Hilton v. South Carolina Public Railways Comm'n, 502 U.S. 197 (1991)

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certiorari to the supreme court of south carolina

No. 90-848. Argued October 8, 1991—Decided December 16, 1991

Respondent South Carolina Public Railways Commission, a state agency that is a common carrier engaged in interstate commerce by railroad, was sued in state court under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) by its employee, petitioner Hilton, who alleged that he was injured in the course of his employment as a result of the commission's negligence. In dismissing the complaint on the ground that FELA does not authorize a damages action against a state agency, even if suit is maintained in a state forum, the trial court acknowledged that in Parden v. Terminal Railway of Alabama Docks Dept., 377 U. S. 184, this Court interpreted FELA to permit such actions, but held that in effect Parden had been overruled by subsequent decisions of the Court. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed.

Held: FELA creates a cause of action against a state-owned railroad, enforceable in state court. Pp. 201-207. (a) Absent sufficient, countervailing justifications for departing from precedent, the strong considerations favoring adherence to stare decisis in this case compel the Court to reaffirm Parden insofar as it held, 377 U. S., at 187-188, that when Congress used the phrase "[e]very common carrier by railroad" to describe the class of employers subject to FELA's terms, it intended to include state-owned railroads. Weight must be accorded to the continued acceptance of the Parden holding by Congress, which has had almost 30 years in which to take corrective action if it disagreed with that holding, but has chosen not to do so. Moreover, overruling Parden would require an extensive legislative response by the many States, including South Carolina, that have specifically excluded railroad workers from workers' compensation coverage on the assumption that FELA adequately protects those workers in the event of injuries caused by an employer's negligence, and would dislodge the settled rights and expectations of employees and employers who have been acting on that assumption. Overruling Parden would also throw into doubt this Court's decisions holding that the entire federal scheme of railroad regulation applies to state-owned railroads. Pp. 201-203. (b) Decisions subsequent to Parden do not require the Court to depart from stare decisis in this case. Welch v. Texas Dept. of Highways and Public Transportation, 483 U. S. 468, 478—which held that the


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