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MURRAY v. JOE GERRICK & CO. ET AL.

decided: February 5, 1934.

MURRAY
v.
JOE GERRICK & CO. ET AL.



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF WASHINGTON.

Hughes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Cardozo

Author: Roberts

[ 291 U.S. Page 316]

 MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Louis H. Murray, a steel erector, died as the result of a fall from a crane which was being erected by his employers, the respondents, in the Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Washington. The petitioner, his widow, brought action, on her own and her minor child's behalf, alleging the decedent's death was caused by the respondents' negligence. The trial court sustained a demurrer to the declaration, holding the action was not maintainable by the widow and daughter as beneficiaries under the Washington Workmen's Compensation Act, since that act was not in force in the Navy Yard; and if it were considered a suit for death by wrongful act, the applicable state statute required that it be instituted by the personal representative of the decedent. The petitioner, although she was also administratrix, refused to amend and claim in virtue of her status as such, and stood upon the declaration. A judgment in favor of respondents was affirmed by the Supreme Court.*fn1

In the petition for certiorari it is asserted that the state courts misconstrued the Act of Congress of February 1, 1928. This court consequently has jurisdiction. The question of the bearing of the federal Act upon the right to maintain the action requires the statement of additional facts.

By a statute passed in 1891*fn2 the State consented to the acquisition of a tract of land by the United States for a navy yard or other specified uses, and ceded jurisdiction

[ 291 U.S. Page 317]

     over the same to the federal government, retaining only concurrent jurisdiction for the service of civil and criminal process issued under the authority of the State. Pursuant to this consent, the United States acquired what is now known as Puget Sound Navy Yard. At that time a state statute was in force permitting the heirs or personal representatives of one dying as a result of negligence to maintain suit against the wrongdoer.*fn3

In 1911 Washington adopted an industrial insurance law or workmen's compensation act which required every employer engaged in extrahazardous occupation to report the work undertaken by him and to pay to a state insurance fund certain sums measured by the payroll for the work. The act abolished all actions by employees against employers for injury in extrahazardous occupations, and, in lieu thereof, conferred upon the injured workman the right to be paid from the fund; gave a similar right to named beneficiaries in case of an employee's death, and further provided that if an employer should fail to report or to pay to the state fund, the employee, or his beneficiaries in case of death, might sue the employer for negligence.*fn4

In 1917 the prior statute relating to suits for death by wrongful act was superseded by an act vesting the right to sue in the personal representative of the decedent.*fn5

February 1, 1928, an Act of Congress*fn6 became effective entitled "An Act Concerning actions on account of death or personal injury within places under the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States." It enacts: "That in the case of the death of any person by the neglect or wrongful act of another within a national park or other place

[ 291 U.S. Page 318]

     subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, within the exterior boundaries of any State, such right of action shall exist as though the place were under the jurisdiction of the State . . .; and in any action brought to recover on account of injuries sustained in any such place the rights of the parties shall ...


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