large clinker in a railroad yard can not be said to constitute an act of negligence. . . . In so far as the allegations of the petition show, the sole cause of the accident was the act of the plaintiff in stepping on this large clinker, which he was able to see and could have avoided." 77 Ga.App. 783, 49 S.E.2d 835. The court reached the foregoing conclusions by following a Georgia rule of practice to construe pleading allegations "most strongly against the pleader." Following this local rule of construction the court said that "In the absence of allegations to the contrary, the inference arises that the plaintiff's vision was unobscured and that he could have seen and avoided the clinker." 77 Ga.App. 783, 49 S.E.2d 835. Under the same local rule the court found no precise allegation that the particular clinker on which petitioner
It is contended that this construction of the complaint is binding on us. The argument is that while state courts are without power to detract from "substantive rights" granted by Congress in FELA cases, they are free to follow their own rules of "practice." and "procedure." To what extent rules of practice and procedure may themselves dig into "substantive rights" is a troublesome question at best as is shown in the very case on which respondent relies. Central Vermont R. Co. v. White, 238 U.S. 507. Other cases in this Court
Second. We hold that the allegations of the complaint do set forth a cause of action which should not have been dismissed. It charged that respondent had allowed "clinkers" and other debris "to collect in said yards along the side of the tracks"; that such debris made the "yards unsafe"; that respondent thus failed to supply him a reasonably safe place to work, but directed him to work in said yards "under the conditions above described"; that it was necessary for petitioner "to cross over all such material and debris"; that in performing his duties he "ran around" an engine and "stepped on a large clinker lying beside the tracks as aforesaid which caused petitioner to fall and be injured"; that petitioner's injuries were "directly and proximately caused in whole or in part by the negligence of the defendant . . . (a) In failing to furnish plaintiff with a reasonably safe place in which to work as herein alleged. (b) In leaving clinkers . . . and other debris along the side of track in its yards as aforesaid, well knowing that said yards in such condition were dangerous for use by brakemen, working therein and that petitioner would have to perform his duties with said yards in such condition."
Other allegations need not be set out since the foregoing if proven would show an injury of the precise kind for which Congress has provided a recovery. These allegations, fairly construed, are much more than a charge that petitioner "stepped on a large clinker lying alongside the track in the railroad yards." They also charge that the railroad permitted clinkers and other debris to be left along the tracks, "well knowing" that this was dangerous to workers; that petitioner was compelled to "cross over" the clinkers and debris; that in doing so he fell and was injured; and that all of this was in violation of the railroad's
Here the Georgia court has decided as a matter of law that no inference of railroad negligence could be drawn from the facts alleged in this case. Rather the court itself has drawn from the pleadings the reverse inference that the sole proximate cause of petitioner's injury was his own negligence. Throughout its opinion the appellate court clearly reveals a preoccupation with what it deemed to be petitioner's failure to take proper precautions.
Strict local rules of pleading cannot be used to impose unnecessary burdens upon rights of recovery authorized by federal laws. "Whatever springes the State may set for those who are endeavoring to assert rights that the
Upon trial of this case the evidence offered may or may not support inferences of negligence. We simply hold that under the facts alleged it was error to dismiss the complaint and that petitioner should be allowed to try his case. Covington Turnpike Co. v. Sandford, supra, at 596; Anderson v. A., T. & S. F. R. Co., 333 U.S. 821.
The cause is reversed and remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
Reversed and remanded.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, whom MR. JUSTICE JACKSON joins, dissenting.
Insignificant as this case appears on the surface, its disposition depends on the adjustment made between two judicial systems charged with the enforcement of a law binding on both. This, it bears recalling, is an important factor in the working of our federalism without needless friction.
Have the Georgia courts disrespected the law of the land in the judgment under review? Since Congress empowers State courts to entertain suits under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, a State cannot wilfully shut its courts to such cases. Second Employers' Liability
So also, States have varying systems of pleading and practice. One State may cherish formalities more than another, one State may be more responsive than another to procedural reforms. If a litigant chooses to enforce a Federal right in a State court, he cannot be heard to object if he is treated exactly as are plaintiffs who press like claims arising under State law with regard to the form in which the claim must be stated—the particularity, for instance, with which a cause of action must be described. Federal law, though invoked in a State court, delimits the Federal claim—defines what gives a right to recovery and what goes to prove it. But the form in which the claim must be stated need not be different from what the State exacts in the enforcement of like obligations created by it, so long as such a requirement does not add to, or diminish, the right as defined by Federal law, nor burden the realization of this right in the actualities of litigation.
Of course "this Court is not concluded" by the view of a State court regarding the sufficiency of allegations of a Federal right of action or defense. This merely means that a State court cannot defeat the substance of a Federal
The crucial question for this Court is whether the Georgia courts have merely enforced a local requirement of pleading, however finicky, applicable to all such litigation in Georgia without qualifying the basis of recovery under the Federal Employers' Liability Act or weighting the scales against the plaintiff. Compare Norfolk Southern R. Co. v. Ferebee, 238 U.S. 269, with Central Vermont R. Co. v. White, 238 U.S. 507. Georgia may adhere to its requirements of pleading, but it may not put "unreasonable obstacles in the way" of a plaintiff who seeks its courts to obtain what the Federal Act gives him. Davis v. Wechsler, 263 U.S. 22, 25.
These decisive differences are usually conveyed by the terms "procedure" and "substance." The terms are not meaningless even though they do not have fixed undeviating meanings. They derive content from the functions they serve here in precisely the same way in which we have applied them in reverse situations—when confronted with the problem whether the Federal courts respected the substance of State-created rights, as required by the rule in Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, or impaired them by professing merely to enforce them by the mode in which the Federal courts do business. Review on this aspect of State court judgments in Federal Employers' Liability cases presents essentially the same kind of problem as that with which this Court dealt in Guaranty Trust Co. v. York, 326 U.S. 99, applied at the last Term in Ragan v. Merchants Transfer & Warehouse Co., 337 U.S. 530, and Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541, 555. Congress has authorized State courts to enforce Federal rights, and Federal courts State-created
In the light of these controlling considerations, I cannot find that the Court of Appeals of Georgia has either sought to evade the law of the United States or did so unwittingly. That court showed full awareness of the nature and scope of the rights and obligations arising under the Federal Employers' Liability Act as laid down in this Court's decisions.
It is not credible that the Georgia court would be found wanting had it stated that under Georgia rules, as a matter of pleading, it was necessary to state in so many words that the presence of the particular clinker was due to the defendant's negligence, and to set forth the detailed circumstances that made the defendant responsible, although the range of inference open to a jury was not thereby affected. This is what that court's decision says in effect in applying the stiff Georgia doctrine of construing a complaint most strongly against the pleader. It is not a denial of a Federal right for Georgia to reflect something of the pernicketiness with which seventeenth-century common law read a pleading. Had the Georgia court given leave to amend in order to satisfy elegancies of pleading, the case would of course not be here. With full knowledge of the niceties of pleading required by Georgia the plaintiff had that opportunity. Georgia Code § 81-1301 (1933).
I would affirm the judgment.