of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts
R. Bradford, Amie E. Penny Sayler, Lauren F. Schoeberl,
Bassford Remele, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Paula M.
Jossart, Jossart Law Office, LLC, Burnsville, Minnesota, for
Hanson, Timothy R. Thornton, Leah Ceee O. Boomsma, Briggs
& Morgan, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Patrick
Sweeney, Sweeney Law Firm, P.A., White Bear Lake, Minnesota,
Lawrence M. Mann, Alper & Mann, P.C., Bethesda, Maryland;
and Cortney S. LeNeave, Thomas W. Fuller, Hunegs, LeNeave,
& Kvas, P.A., Wayzata, Minnesota, for amicus curiae
Academy of Rail Labor Attorneys.
Jennifer K. Eggers, Emily A. Atkinson, Arthur, Chapman,
Kettering, Smetak & Pikala, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota,
for amicus curiae Association of American Railroads.
interest in an action brought under the Federal
Employers' Liability Act in Minnesota courts is
calculated in accordance with Minn. Stat. § 549.09,
subd. 1(c) (2018).
James Alby sued his employer, respondent BNSF Railway Company
(BNSF), under the Federal Employers' Liability Act
(FELA), 45 U.S.C. §§ 51-60 (2012). Alby claimed
that he suffered cumulative trauma to his back resulting from
his 20 years of employment as a conductor and engineer with
jury decided in Alby's favor and the district court
awarded him damages. The district court also awarded
postjudgment interest and applied the federal postjudgment
interest rate of 0.58 percent per year, see 28
U.S.C. § 1961 (2012), rather than the state rate of 10
percent per year, see Minn. Stat. § 549.09,
subd. 1(c)(2) (2018). The court of appeals affirmed the
district court's use of the federal postjudgment interest
rate. Alby v. BNSF Ry. Co., 918 N.W.2d 562, 569
decision to use the federal interest rate is significant.
Postjudgment interest on the judgment awarded to Alby using
the federal interest rate is approximately $18, 500. Had the
district court used the state interest rate, postjudgment
interest would be approximately $320, 000.
asked to decide whether the federal postjudgment interest
rate or the state postjudgment interest rate applies. Because
we conclude that the state postjudgment interest rate
applies, we reverse the decision of the court of appeals and
remand to the district court for further proceedings.
are no factual disputes in this appeal. The question of
whether the state or federal postjudgment interest rate
applies is a question of law, which we review de novo.
Kinworthy v. Soo Line R.R. Co., 860 N.W.2d 355, 356
(Minn. 2015). We also review de novo the interpretation of
statutes and rules of procedure. In re Welfare of Child
of R.S., 805 N.W.2d 44, 48-49 (Minn. 2011).
start by reviewing the competing postjudgment interest
statutes. The federal postjudgment interest statute provides:
Interest shall be allowed on any money judgment in a civil
case recovered in a district court. Execution therefor may be
levied by the marshal, in any case where, by the law of the
State in which such court is held, execution may be levied
for interest on judgments recovered in the courts of the
State. Such interest shall be calculated from the date of the
entry of the judgment, at a rate equal to the weekly average
1-year constant maturity Treasury yield, as published by the
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, for the
calendar week preceding the date of the judgment. . . .
28 U.S.C. § 1961(a). The parties agree that the relevant
applicable rate under the federal formula is 0.58 percent per
year. The federal statute further provides that it
"shall not be construed to affect the interest on any
judgment of any court not specified in this section." 28
U.S.C. § 1961(c)(4).
statutes distinguish between prejudgment interest and
postjudgment interest. Section 549.09, subdivision 1, sets
forth the rules for the accrual of interest "until
judgment is finally entered." Minn. Stat. 549.09, subd.
1(a) (2018). Subdivision 2 creates a judgment creditor remedy
and provides that "[d]uring each calendar year, interest
shall accrue on the unpaid balance of the judgment or award
from the time that it is entered or made until it is paid, at
the annual rate provided in subdivision 1."
