Open main menu


Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

103 U.S. 11

Dennick  v.  Railroad Company

ERROR to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of New York.

An act of the General Assembly of the State of New Jersey, approved March 3, 1848, provides as follows:--

'SECT. 1. That whenever the death of a person shall be caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default, and the act, neglect, or default is such as would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages in respect thereof, then, and in every such case, the person who, or the corporation which, would have been liable, if death had not ensued, shall be liable to an action for damages, notwithstanding the death of the person injured and although the death shall have been caused under such circumstances as amount in law to felony.

'SECT. 2. That every such action shall be brought by and in the names of the personal representatives of such deceased person, and the amount recovered in every such action shall be for the exclusive benefit of the widow and next of kin of such deceased person, and shall be distributed to such widow and next of kin in the proportions provided by law in relation to the distribution of personal property left by persons dying intestate; and in every such action the jury may give such damages as they shall deem fair and just, with reference to the pecuniary injury resulting from such death, to the wife and next of kin of such deceased person.'

The plaintiff brought suit in a State court of New York against The Central Railroad Company of New Jersey, to recover damages for the death of her husband by an accident on the defendant's road. The company entered an appearance and removed the case into the Circuit Court of the United States, on the ground that the plaintiff was a citizen of New York and the defendant a corporation of New Jersey. The complaint filed in the Circuit Court alleges that the plaintiff was his widow, and her children were his next of kin; that she was administratrix of his estate, appointed by the proper court in New York; and that his death was caused by the negligence of the defendant. Damages in the sum of $15,000 were claimed.

The answer denied the negligence, but admitted that the death was caused by the train running off the track in New Jersey, that there were a widow and next of kin, and that the plaintiff had been appointed administratrix by the surrogate of Albany County, New York.

The parties waived a jury. The plaintiff introduced evidence tending to prove the negligence charged, whereupon the court ruled that for the death of her husband, which occurred in the State of New Jersey, she could not, under the special statute of that State, recover in the action. Judgment was rendered for the defendant. The plaintiff then sued out this writ of error.

The court below having acquired jurisdiction of the parties had full power to pass upon their relative rights and liabilities. The judicial power of every government looks beyond its municipal laws, and, in civil cases, between parties within its jurisdiction, lays hold of all subjects of litigation, though they are relative to the laws of the most distant part of the globe. The Federalist, No. 82. Rights which have accrued by the law of a foreign State are treated as valid everywhere; cognizance is therefore taken of extra-territorial facts, and of persons not generally subject to the jurisdiction. Westlake, Private Int. Law, p. 54, sect. 58.

In the jurisprudence of England, transitory actions at common law were entertained against, and at the suit of, any British subject or alien friend, wherever the cause of action really arose, if process might be served upon the defendant. Id. p. 105, sect. 120; 3 Stephen, Com. 451; 4 Phillimore, Int. Law, 648. Nor was there any distinction in this respect whether the cause of action was ex contractu or ex delicto. Rafael v. Verelst, 2 W. Bl. 983, 1055; Scott v. Seymour, 1 H. & C. 219; Phillips v. Eyre, Law Rep. 6 Q. B. 1; Madrazo v. Willes, 3 Barn. & Ald. 353; Mostyn v. Fabrigas, Cowp. 161; De la Vega v. Viana, 1 Barn. & Ad. 284; 1 Sm. L. C. 340.

The same principle has been recognized and applied without qualification in the courts of this county to cases arising on contracts: Cox v. United States, 6 Pet. 172; Caldwell v. Carrington, 9 id. 86; Green v. Van Buskirk, 7 Wall. 139; King v. Sarria, 69 N. Y. 24; Barrell v. Benjamin, 15 Mass. 354; Roberts v. Knight, 7 Allen (Mass.), 449; Miller v. Black, 2 Jones (N. C.) L. 341; Ruse v. Mutual, & c. Insurance Co., 23 N. Y. 516; and to personal injuries or torts: McKenna v. Fisk, 1 How. 241; McCormick v. Pennsylvania Railroad Co., 49 N. Y. 303; Boynton v. Boynton, 43 How. Ap. Cas. 383; Johnson v. Dalton, 1 Cow. (N. Y.) 543; Smith v. Bull, 17 Wend. (N. Y.) 323; Stout v. Wood, 1 Blackf. (Ind.) 71; Lister v. Wright, 2 Hill (N. Y.), 320; Gardner v. Thomas, 14 Johns. (N. Y.) 134; Glen v. Hodges, 9 id. 68; Smith v. Butler, 1 Daly (N. Y.), 508; McIvor v. McCabe, 26 How. Ap. Cas. 257; Hull v. Vreeland, 42 Barb. (N. Y.) 543; Latourette v. Clark, 45 id. 327; De Witt v. Buchanan, 54 id. 31; Newman v. Goddard, 3 Hun (N. Y.), 70; Watts v. Thomas, 2 Bibb (Ky.), 458; Wall v. Hoskins, 5 Ired. (N. C.) L. 177; Shiff v. McCrow, 3 Murphy (N. C.), 463; Walters v. Breeder, 3 Jones (N. C.) L. 64; Northern Central Railroad Co. v. Scholl's Ex., 16 Md. 332; Great Western Railway Co. v. Miller, 19 Mich. 305; Ackerson v. Erie Railroad Co., 31 N. J. L. 309.

As the rule is founded on the principle of comity, the foreign law, if not contrary to the public policy of the country where the suit is brought, nor to abstract justice or pure morals, will be recognized and enforced. King v. Sarria, 69 N. Y. 24; Phillips v. Eyre, Law Rep. 6 Q. B. 1; Wall v. Hoskins, supra.

