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decided: December 20, 1909.



Author: Holmes

[ 215 U.S. Page 315]

 MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the court.

THIS is a writ of error to reverse a judgment rendered by the Court of Appeals of Kentucky in favor of the defendant in error, notwithstanding a petition and bond for removal to the Circuit Court of the United States. I.C. Ry. Co. v. Sheegog's Admr., 126 Kentucky, 252.

The defendant in error brought this action for causing the death of his intestate, John E. Sheegog, by the throwing off the track of a railroad train upon which the deceased was employed as an engineer. The defendants were the conductor of the train, the Illinois Central Railroad Company, which was operating the railroad and owned the train, and the Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans Railroad Company, which owned the road and tracks where the accident happened, but which had let the same to the first-mentioned road. It was alleged that through the negligence of both companies the roadbed, track, etc., were in an improper condition; that through the negligence of the Illinois Central the engine and cars were in an improper condition; and that the death was due to these causes acting jointly, the negligence of the Illinois Central in permitting its engine, cars and road to be operated while in such condition, and the negligence of the conductor in ordering and directing the management of the train.

In due season the Illinois Central Railroad Company, being an Illinois corporation, filed its petition to remove. The difficulty in its way was that the other two defendants were citizens and residents of Kentucky, to which State the plaintiff also belonged. To meet this the petition alleged that the plaintiff had joined these parties as defendants solely for the purpose of preventing the removal. It admitted the lease and averred that the Illinois Central Company operated the road exclusively and alone employed the deceased. It went on to allege that the charge of joint negligence against the lessor and lessee in causing the wreck as stated was made only for the above purpose and was fraudulent and knowingly false.

[ 215 U.S. Page 316]

     The question is whether these allegations were sufficient to entitle the petitioner to have its suit tried in the Federal court. It may be mentioned here that the jury found for the other two defendants and against the Illinois Central Railroad Company, but that fact has no bearing upon the case. Whitcomb v. Smithson, 175 U.S. 635, 637.

Of course, if it appears that the joinder was fraudulent as alleged, it will not be allowed to prevent the removal. Wecker v. National Enameling & Stamping Co., 204 U.S. 176. And further, there is no doubt that the allegations of fact, so far as material, in a petition to remove, if controverted, must be tried in the court of the United States, and therefore must be taken to be true when they fall to be considered in the state courts. Crehore v. Ohio & Mississippi Ry. Co., 131 U.S. 240, 244. Chesapeake & Ohio Ry. Co. v. McCabe, 213 U.S. 207. On the other hand, the mere epithet fraudulent in a petition does not end the matter. In the case of a tort which gives rise to a joint and several liability the plaintiff has an absolute right to elect, and to sue the tort-feasors jointly if he sees fit, no matter what his motive, and therefore an allegation that the joinder of one of the defendants was fraudulent, without other ground for the charge than that its only purpose was to prevent removal, would be bad on its face. Alabama Great Southern Ry. Co. v. Thompson, 200 U.S. 206. Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific Ry. Co. v. Bohon, 200 U.S. 221. If the legal effect of the declaration in this case is that the Illinois Central Railroad Company was guilty of certain acts and omissions by reason of which a joint liability was imposed upon it and its lessor, the joinder could not be fraudulent in a legal sense on any ground except that the charge against the alleged immediate wrongdoer, the Illinois Central Railroad itself, was fraudulent and false.

We assume, for the purposes of what we have to say, that the allegations concerning the lessor state merely a conclusion of law from the acts and omissions charged against its lessee. Or, if they be taken to be allegations of fact, we assume,

[ 215 U.S. Page 317]

     again merely for the purposes of decision, that they are effectively traversed by the petition to remove. The Kentucky Court of Appeals appears to us to have discussed the case on this footing. Whether it did or not, the question whether a joint liability of lessor and lessee would arise from the acts and omissions of the Illinois Central Railroad Company alone was a question of Kentucky law for it to decide, and it appears to us to have decided it.

