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April 2, 1906



Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes, Day

Author: Brown

[ 201 U.S. Page 326]

 MR. JUSTICE BROWN, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

This case involves the constitutionality of certain articles of the Revised Statutes of Texas, set forth in the margin,*fn1 the

[ 201 U.S. Page 327]

     material requirement of which is that when the shipper of freight shall make a requisition in writing for a number of cars to be furnished at any point indicated within a certain number of days from the receipt of the application, and shall deposit one-fourth of the freight with the agent of the company, the company failing to furnish them shall forfeit $25 per day for each car failed to be furnished, the only proviso being that the law "shall not apply in cases of strikes or other public calamity."

The defense was that this statute was not applicable to demands made for cars to be sent out of the State and to be used in interstate commerce; and as the shipment was intended for Oklahoma, the act did not apply, and the defendant was not liable. The question is whether the statute, applied as it is

[ 201 U.S. Page 328]

     by the Texas court to interstate shipments, is an infringement upon the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce.

That, notwithstanding the exclusive nature of this power, the States may, in the exercise of their police power, make reasonable rules with regard to the methods of carrying on interstate business; the precautions that shall be used to avoid danger, the facilities for the comfort of passengers and the safety of freight carried, and, to a certain extent, the stations at which stoppages shall be made, is settled by repeated decisions of this court. Of course, such rules are inoperative if conflicting with regulations upon the same subject enacted by Congress, and can be supported only when consistent with the general requirement that interstate commerce shall be free and unobstructed, and not amounting to a regulation of such commerce. As the power to build and operate railways, and to acquire land by condemnation, usually rests upon state authority, the legislatures may annex such conditions as they please with regard to intra state transportation, and such other rules regarding inter state commerce as are not inconsistent with the general right of such commerce to be free and unobstructed.

The exact limit of lawful legislation upon this subject cannot in the nature of things be defined. It can only be illustrated from decided cases, by applying the principles therein enunciated, determining from these whether in the particular case the rule be reasonable or otherwise.

That States may not burden instruments of interstate commerce, whether railways or telegraphs, by taxation, by forbidding the introduction into the State of articles of commerce generally recognized as lawful, or by prohibiting their sale after introduction, has been so frequently settled that a citation of authorities is unnecessary. Upon the other hand, the validity of local laws designed to protect passengers or employes, or persons crossing the railroad tracks, as well as other regulations intended for the public good, are generally recognized. An analysis of all the prior important cases upon this point will be found in the opinion of the court in Cleveland &c. R.R. Co. v.

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     While perhaps the road may have no right to complain of that portion of the statute which assumes to provide for its own protection, it is illustrative of its general spirit that, if the shipper does not fully load his cars within forty-eight hours after their arrival, he shall forfeit $25 for each car, or if the consignee shall fail to unload them within forty-eight hours after their delivery, at the place of consignment, which in the case of interstate shipments would be in another State, he shall also forfeit $25 per day for each car unloaded.

In this connection the recent case of Central &c. R.R. Co. v. Murphey, 196 U.S. 194, is instructive. In that case we held that the imposition by a state statute, upon the initial or any connecting carrier, of the duty of tracing the freight and informing the shipper, in writing, when, where or how, and by which carrier the freight was lost, damaged or destroyed, and of giving the names of the parties and their official position, if any, by whom the truth of the facts set out in the information could be established, is, when applied to interstate commerce, a violation of the commerce clause of the Federal Constitution and an act of the legislature of Georgia imposing such a duty on common carriers was held void as to shipments made from points in Georgia to other States.

Although the statute in question may have been dictated by a due regard for the public interest of the cattle raisers of the State, and may have been intended merely to secure promptness on the part of the railroad companies, in providing facilities for speedy transportation, we think that in its practical operation it is likely to work a great injustice to the roads, and to impose heavy penalties for trivial, unintentional and accidental violations of its provisions, when no damages could actually have resulted to the shippers.

It should be borne in mind that the act does not apply to cattle alone, but to all cases "when the owner, manager or shipper of any freight of any kind shall make application in writing," etc. The duty of the railroad company to furnish the cars within the time limited is peremptory and admits of

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     no excuses, except such as arise from strikes and other public calamities. If, for instance, the owner of a large quantity of cotton should make a requisition under the act for a number of cars, the railway company would be bound to furnish them upon the day named, or incur a penalty of $25 for each car, though the detention of the cotton involved no expense to the owner, or may even have resulted in a benefit to him through a rise in the market.

While railroad companies may be bound to furnish sufficient cars for their usual and ordinary traffic, cases will inevitably arise where by reason of an unexpected turn in the market, a great public gathering, or an unforeseen rush of travel, a pressure upon the road for transportation facilities may arise, which good management and a desire to fulfill all its legal requirements cannot provide for, and against which the statute in question makes no allowance.

Although it may be admitted that the statute is not far from the line of proper police regulation, we think that sufficient allowance is not made for the practical difficulties in the administration of the law, and that, as applied to interstate commerce, it transcends the legitimate powers of the legislature.

The judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals is, therefore, reversed, and the cause remanded to that court for further proceedings.

MR. JUSTICE WHITE, not having heard the argument, took no part in the decision of this case.


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