Atkin v. Kansas
191 U.S. 207 (1903)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Atkin v. Kansas, 191 U.S. 207 (1903)

Atkin v. Kansas

No. 30

Submitted May 1, 1903

Decided November 30, 1903

191 U.S. 207

Syllabus

Municipal corporations are, in every essential, only auxiliaries of the state for the purposes of local government. They may be created, or, having been created, may be destroyed, or their powers may be restricted, enlarged, or withdrawn at the will of the legislature, subject only to the fundamental condition that the collective and individual rights of the people of the municipality shall not thereby be destroyed.

The building of a highway, whether done by the state directly or by one of its instrumentalities -- a municipality -- is work of a public, not private, character.

It is within the power of a state, as guardian and trustee for its people and having full control of its affairs, to prescribe the conditions upon which it will permit public work to be done on behalf of itself or its municipalities.

In the exercise of these powers, it may by statute provide that eight hours shall constitute a day's work for all laborers employed by or on behalf of the state or any of its municipalities, and making it unlawful for anyone thereafter contracting to do any public work to require or permit any laborer to work longer than eight hours per day except under certain specified conditions and requiring such contractors to pay the current rate of daily wages. And one who, after the enactment of such a statute, contracts for such public work is not by reason of its provisions deprived of his liberty or his property without due process of law nor denied the equal protection of the laws within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, even though it appear that the current rate of wages is based on private work where ten hours constitute a day's work or that the work in excess of eight hours per day is not dangerous to the health of the laborers.

Quaere whether a similar statute applicable to laborers on purely private work would be constitutional, not decided.

This case involves the validity under the Constitution of the United States of the statute known as the Eight-Hour Law of Kansas of 1891, c. 114, being §§ 3827, 3828, and 3829 of the General Statutes of 1901 of that state.

By the first section of that act, it was provided that

"eight hours shall constitute a day's work for all laborers, workmen,

Page 191 U. S. 208

mechanics, or other persons now employed, or who may hereafter be employed by or on behalf of the State of Kansas, or by or on behalf of any county, city, township, or other municipality of said state, except in cases of extraordinary emergency which may arise in time of war, or in cases where it may be necessary to work more than eight hours per calendar day for the protection of property or human life: provided, that in all such cases, the laborer, workmen, mechanics, or other persons so employed and working to exceed eight hours per calendar day shall be paid on the basis of eight hours constituting a day's work: provided further, that not less than the current rate of per diem wages in the locality where the work is performed shall be paid to laborers, workmen, mechanics, and other persons so employed by or on behalf of the State of Kansas, or any county, city, township, or other municipal of said state, and laborers, workmen, mechanics, and other persons employed by contractors or sub-contractors in the execution of any contract or contracts within the State of Kansas, or within any county, city, township, or other municipality thereof shall be deemed to be employed by or on behalf of the State of Kansas or of such county, city, township, or other municipality thereof."

The second section declared that

"All contracts hereafter made by or on behalf of the State of Kansas, or by or on behalf of any county, city, township, or other municipality of said state, with any corporation, person, or persons, for the performance of any work or the furnishing of any material manufactured within the State of Kansas, shall be deemed and considered as made upon the basis of eight hours constituting a day's work, and it shall be unlawful for any such corporation, person, or persons to require or permit any laborer, workman, mechanic, or other person to work more than eight hours per calendar day in doing such work or in furnishing or manufacturing such material, except in the cases and upon the conditions provided in section 1 of this act."

The third section makes any officer of Kansas, or of any

Page 191 U. S. 209

county, city, township, or municipality of that state, or any person acting under or for such officer, or any contractor with the state, or any county, city, township, or other municipality thereof, or other person violating any of the provisions of the act, liable for each offense, and subject to be punished by a fine of not less than $50 nor more than $1,000, or by imprisonment not more than six months, or by both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.

It may be stated that the act exempts existing contracts from its provisions.

The present prosecution was under the above act, and was commenced in one of the courts of Kansas.

