New York Central R. Co. v. United States - 212 U.S. 481 (1909)
U.S. Supreme Court
New York Central R. Co. v. United States, 212 U.S. 481 (1909)
New York Central and Hudson River
Railroad Company v. United States
Argued December 14, 15, 16, 1908
Decided February 23, 1909
212 U.S. 481
Congress can impute to a corporation the commission of certain criminal offenses and subject it to criminal prosecution therefor.
In actions for tort, a corporation may be held responsible for damages for the acts of its agent within the scope of his employment, Lake Shore & Michigan Southern R. Co. v. Prentice, 147 U. S. 101, even if done wantonly, recklessly or against the express orders of the principal.
A corporation is responsible for acts not within its agent's powers, strictly construed, but assumed to be done by him when employing authorized powers, and in such a case no written authority under seal is necessary. Washington Gas Light Co. v. Lansden, 172 U. S. 534.
The act of an agent exercising the authority of a corporation which is a common carrier to make rates for transportation may be controlled, in the interest of public policy, by imputing his act to the carrier itself and imposing penalties therefor upon the carrier.
While corporations cannot commit some crimes, they can commit crimes which consist in purposely doing things prohibited by statute, and in such case they can be charged with knowledge of acts of their agents who act within the authority conferred upon them.
Congress has power to so regulate interstate commerce as to secure equal rights to all engaged therein, and the Act of February 19, 1903, c. 708, 32 Stat. 817, known as the Elkins Act, is not unconstitutional because it imputes to the corporation, and makes it criminally responsible for, acts violative of the Interstate Commerce act done by its agent.
The Court will recognize that the greater part of interstate commerce is conducted by corporations, and it will not relieve them from punishment because at one time there was a doctrine that corporations could not commit crimes.
Even if a statute relating both to individuals and corporations deprived an individual of the presumption of innocence and made him responsible for the acts of another, the question of the constitutionality of such statute on that ground cannot be raised by a corporation, and where, as in the case of the Elkins Act, there is no doubt that
Congress would have enacted the statute as to corporations, even if it could not as to individuals, it is valid as to corporations. Berea College v. Kentucky, 211 U. S. 45.
Every statute is to be construed so as to maintain its constitutionality if possible.
The purpose of the Elkins Act being to make the act of the agent the act of the corporation, and to include both within its restrictions, there is no misjoinder in including both the agent and the corporation in one indictment.
An indictment is sufficient if it specifically states the elements of the offense charged with sufficient particularity to fully advise the defendant thereof and so as to be pleaded in bar of any subsequent prosecution for the same offense. § 1025, Rev.Stat.
Under the Interstate Commerce Act, where a shipper pays the legal rate on numerous shipments and at intervals receives a rebate from the carrier, there is a separate and complete offense on each payment, and not one continuous offense, although all the payments were made under one agreement.
Quaere, and not decided, what constitute separate offenses where numerous shipments are made and paid for at less than the published rates.
An instruction which simply amounts to permitting the jury to consider circumstances connected with the nonappearance of a witness and the nonproduction of books held, in this case, not to have been prejudicial error.
The facts are stated in the opinion.