L'Hote v. New Orleans
177 U.S. 587 (1900)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

L'Hote v. New Orleans, 177 U.S. 587 (1900)

L'Hote v. New Orleans

No. 204

Argued March 20, 1900

Decided May 14, 1900

177 U.S. 587

Syllabus

The ordinance of the City of New Orleans set forth at length below in the statement of the case, prescribing limits in that city outside of which no woman of lewd character shall dwell, does not operate to deprive persons owning or occupying property in or adjacent to the prescribed limits, whether occupied as a residence or for other purposes, of any rights secured by the Constitution of the United States, and they cannot prevent its enforcement on the ground that by it their rights under the federal Constitution are invaded.

Until there is some invasion of Congressional power or of private rights

Page 177 U. S. 588

secured by the Constitution of the United States, the action of a state in such respect is beyond question in the federal courts.

The settled rule of this Court is that the mere fact of pecuniary injury does not warrant the overthrow of legislation of a police character.

By ordinance No. 13,032, council series, approved January 29th, 1897, it was ordained by the Common Council of the City of New Orleans:

"That from the first of October, 1897, it shall be unlawful for any public prostitute or woman notoriously abandoned to lewdness to occupy, inhabit, live, or sleep in any house, room, or closet situated without the following limits: South side of Custom House Street from Basin to Robertson Street, east side of Robertson Street from Custom House to St. Louis Street, south side of St. Louis Street from Robertson to Basin Street. Provided, That no lewd woman shall be permitted to occupy a house, room, or closet on St. Louis Street. Provided further, That nothing herein shall be so construed as to authorize any lewd woman to occupy a house, room, or closet in any portion of the city."

"§ 2. That it shall be unlawful for any person or persons, whether agent or owner, to rent, lease, or hire any house, building, or room to any woman or girl notoriously abandoned to lewdness or for immoral purposes outside the limits specified in section 1 of this ordinance."

"§ 3. That public prostitutes or notoriously lewd and abandoned women are forbidden to stand upon the sidewalks in front of or near the premises they may occupy, or at the alleyway, door, or gate of such premises, or to occupy the steps thereof, or to accost, call, or stop any person passing by, or to walk up and down the sidewalks, or to walk up the city streets indecently attired, or in other respects so as to behave in public as to occasion scandal, or disturb and offend the peace and good morals of the people."

"§ 4. That it shall not be lawful for any lewd women to frequent any cabaret or coffee house or bar room and to drink therein."

"§ 5. That it shall be unlawful for any party or parties to establish or carry on a house of prostitution or assignation without the limits specified in section ___ of this ordinance."

"§ 6. That wherever a house of prostitution or assignation within or without the limits established by this ordinance may become dangerous

Page 177 U. S. 589

to public morals, either from the manner in which it is conducted or the character of the neighborhood in which it is situated, the mayor may, on such facts coming to his knowledge, order the occupants of such house, building, or room to remove therefrom within a delay of five days, by service of notice on such occupants in person, or by posting the notice on the door of the house, building, or room, to remove therefrom within a delay of five days, and upon such occupants failing to do so, each shall be punished as provided in section ___ of this ordinance."

"§ 7. That in the event that the occupants of such house, building, or room referred to in section 6 do not remove therefrom after the infliction of the penalty, the mayor is authorized to close the same and to place a policeman at the door of such premises to warn away all such parties who shall undertake to enter."

"§ 8. That any person or persons who shall violate the provisions of this ordinance, or who shall disturb the tranquillity of the neighborhood or commit a breach of the peace shall be punished by the recorder having jurisdiction, for the first offense by a fine not exceeding $5, and in default of payment by imprisonment not exceeding ten for the second offense by a fine not exceeding $10, and in default of payment by imprisonment not exceeding twenty days, and for any subsequent offense by a fine not exceeding $25.00, and in default of payment by imprisonment not exceeding thirty days."

"§ 9. That each day any person or persons shall continue to violate the provisions of this ordinance shall constitute a separate offense."

"§ 10. That on and from the day this ordinance takes effect, all ordinances in conflict therewith be and the same are hereby repealed, provided that nothing herein contained shall affect ordinance 12,456, C.S., relative to prostitutes in the fifth district."