Id., subd. 2 (2018). Subdivision 1(c)(2) states that
"[f]or a judgment or award over $50, 000 . . . the
interest rate shall be ten percent per year until paid."
Id., subd. 1(c)(2) (2018).
was enacted by Congress to ensure that an injured railroad
worker could recover when the railroad's negligence
caused the worker's injuries. See 45 U.S.C.
§ 51; Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v.
Buell, 480 U.S. 557, 561 (1987). The statute is designed
to bring national uniformity to the circumstances under which
railroad workers would be compensated for on-the-job
injuries. N.Y. Cent. R.R. Co. v. Winfield, 244 U.S.
147, 150 (1917). The statute also provides for concurrent
jurisdiction in state and federal courts. 45 U.S.C. §
56. Imposing concurrent jurisdiction on the states "in
no sense . . . depended upon the conception that for the
purposes of enforcing [FELA] right[s] the state court was to
be treated as a Federal court deriving its authority not from
the State creating it, but from the United States."
Minneapolis & St. Louis R.R. Co. v. Bombolis,
241 U.S. 211, 222 (1916) (holding that a state court could
apply the Minnesota rule that a civil case could be decided
by agreement of five of six jurors even though federal law
required a unanimous verdict). Accordingly, when a FELA case
is brought in state court, federal law governs the
parties' substantive rights, but state court practices
and procedures apply. Boyd v. BNSF Ry. Co.,
874 N.W.2d 234, 237 (Minn. 2016); see Brown v. W. Ry. of
Ala., 338 U.S. 294, 296 (1949); Mondou v. N.Y., New
Haven & Hartford R.R. Co., 223 U.S. 1, 56- 57
dispute in this case is whether postjudgment interest affects
substantive FELA rights (in which case the federal
postjudgment interest rate applies) or is procedural (in
which case the state postjudgment interest rate applies). We
apply a two-part test to make that determination. First, we
assess "whether the state law is substantive or
procedural" in nature. Boyd, 874 N.W.2d at 238.
If it is procedural, the state law applies. If the state law
is substantive, we move to the second question and
"determine whether federal law authorizes application of
the state law in a FELA case." Id.
first to the question of whether postjudgment interest is
substantive or procedural in nature for FELA purposes. We
begin by observing that the distinction between substantive
law and procedural law is not always clear cut. In the FELA
context, what are generally considered rules of procedure and
practice may be deemed substantive when the procedural rule
"dig[s] into 'substantive rights'" so much
that those procedural rules unduly impact or interfere with
the substantive rights accorded by FELA. See, e.g.,
Brown, 338 U.S. at 296; see also Cent. Vt. Ry.
Co. v. White, 238 U.S. 507, 511 (1915) (stating that
"matters of substance and procedure must not be
confounded because they happen to have the same name").
When that line is crossed, federal substantive law applies.
Here, the proper measure of FELA damages is the only
substantive right identified by BNSF that is potentially
impacted by application of the state's postjudgment
interest rate. Accordingly, we must address whether
postjudgment interest affects the proper measure of FELA
damages so much that it unduly impacts or interferes with
that substantive FELA right.
conclude that postjudgment interest is procedural. For more
than a century, the Supreme Court of the United States has
recognized that a state court may apply its own postjudgment
procedures in FELA cases. In Louisville & Nashville
Railroad Company v. Stewart, the Supreme Court approved
the use of Kentucky's postjudgment supersedeas procedure
that required any party who sought to appeal a judgment to
pay an additional 10 percent on the damages awarded at trial
if the trial judgment was affirmed. 241 U.S. 261, 263 (1916).
The Stewart Court allowed the state to impose the
10-percent postjudgment penalty on FELA awards even though it
meant that a railroad sued in Kentucky state court would
ultimately pay 10 percent more than if sued in federal court.
result makes sense because entry of judgment defines and
settles the scope of substantive FELA liability and fixes the
total and proper amount of FELA damages. Once judgment is
entered, the injured employee's right of recovery under
federal substantive law has been fulfilled and "[a]ll
that remains is to collect the amount of the award from ...