We should observe in the first place that the cause of action alleged is not helped but rather hindered by the allegation that the deceased was an employe of the Illinois Central Road. The case did not stand on the breach of any duty owed peculiarly to employes, and on the other hand was encumbered with the fact that a part of the negligence charged was that of a fellow-servant. The plaintiff recovered for a breach of a duty to the public which at best was not released or limited by his intestate's having been in the company's service. Now whether we agree with it or not the doctrine is familiar that in the absence of statute a railroad company cannot get rid of the liabilities attached to the exercise of its franchise, by making a lease. Whatever may be the law as to purely contract relations, to some extent at least the duties of the lessor to the public, including that part of the public that travels on the railroad, are held to remain unchanged. In this case the Court of Appeals, after noting that it does not appear that the lessor was relieved by statute, quotes an earlier Kentucky decision which seemingly adopted the following language of a commentator: "If it be true, as the decisions with substantial unanimity admit, that a lessor railway remains liable for the discharge of its duties to the public unless expressly exempted therefrom by statute, it seems difficult to conceive its absence of liability in any event, except perhaps when the plaintiff is suing upon an express contract made with him by the lessee corporation." McCabe v. Maysville & Big Sandy R.R. Co., 112 Kentucky, 861, 875.

The court, however, then goes on to refer to a distinction

[ 215 U.S. Page 318]

     taken in a later Kentucky case between torts arising from negligent operation and those resulting from the omission of such duties as the proper construction and maintenance of the road, Swice v. Maysville & Big Sandy Ry. Co., 116 Kentucky, 253, and quotes, with seeming approval, decisions in other States limiting the liability of the lessor to the latter class. But it then proceeds to show that the recovery in this case is upon a breach of a duty to the public, and that according to the declaration and the verdict the injury was due, in part, at least, to the defective condition of the road. It ends by saying (p. 278): "The appellee not only had reasonable grounds to believe that the resident corporation was responsible to him, but he had actual grounds to believe it." We understand the words 'actual grounds' to mean that the belief was correct on the allegations and findings according to Kentucky law. So that, whatever may be the precise line drawn by that court hereafter, it stands decided that in Kentucky the facts alleged and proved against the Illinois Central Railroad in this case made its lessor jointly liable as matter of law. This decision we are bound to respect.

It follows, if our interpretation of the decision is correct, that no allegations were necessary concerning the Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans Railroad Company, except that it owned and had let the road to its co-defendant. The joint liability arising from the fault of the Illinois Central Road gave the plaintiff an absolute option to sue both if he preferred, and no motive could make his choice a fraud. The only way in which fraud could be made out would be by establishing that the allegation of a cause of action against the Illinois Central Railroad was fraudulent, or at least any part of it for which its lessor possibly could be held. But it seems to us that to allow that to be done on such a petition as is before us would be going too far in an effort to counteract evasions of Federal jurisdiction. We have assumed, for purposes of decision, that the railroad held on what may be called a secondary ground is to be charged, if at all, only as

[ 215 U.S. Page 319]

     a consequence of the liability of its lessee. But when we come to the principal and necessary defendant, a man is not to be prevented from trying his case before that tribunal that has sole jurisdiction if his declaration is true by a mere allegation that it is fraudulent and false. The jury alone can determine that issue unless something more appears than a naked denial. Louisville & Nashville R.R. Co. v. Wangelin, 132 U.S. 599, 603. Chesapeake & Ohio Ry. Co. v. Dixon, 179 U.S. 131, 138. However, the petition for removal hardly raises this point. For it directs itself wholly against the allegations of joint negligence, and does not attempt to anticipate the trial on the merits so far as the conduct of the Illinois Central is concerned.

Judgment affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE DAY, with whom concurred MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, dissenting.

In my view this decision departs from rulings recently made, and tends to disturb settled principles essential to the maintenance of jurisdiction in the Federal courts. In order to apply my ...

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