By ordinance No. 13,485, council series of the City of New Orleans, approved July 7th, 1897, it was ordained:

"That section 1 of ordinance 13,032, C.S., be and the same is hereby amended as follows: from and after the first of October, 1897, it shall be unlawful for any public prostitute or woman notoriously abandoned to lewdness to occupy, inhabit, live, or sleep in any house, room, or closet situate without the following limits,

Page 177 U. S. 590

viz., 1. From the south side of Custom House Street to the north side of St. Louis Street, and from the lower or wood side of North Basin Street to the lower or wood side of Robertson Street. 2. And from the upper side of Perdido Street to the lower side of Gravier Street, and from the river side of Franklin Street to the lower or wood side of Locust Street, provided that nothing herein shall be so construed as to authorize any lewd woman to occupy a house, room, or closet in any portion of the city. Be it further ordained that section 1 of ordinance 13,032, C.S., as amended above, be and the same is hereby, reenacted."

The above ordinance being in force, the plaintiff in error George L'Hote, a resident, citizen, and taxpayer of New Orleans, brought this action in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans against the City of New Orleans, its mayor and superintendent of police, on behalf of himself and all other persons similarly situated, who might intervene and bear their proportion of costs and expenses. The object of the suit was to obtain a decree enjoining and prohibiting the defendants from in any manner enforcing ordinance No. 13,032 as amended by section 1 of ordinance No. 13,485.

The bill alleged that the plaintiff was the owner of property situated in the square bounded by St. Louis, Franklin, Treme, and Toulouse Streets in the Second District of the City of New Orleans, and resided with his wife and children in that square at No. 522 Treme Street; that the chief and principal way of approach to his residence, and for ingress and egress thereto, was in, through, and from St. Louis Street; that the locality in which he resided was at the commencement of the action and had always been used for private residences, schools, groceries, and other mercantile establishments; that the people residing in that locality were then and had always been moral, virtuous, sober, law-abiding, and peaceful; that the locality referred to was not then and never had been dedicated to immoral purposes or used for dwelling places and as the refuge of public prostitutes, lewd and abandoned women and the necessary attendants thereof, drunkards, idle, vicious, and disorderly persons, who gather around them to gratify their depraved appetites, and

Page 177 U. S. 591

who were regarded as dangerous to the peace and welfare of the community, their presence at any place being always a just cause of alarm and apprehension;

That the above ordinances were unconstitutional, illegal, unreasonable, and oppressive, and would, if executed, work irreparable injury, wrong, and damage to the plaintiff;

That the council, in enacting those ordinances, pretended to have acted under and by virtue of the power conferred upon them in section 15 of Act No. 45, approved July 7, 1896,

"to regulate the police of houses of prostitution and assignation and to close such houses in certain limits, and shall have the power to exclude the same, and to authorize the mayor and police to close said places,"

and

That the enforcement of those ordinances in the manner provided for violated the provisions both of the Constitution of the United States and of the state, and would deprive the plaintiff of his property without due process of law, and amount to a taking or damaging of such property for public purposes without just and adequate compensation's being first paid.

The bill further alleged that

"the introduction of public prostitutes, women notoriously abandoned to lewdness, in said locality, authorizing them to occupy, inhabit, live, and sleep in houses and rooms situated therein, will materially lessen and depreciate the value of your petitioner's property, render his dwelling and the dwelling of his neighbors similarly situated unfit for the occupancy of private families, destroy the morals, peace, and good order of the neighborhood, drive out and turn away the law-abiding, virtuous citizens and their families from said locality, and dedicate the same to public and private nuisances per se, contrary to law and good morals;"

That

"the common council of the City of New Orleans had previously designated the limits within which prostitutes and women notoriously abandoned to lewdness should inhabit and live, and had thereby exhausted whatever power was vested in them by legislature of the state and were without legal right to alter, change, or modify the same to the injury, detriment, and damage of your petitioner and others residing in said locality, which said council have attempted to include within said

Page 177 U. S. 592

limits; that, having so exhausted the authority conferred upon them by the legislature, the said council was without power to capriciously change the limits previously established by them; that the avocations plied by public prostitutes and women notoriously abandoned to lewdness are contra bonos mores, and the said common council of the City of New Orleans have no right, power, or authority to legalize the same and to permit such persons to reside in the said vicinity in which your petitioner and others dwell with their families;"

That "there was no good and sufficient reason for the enactment of said ordinance or the changing of the limits previously existing and established;"

That

"said council, in enacting said ordinance No. 13,485, council series, eliminated and excluded a large area of the city which had been previously dedicated to the occupancy of lewd and abandoned women, to the detriment and injury of petitioner, by changing said limits so as to include St. Louis Street in his locality;"

That the execution of the ordinances would render plaintiff's dwelling house and those of his neighbors unfit and unsuitable for the occupancy of their families, wives, and children, and wholly valueless for the purposes for which they were constructed and had theretofore been used; and

That the plaintiff and others similarly situated would be compelled, if the ordinances were executed, to abandon and remove from their dwellings at great trouble, expense, and annoyance, and that the enforcement of the ordinance would oppress, injure, and seriously damage and incommode the plaintiff and all others similarly situated.

