Law School Case Brief
Johnson v. S. Pac. Co. - 199 Cal. 126, 248 P. 501 (1926)
The burden is upon the plaintiff in an action against a railroad under the Federal Employers' Liability Act to establish the fact that the employer, at the very time when its employee through its negligence received the injuries which caused his death, was engaged in interstate commerce, the presumption being, in the absence of such proof, that the employer while in the use and operation of its railway within the state was engaged in intrastate commerce.
The decedent, Gustave C. Johnson, was employed by defendant Southern Pacific Company ("Southern")as a switchman. While moving a train of freight-cars, another employee's negligence caused a collision; Johnson died in the accident. Plaintiff Effie May Johnson, the administratrix the decedent's estate, filed an action against Southern in California state court seeking to recover damages for the decedent's death. Southern filed a motion for nonsuit, which the trial court granted. The trial court agreed with Southern that the train of empty cars on which the decedent was riding at the time of the collision were engaged in intrastate commerce, and thus the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Johnson appealed.
Did the administratrix provide sufficient evidence to prove that the train of empty cars on which Johnson was riding at the time of the collision were engaged in interstate commerce, thus bringing the cause of action within the jurisdiction of the state superior court under the Federal Employers' Liability Act?
In affirming, the court found that the proof that the administratrix offered was insufficient in that the two particular freight cars she that she claimed were devoted to interstate uses were owned not by Southern, but rather by private owners located within the State of California and had no inherent interstate quality at all. Therefore, the decedent was engaged in intrastate, not interstate, commerce at the time of his fatal injuries, and the California Industrial Accident Commission alone had jurisdiction over Johnson's action.
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