Chicago, B. & QR Co. v. Cram , 228 U.S. 70 ( 1913 )

  • 228 U.S. 70 (1913)


    No. 193.

    Supreme Court of United States.

    Argued March 18, 1913.
    Decided April 7, 1913.

    *73 Mr. Halleck F. Rose, with whom Mr. James E. Kelby, and Mr. John F. Stout were on the brief, for plaintiff in error.

    Mr. E.J. Clements, with whom Mr. S.H. Cowan was on the brief, for defendants in error.

    *81 MR. JUSTICE McKENNA delivered the opinion of the court, after stating the case as above.

    The case is here in a simple aspect. There was no attempt made to explain or justify the delays in the shipments, and any attack on the statute on the ground that it includes delays resulting from the act of God or cause over which the carriers have no control is precluded by the construction put upon the act by the Supreme Court of the State.

    The only proposition, then, which is presented is whether the statute is beyond the power of government and, therefore, offends the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States by depriving plaintiff in error of its property without due process of law.

    This is contended upon two grounds: 1. The statute, as considered by the Supreme Court of the State, is a legislative determination of the quantum of damages arising from a breach of a private contract for the shipment of livestock and a legislative determination of damages wholly distinct and apart from the exercise of police power, and not a punitive measure to enforce compliance with the commands of the statute. 2. The statute, being declared of such character, is "a usurpation of functions which are exclusively judicial, contrary to the law of the land" and repugnant to the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment.

    It is the concession of the contentions that had the statute been considered by the Supreme Court a police regulation, the objection made to it would be without *82 foundation. But, meeting the effect of the concession, plaintiff in error asserts that if the court had so ruled defendant in error would have had no right of action because under § 5, article 8, of the constitution of the State, all penalties must be appropriated to the use and support of the common schools.

    The court found no conflict between the law and the constitution of the State. Section 5, article 8, however, was not discussed in any of the opinions. Other provisions of the constitution were considered and the contentions based on them decided to be untenable. The omission is not important to our inquiry, and we shall assume, as plaintiff in error contends, that the court regarded the statute as giving compensation for damages for injuries suffered rather than penalties for omission of duties prescribed. It does not follow, however, that the court decided that the statute was not passed in exercise of the power of the State to regulate the conduct of the carriers in the performance of their duties to the public. The opinion of the court makes the contrary manifest. The court said (p. 611), "In the instant case, the enforcement of the law, as we view the record, will not deprive defendant of any constitutional guarantee, state or national. Defendant's property is affected by a public interest . . . it must, to the limit of the interest thus acquired by the public, submit to the control of such property for the public good. . . . The public is interested not only in being permitted to have its property transported for a reasonable compensation, but also in having that property, especially if subject to rapid depreciation, transported with reasonable promptness and care. . . . It is a matter of common knowledge that livestock confined in a freight car deteriorates in condition and that, if the animals are to be placed on the market within a short time of the termination of transportation, the depreciation is not confined to a *83 shrinkage in weight, but to many other factors difficult to prove, but actually existing and seriously affecting the market value of said property. As the damage accruing from the protracted confinement of stock is difficult to prove with reasonable exactitude, and yet always exists, the legislature has the power to provide for liquidated damages. Such legislation is not unsound in principle and has been upheld in many courts."

    The court, in illustration of its views and the quality of the statute, compared it to § 4966 of the Revised Statutes of the United States which provides for a liability of one hundred dollars for the first infringing performance of a copyrighted dramatic piece and fifty dollars for the second performance, as, the court said (p. 613), "a reasonable liquidation of the damages which the proprietor had suffered from the wrongful acts of the defendant."

    The court also adduced two examples from statutes of the State sustained by decisions, in both of which fifty dollars was given as liquidated damages; in one, against an officer for collecting a fee greater than allowed by law; in the other, against a mortgagee for failing to release a chattel mortgage; and five hundred dollars against an officer for re-arresting a person after his discharge on habeas corpus.

    Answering the objection that the legislature might subject an occupant of a public office to damages for particular unlawful acts and not have such power over others, the court said that the reason applied as well to "like provisions in statutes passed to regulate public carriers in the transaction of their business."

    It is clear from the excerpts from the opinion of the court that it considered the statute as passed to regulate public carriers and to give damages against them for the omission of the duties prescribed by it which, though existing, could not be exactly estimated or proved. The *84 court therefore only announced and applied the principle of liquidated damages. It would seem, too, by the examples it adduced from other statutes of the State, to reject the view asserted by plaintiff in error that even if the statute be regarded as imposing penalties upon the carriers, it was thereby made to conflict with § 5, article 8, of the state constitution and could be made payable to the party injured. This was declared in Clearwater Bank v. Kurkonski, 45 Nebraska, 1, and sums provided to be recovered by other statutes were decided in other cases to be in the nature of penalties. Graham v. Kibble, 9 Nebraska, 182; Phoenix Ins. Co. v. Bohman, 28 Nebraska, 251; Same v. McEvony, 52 Nebraska, 566; Deering v. Miller, 33 Nebraska, 654. These cases are distinguishable from those cited by plaintiff in error in which the court disapproved a statute which purported to give double damages, and the court, in the case at bar, explicitly distinguished them from cases in which liquidated damages were provided for. In other words, the court decided that the statute imposed only compensatory damages, fixing them at a sum certain because of the difficulty "of the ascertainment of the actual damages suffered by the aggrieved person."

    We need not extend the discussion. We repeat, the case is here in a simple aspect. Two propositions only are involved: (1) the power of the legislature to impose a limitation of the time for the transportation of livestock; (2) to provide a definite measure of damages which may be difficult to estimate or prove. It is too late in the day to deny the possession of the first power, and we think the other is as fully established and that the statute was enacted to meet conditions which had arisen from the conduct of carriers, and which, in the judgment of the legislature, demanded a remedy. And the court confined the act strictly to culpable violation of its requirements. To the plea of extra expense which might be incurred by *85 obedience to the statute, the court said it could be compensated by extra charge.

    The contention is made that the statute impairs the obligation of the contracts which existed between plaintiff in error and defendant in error; but that contention was not made in the court below and cannot therefore be made here. Besides, there is no evidence of the contracts in the record. Contracts were pleaded and there appears to have been some attempt to introduce them in evidence, but unsuccessfully, and they were stricken from the bill of exceptions. But, assuming the contracts may be considered on this record, a complete answer to the contention that the statute impairs their obligation is, they were made subsequently to the statute and, therefore, are subject to it.

    Judgment affirmed.