The plaintiff also averred that the ordinances, if executed, would deprive him and others similarly situated of the equal protection of the laws and be in violation equally of the Constitution and laws of the United States and of the state; that, under the laws and ordinances of the city as they existed, he and all others similarly situated in the locality had the right to cause houses of prostitution and assignation suppressed as nuisances per se and the inmates arrested and forced to vacate and remove therefrom, and of that right the plaintiff had theretofore availed himself,

Page 177 U. S. 593

and that the ordinances, if executed, would legalize such nuisance and take away the rights of citizens theretofore existing and vested in plaintiff and others residing in that locality.

After alleging that the enforcement of the ordinance would work irreparable damage and injury to him in the depreciation in value of his property because it would cease to be a fit and proper place for the dwelling house of himself, his wife, and children, and necessitate their abandonment of the same and removal from the locality, he prayed that the ordinances might be declared null and void.

The writ of injunction as prayed was directed to be issued.

The City of New Orleans, its mayor and superintendent of police, pleaded that the court was without jurisdiction ratione materiae.

Bernardo Gonzales Carbajal intervened by petition, and after alleging that he was the owner of certain improved property within the limits prescribed by the above ordinances, reiterated all the allegations of the petition of L'Hote so far as they related to his property, and averred that the enforcement of the ordinances would work great and irreparable injury to him and depreciate his property by rendering it unfit and unsuitable for dwelling houses. He united in the prayer that the ordinances be declared null and void.

The Church Extension Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a corporation chartered and organized under the laws of Pennsylvania, also intervened, and alleged that it was the owner of buildings and improvements within the above district which were used and occupied for church purposes; that a religious congregation known as the Union Chapel of the Methodist Episcopal Church assembled and worshipped therein on each and every Sabbath and on Tuesday and Friday evenings, as well as on other stated occasions; that, besides the religious services conducted in that church, a Sunday school was organized and established which was attended by 170 children, who received religious instruction and teaching, and that the membership of that congregation consisted of about 300 persons, while those worshiping in the church numbered about six hundred persons.

Page 177 U. S. 594

The society reiterated all the allegations of the plaintiff's petition and alleged that if the ordinances were enforced, the value of its property would be destroyed and the same would be unfit for the purposes for which it was erected and was now being used, enjoyed, and occupied; that the threats to enforce the ordinances had already caused a portion of the congregation attending the church to cease from attending therein; that, encouraged by the action of the city council of New Orleans in passing the ordinances, a number of lewd and abandoned women had already taken up their abode and habitation in the vicinity of the church and were plying their vocation as prostitutes, and that a number of houses were then in progress of erection and construction which were intended to be used and kept as brothels and houses of prostitution, and other places had been leased and let for the purpose of carrying on liquor saloons and concert halls, for the purpose and with the intention of changing the hitherto respectable character of that neighborhood into a resort for vice and the establishment of nuisances mala in se.

After averring that the above ordinances were in violation of the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and laws of Louisiana, and that the city council had no right to destroy the value of the intervener's property and render the neighborhood in which the same was located the resort of lewd and abandoned women, it united in the prayer of the plaintiff's petition that those ordinances be declared null and void.

The exceptions filed by the defendants to the petitions of the plaintiff and the interveners having been overruled, the City of New Orleans and its chief of police filed an answer averring that the ordinances in question were legal and that their enforcement would be a lawful exercise of the power conferred upon the city, and especially a valid exercise of the power conferred upon it by Act No. 45 of 1896.

The civil district court rendered judgment in favor of the plaintiff, but in favor of the city against the interveners. From that judgment, suspensive appeals were allowed and prosecuted by the city as well as by the Church Extension Society.

By the final judgment of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, the

Page 177 U. S. 595

judgment of the civil district court in favor of the plaintiff was reversed, and the injunction obtained by him was dissolved and his suit dismissed, while the judgment dismissing the intervening petitions and dissolving the injunction granted on behalf of the interveners was affirmed. 51 La.Ann. 93.

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