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U.S. Supreme Court

Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Southwell, 275 U.S. 64 (1927)

Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Southwell

No. 41

Argued October 18, 1927

Decided October 31, 1927

275 U.S. 64




Assuming that railroad company could be held liable under the Federal Employers Liability Act for the willful killing of one of its employees by another if it resulted from the negligent failure of their superior officer to foresee the danger and prevent it, the charge of such negligence is not borne out by the evidence in this case. P. 275 U. S. 65.

191 N.C. 153 reversed.

Certiorari 271 U.S. 654, to a judgment of the Supreme Court of North Carolina sustaining a recovery by the widow and administratrix of a deceased employee from the railroad in an action based on the Federal Employers Liability Act.

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an action brought against the petitioner by the administratrix and widow of one of the petitioner's employees, chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 275 U. S. 65

for the death of her husband by a murder which it is alleged that the petitioner "with gross negligence willfully and wantonly caused, permitted and allowed." In view of the decision in Davis v. Green, 260 U. S. 349, the plaintiff did not attempt to hold the petitioner liable as principal in the act, but relied upon its failure to prevent the death. The Supreme Court of North Carolina upheld a judgment for the plaintiff. 191 N.C. 153. It is admitted that the action is based upon the Federal Employers' Liability Act of April 22, 1908, c. 149, § 2; 35 Stat. 65, and the question is whether there was any evidence that the death resulted in whole or in part from the negligence of any officer of the petitioning road, under the law as applied by this Court. New Orleans & Northeastern R. Co. v. Harris, 247 U. S. 367, 247 U. S. 371.

It would be straining the language of the Act somewhat to say in any case that a willful homicide "resulted" from the failure of some superior officer to foresee the danger and to prevent it. In this case, at all events, we are of opinion that there was no evidence that warrants such a judgment. It is not necessary to state the facts in detail. Those mainly relied upon are that Fonvielle, the general yardmaster, knew that Southwell, the man who was killed, on previous occasions had used threatening language to Dallas, who shot Southwell; that Fonvielle knew or ought to have known that they were likely to meet when they did; that Fonvielle was with Dallas, his subordinate, just before that moment, and that Dallas said to him "Cap, all I want to do is to ask Southwell to lay off of me and let me alone," and that Fonvielle said that he must not see Southwell, that, if he saw him and talked to him, it might bring about unpleasant consequences; that Fonvielle left Dallas and, after having gone a short distance, saw him and Southwell approaching each other, and had taken a few steps towards them with a view to separate them in case of an altercation, but that, before he had chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 275 U. S. 66

time to reach them, the shot was fired. Fonvielle knew that Dallas had a pistol, but there was a strike at the time. Dallas was a special policeman, and had a right to carry it, and not unnaturally did. The only sinister designs of which there is any evidence were of Southwell against Dallas, unless Dallas' remark just before the shooting be taken to foreshadow the event, which it certainly did not seem to until after the event had happened. It appears to us extravagant to hold the petitioner liable in a case like this. See St. Louis-San Francisco R. Co. v. Mills, 271 U. S. 344.

Judgment reversed.


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