The complaint in its first count charged that Atkin contracted with the municipal corporation of Kansas City to do the labor, and furnish all materials for the construction of a brick pavement upon Quindaro Boulevard, a public street of that city, and having hired one George Reese to shovel and remove dirt in execution of the work, did knowingly, willfully, and unlawfully permit and require him to labor ten hours each calendar day upon said work, there being no extraordinary emergency arising in time of war, nor any necessity for him to labor more than eight hours per day for the protection of property or of human life.

The second count contained the same allegations as to the general nature of Atkin's contract, and charged that he unlawfully hired Reese to labor on the basis of ten hours as constituting a day's work by contracting to pay the current rate of wages, which in that locality was the sum of $1.50 per day, and unlawfully exacted and required of him that he labor ten hours each calendar day in order to be entitled to the current wages of $1.50 per day, there being no extraordinary emergency arising in time of war, nor any necessity for him to labor more than eight hours for the protection of property or of human life.

The defendant moved to quash each count upon the grounds, among others, that the statute in question, in violation of the

Page 191 U. S. 210

first section of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, deprived him of his liberty and property without due process of law, and denied him the equal protection of the laws.

The motion to quash was overruled, and the case was heard upon an agreed statement of facts.

It appears from that statement that the parties stipulated, for the purposes of the case, that Kansas City was under a duty to keep its streets and highways in repair and make all contracts to grade and pave them and for all other public improvements within its limits; that the defendant entered into a contract with the city to construct a pavement on Quindaro Boulevard, a public highway in that city, and employed, among others, one George Reese to perform the labor of shoveling and removing dirt in the prosecution of that work; permitted him to work more than eight hours on each calendar day, although there was no extraordinary emergency arising in time of war, nor any necessity that he or any other person engaged on the work should work more than eight hours for the protection of property or human life; that the agreement with Reese was to pay $.15 per hour, and no more, the current rate of wages for such work in that locality being $1.50 for ten hours' labor per day, and that the defendant exacted and required of him that he work ten hours each calendar day, in order to be entitled to the current wages of $1.50 per day; that, if the contractor had been compelled to pay Reese and other laborers at the rate of $1.50 per day for eight hours' work, his compensation would have been diminished by $100; that Reese was not compelled, required, or requested to work more than eight hours in any one day, but did so voluntarily, and was permitted and allowed to work ten hours in each calendar day in order to earn $1.50 in a calendar day; that he was employed at his own solicitation, and entered into the agreement with Atkin freely, and worked at the time and place mentioned in the complaint with the knowledge, consent, and permission of defendant; that it was not the

Page 191 U. S. 211

intention, expectation, desire, or agreement of Reese or of the defendant that the former should ask, demand, or receive the same compensation for eight hours' work as was paid for ten hours' work each calendar day to laborers doing the same kind of work for persons having contracts with private persons or corporations; that he was hired and employed without the knowledge or consent of the city, and neither the city nor its officers had or exercised any control or supervision over him, he being the servant of the defendant, and not of the city, and that the contract between the defendant and the city did not contain any provision as to the number of hours laborers should work in a calendar day, nor any provision as to their compensation, but left the contractor free as to the means and manner of performing his contract.

It was also stipulated that the labor performed by Reese was healthful outdoor work, not dangerous, hazardous, or in any way injurious to life, limb, or health, and could be performed for a period of ten hours during each working day of the week without injury from so doing, and that the labor he was employed to perform and did perform

"was in no respect or manner more dangerous to the health or hazardous to life or limb or to the general welfare of the said George Reese or other persons doing such work than the labor performed by persons doing the same kind of or character of work as the employees or [of] contractors having contracts to do the same kind of work for private persons, firms, or corporations, or as the servants of private persons, firms, or corporations."

It was further stipulated that the work of shoveling and removing dirt in the construction of a pavement was in all respects the same whether the pavement be constructed for a city or other municipality or for a private person, firm, or corporation.

Such was the case presented for the determination of the trial court.

The prosecution resulted in a judgment against the defendant, and he was sentenced to pay a fine of $50 on each

Page 191 U. S. 212

count of the complaint. Motions in arrest of judgment and for new trial having been denied, the case was taken to the Supreme Court of Kansas, which affirmed the judgment, and sustained the validity of the statute.

Page 191 U. S. 218

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