Law School Case Brief
Johnson v. Southern P. Co. - 117 F. 462, 1902 U.S. App. LEXIS 4455
The Act of Congress of March 2, 1893 (27 Stat. 531, c. 196), does not require locomotive engines to be equipped with automatic couplers. This statute clearly prohibits the use of any engine in moving interstate commerce not equipped with a power driving wheel brake, and the use of any car not equipped with automatic couplers, under a penalty of $100 for each offense; and it just as plainly omits to forbid, under that or any penalty, the use of any car which is not equipped with a power driving wheel brake, and the use of any engine that is not equipped with automatic couplers. This striking omission to express any intention to prohibit the use of engines unequipped with automatic couplers raises the legal presumption that no such intention existed, and prohibits the courts from importing such a purpose into the act, and enacting provisions to give it effect. The familiar rule that the expression of one thing is the exclusion of others points to the same conclusion. Section 2 of the Act does not declare that it shall be unlawful to use any engine or car not equipped with automatic couplers, but that it shall be unlawful only to use any car lacking this equipment. This clear and concise definition of the unlawful act is a cogent and persuasive argument against the contention that the use without couplers of locomotives, hand cars, or other means of conducting interstate traffic, was made a misdemeanor by this act. Where the statute enumerates the persons, things, or acts affected by it, there is an implied exclusion of all others.
Plaintiff Johnson was the head brakeman on a freight train owned and operated by defendant Southern Pacific Company ("Southern"). Johnson was directed to uncouple the engine from the train and to couple it to a dining car that belonged to Southern and was standing on a side track; the dining care was to be turned around so it could be picked-up for by the next train. The dining car was equipped with an automatic coupler; the engine was equipped with a power driving wheel brake, but not with an automatic coupler. Automatic couplers allowed cars to be coupled and uncoupled without the necessity of workers going between the ends of the cars to uncouple them. In order for Johnson to perform his assigned task, it was therefore necessary for him to go between the engine and the dining car to accomplish the coupling. In so doing, Johnson's hand was caught between the engine bumper and the dining car bumper and crushed, which necessitated amputation of the hand above the wrist. Johnson filed a lawsuit against Southern in Utah state court seeking to recover damages for his injuries. Southern removed the action to federal district court based on diversity of citizenship. After trial, judgment was rendered for Southern on the ground that Johnson assumed the risk of coupling the engine and dining car. Johnson appealed, arguing that the Act of Congress of March 2, 1893 (27 Stat. 531, c. 196), required locomotive engines to be equipped with automatic couplers, and Southern was liable under that statute for operating an engine without such a coupler.
Was Johnson relieved from the common law assumption of risk by the Act of Congress of March 2, 1893, which directed that all railroad cars be equipped with couplers?
The appellate court affirmed the trial court's judgment. The court ruled that, based on the rules of statutory construction, the Act of Congress of March 2, 1893 did not require locomotive engines to be equipped with automatic couplers. The court observed that the dining car was equipped with an automatic coupler, and the engine was equipped with a power driving wheel brake, as prescribed by the Act. There was nothing in the Act to suggest that engines were included by the words "any car," as used in the second section of the Act, and thus required to have automatic couplers. The court further ruled that the trial properly found that the dining car was not engaged in interstate commerce, which took the case outside the coverage of the Act.
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