It is no objection that all the parties to the suit are aliens or non-residents, and that the cause of action arose abroad. Rafael v. Verelst, supra; Johnson v. Dalton, 1 Cow. (N. Y.) 543; Mason v. Ship Blaireau, 2 Cranch, 240; Barrell v. Benjamin, 15 Mass. 354; Roberts v. Knights, 7 Allen (Mass.), 449; Watts v. Thomas, 2 Bibb (Ky.), 458; De Witt v. Buchanan, 54 Barb. (N. Y.) 31; Newman v. Goodard, 3 Hun (N. Y.), 70; Latourette v. Clark, 45 Barb. (N. Y.) 327; Smith v. Spinola, 2 Johns. (N. Y.) 198; Gardner v. Thomas, 14 id. 134; Smith v. Butler, 1 Daly (N. Y.), 508; Melan v. Fitzjames, 1 Bos. & Pul. 138; Miller v. Black, 2 Jones (N. C.) L. 341; McCormick v. Pennsylvania Railroad Co., 49 N. Y. 303; De la Vega v. Viana, 1 Barn. & Ad. 284; Walters v. Breeder, 3 Jones (N. C.) L. 64; Ruse v. Mutual, &c. Insurance Co., 23 N. Y. 516; Ackerson v. Erie Railroad Co., 31 N. J. L. 309.

If, however, in this respect, the rule as between subjects or citizens of different nations were otherwise, it would not affect the right of a citizen of one State to sue in the courts of another, as under the Federal Constitution he is entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States, including the right of resorting to the same legal remedies. Barrell v. Benjamin, 15 Mass. 354: McIvor v. McCabe, supra; Miller v. Black, supra; Bank of Augusta v. Earle, 13 Pet. 520.

The rule has been specially applied to foreign corporations; and actions have been sustained in the courts of one State for injuries to persons and property, caused by negligence in operating railways in other States. Bissell v. Michigan Railroad Co., 22 N. Y. 258; McCormick v. Pennsylvania Railroad Co., supra; Howe Insurance Co. v. Pennsylvania Railroad Co., 11 Hun (N. Y.), 182.

There is no reason in morals, justice, or policy why the same rule should not be applied to all transitory actions for injuries to persons and property, whether recognized by the common law, or created by statute to meet new exigencies of modern life. The claim of comity, on which the rule is founded, is as urgent and unanswerable in the one case as in the other. Stallknecht v. Pennsylvania Railroad Co., 13 Hun (N. Y.), 451; Ex parte Van Riper, 20 Wend. (N. Y.) 614; Lowry v. Inman, 46 N. Y. 119.

A personal liability created by the statute of another State will, as other personal obligations, be enforced according to the course of procedure in the place where the defendant is found. Lowry v. Inman, supra; Pickering v. Fisk, 6 Vt. 102; Railroad v. Sprayberry, 8 Bax. (Tenn.) 341; McDonald v. Mallory, 77 N. Y. 547; Whitford v. Panama Railroad Co., 23 id. 465; Vandeventer v. New York & New Haven Railroad Co., 27 Barb. (N. Y.) 244; Great Western Railway Co. v. Miller, 19 Mich. 305; Selma, & c. Railroad Co. v. Lacy, 43 Ga. 461.

The statute in question has no extra-territorial force, and it gives a cause of action only to a personal representative appointed in New Jersey when the death occurred in that State. Mackay, Admx., v. Central Railroad Co. of New Jersey, 14 Blatchf. 65; Whitford v. Panama Railroad Co., 23 N. Y. 465; Beach v. Bay State Co., 30 Barb. (N. Y.) 433.

The alleged injury in this case was received in New Jersey, and the intestate died there. The question therefore arises whether the damages which her statute authorizes his personal representative to sue for and obtain for the benefit of his widow and next of kin can be recovered by an administrator appointed under the laws of New York.

An administrator takes his title by force of the grant of administration. Marcy v. Marcy, 32 Conn. 308. The laws of the State in which he is appointed prescribe his rights, powers, and duties. Another State cannot impose upon him different liabilities or obligations. He is the creature of the local law, and, until additional authority is derived by virtue of an appointment in another jurisdiction, he has only the power which that law confers.

The plaintiff sets up, not a right to her property, or to that which belonged to the deceased, but a right to sue as the trustee of a fund which may be obtained for his widow and next of kin, a position which she, by the law under which she was appointed, does not sustain. In order to execute such a trust, the trusteeship must attach to her appointment as administratrix under the laws of New York, and they do not confer upon her the right to damages for injuries received by him in another State, and resulting in his death. Richardson v. New York Central Railroad Co., 98 Mass. 85; Woodward v. Michigan Southern, & c. Railroad Co., 10 Ohio St. 121; Armstrong v. Bendle, 5 Sawyer, 485; McCarthy v. Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific Railroad Co., 18 Kan. 46; Maryland v. Pittsburg & Connellsville Railroad Co., 45 Md. 41; Needham, Admx., v. Grand Trunk Railroad, 38 Vt. 294; Illinois Central Railroad v. Cragin, Admr., 71 Ill. 177.

The reasoning in the cases cited may be briefly summarized as follows:--

First, The plaintiff's right as administratrix to recover for the 'pecuniary injury resulting from death to the widow and next of kin' is unknown at common law, and can exist only by statute.

Second, The statute of New Jersey, under which she sues, has no extra-territorial force. It gives a cause of action for this 'pecuniary injury' only when the death occurs within the State of New Jersey.

Third, In like manner, the statute of New Jersey has no extra-territorial force to confer upon a creature of the New York law powers and duties other than those bestowed by the laws of New York.

Mr. Amasa J. Parker for the plaintiff in error.

Mr. Henry G. De Forest for the defendant in error.

MR. JUSTICE MILLER, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

NotesEdit

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).