Railway Company v. Philadelphia
101 U.S. 528 (1879)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Railway Company v. Philadelphia, 101 U.S. 528 (1879)

Railway Company v. Philadelphia

101 U.S. 528

Syllabus

1. A company incorporated by a statute of Pennsylvania approved April 8, 1864, was authorized to construct a railway on certain streets of Philadelphia, subject to the ordinances of the city regulating the running of passenger railway cars. The charter requires, among other things, that the "company shall also pay such license for each car run by said company as is now paid by other passenger railway companies" in said city. That license was $30 for each car. An ordinance passed in 1867 increased the license charge to $50, and in 1888, by a general statute, the legislature provided that the passenger railway corporations of Philadelphia should pay annually to the city $50 as required by their charters for each car intended to run on their roads during the year, and that the city should have no power to regulate such corporations unless authorized by the laws of the state expressly in terms relating to those corporations. The company paid the increased charge until 1875. On its refusing to pay it thereafter, this suit was brought. Held that the charter did not amount to a contract that the company should never be required to pay a license fee greater than that required of such companies at the date when the company was incorporated.

2. In their widest sense, the words employed in the charter mean that the company should not then be required by the city to pay any greater charge as license than that paid by other companies possessing the same privilege. Quaere, without further legislation, could a greater sum have been exacted from the company ?

3. Semble that even if the charter were sufficient to import a contract, the legislature, under the constitutional provision then in force touching the alteration, revocation, or annulment of any charter in such manner that no injustice be done to the corporators, had ample power to pass the act raising the license fee from thirty to fifty dollars.

Page 101 U. S. 529

This was an action brought in the Court of Common Pleas, No. 2, for the County of Philadelphia, by the City of Philadelphia against the Union Passenger Railway Company of Philadelphia.

The following case was stated for the opinion of the court, with the right to either party to sue out a writ of error to the judgment.

That by "An ordinance supplementary to an ordinance entitled An ordinance to regulate passenger railways,' approved July 7, 1857," approved April 1, 1859 (139), and by the third section thereof, it is provided:

"That each and every passenger railway company shall pay into the office of the chief commissioner of highways in the month of January of each year, for the use of the city, the sum of thirty dollars for each car intended to be run upon any road, and for each and every car placed upon any road before the time herein provided for paying the license, a proportionate sum shall be paid until the succeeding January, and that no car shall be placed or run upon any road or street until it shall be regularly licensed, and a certificate duly numbered hung in a conspicuous place in said car."

That the defendants were created a body politic by an act passed April 8, 1864, P.L. 297, with the authority to construct a railway on certain named streets in the City of Philadelphia. Among other things in said act, it is enacted:

"SEC. 4. . . . Said railway shall conform in gauge to the passenger railways now laid in the City of Philadelphia. . . ."

"SEC. 8. . . . And the said company is hereby authorized and empowered to construct and lay the said railway, without obtaining the consent of the City Councils of the City of Philadelphia, but whenever the said railway shall be laid and used by running passenger cars thereon, the said company shall be subject to the ordinances of the City of Philadelphia regulating the running of passenger railway cars."

"SEC. 10. That the said company shall pay annually into the Treasury of the City of Philadelphia, for the use of said city, whenever the dividends declared by said company shall exceed six percent per annum on the par value of the capital stock thereof, a tax of

Page 101 U. S. 530

six percent on such excess over six percent, . . . and the said company shall also pay such license for each car run by said company as is now paid by other passenger railway companies in the City of Philadelphia."

By "a further supplement to an ordinance to regulate passenger railways, approved July 7, 1857," approved Jan. 2, 1867 (1), it is enacted:

"That each and every passenger railway company shall pay to the chief commissioner of highways the sum of fifty dollars for each car run upon their respective roads. . . ."

That by "An Act to define the duties and liabilities of passenger railway corporations in the City of Philadelphia," approved April 11, 1868, P.L. 849, it is enacted:

"That the several passenger railway corporations in the City of Philadelphia shall pay annually to the said city in the month of January the sum of fifty dollars, as required by their charters, for each car intended to be run over their roads during the year, and they shall not be obliged to pay any larger sum, and said city shall have no power by ordinance or otherwise to regulate passenger railway companies unless authorized so to do by the laws of this Commonwealth expressly in terms relating to passenger railway corporations in the City of Philadelphia. . . ."

That in each year previous to the year 1875, the defendants paid the said plaintiff the sum of fifty dollars for each of the cars run by them during such year.

The defendants, in the month of January, 1875, did run seventy-nine cars on their road, and admit their liability to pay to the plaintiffs for each car the sum of thirty dollars and no more.

If the court shall be of opinion that the plaintiffs are entitled to recover the sum of fifty dollars for each car, then judgment to be entered for the plaintiffs at that rate; if not, then judgment to be entered for the plaintiffs at the rate of thirty dollars for each car. The damages to be assessed by the prothonotary.

It is agreed that any act of assembly or ordinance of the City of Philadelphia which may be pertinent to the case here stated shall be considered as embraced herein.

Page 101 U. S. 531

Judgment was rendered in favor of the city at the rate of fifty dollars for each car. It was affirmed by the supreme court of the state, and this writ was then sued out. The errors assigned are set out in the opinion of this Court.

Page 101 U. S. 532

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