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Tennessee Coal, Iron & R.R. Co. v. George

    Brief Fact Summary
    George (Plaintiff) was employed by Tennessee Coal, Iron & R.R. Co. (Defendant) in Alabama when he was injured on the job.  He sued in Georgia under an Alabama statute holding the employer liable for injuries caused by defective equipment.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    A transitory cause of action can be maintained in another state, even though the statute creating the cause of action provides that the action must be maintained in local domestic courts.

    Facts
    George (Plaintiff) was employed as an engineer by Tennessee Coal, Iron & R.R. Co. (Defendant) in Alabama.  He was injured when a defective locomotive throttle caused the locomotive to run over him.  Alabama has a statute providing that an employer is liable for an employee’s injuries caused by defective equipment.  This statute abrogated an employer’s common law defense.  George (Plaintiff) sued in Georgia under this statute, but Tennessee Coal (Defendant) moved to dismiss on the grounds that the Alabama statute required suits under it to be brought in Alabama courts only.  Judgment was entered for George (Plaintiff) and affirmed on appeal.  The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

    Issue
    Where a transitory cause of action is created by statute, will the requirement that actions under the statute be brought only in local courts be enforceable when the suit is brought somewhere else?

    Held
    (Lamar, J.)  No.  While the statute creating this cause of action also restricted suits under it to Alabama courts, the cause of action is, by the terms of the statute, transitory.  This is not a case where the right and the remedy are so united that the remedy cannot be enforced except by a specific court.  The statute allows any court in Alabama to hear a suit like this.  But if either the defendant or the plaintiff has moved since the accident, an Alabama court may not be the best venue.  If Georgia is capable of trying the case according to the Alabama statute, full faith and credit requires that Georgia do so.  Since Georgia was able to try the case, the judgment in favor of George (Plaintiff) is affirmed.

    Discussion
    Some variations on the circumstances in the principal case have occurred where a wrongful death suit is brought in one state based on the wrongful death statute of a sister state.  It has been held that the forum state must recognize the cause of action but does not have to recognize a maximum recovery limit imposed by the same statute.  This has been justified on the basis that the right created is substantive, while the recovery limit is procedural and procedural matters are not entitled to full faith and credit enforcement.


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