Silver v. Silver
280 U.S. 117 (1929)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Silver v. Silver, 280 U.S. 117 (1929)

Silver v. Silver

No. 24

Argued October 25, 1929

Decided November 25, 1929

280 U.S. 117

APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF ERROR OF CONNECTICUT

Syllabus

1. Where the record does not disclose the federal grounds on which a state statute was challenged in the state court, review will be

Page 280 U. S. 118

limited to those which were considered in the state court's opinion. P. 280 U. S. 122.

2. The Constitution doe not forbid the abolition of old rights recognized by the common law to attain a permissible legislative object. P. 280 U. S. 122.

3. A state statute providing that no person carried gratuitously as a guest in an automobile may recover from the owner or operator for injuries caused by its negligent operation is not in conflict with the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because of the distinction it makes between passengers so carried in automobiles and those in other classes of vehicles. P. 280 U. S. 122.

4. A statutory classification may not be declared forbidden as arbitrary unless grounds for the distinction are plainly absent. P. 280 U. S. 123.

5. Conspicuous abuses, such as the multiplicity of suits growing out of the gratuitous carriage of passenger in automobiles, may be regulated by the legislature without regulating other like, but less conspicuous, examples. P. 280 U. S. 123.

108 Conn. 371 affirmed.

Appeal from a judgment of the Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut affirming a judgment for the defendant in an action to recover for injuries caused by negligence in the operation of an automobile.

Page 280 U. S. 121

MR. JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an appeal under § 237 of the Judicial Code, as amended by Act of February 13, 1925, from a judgment of the Supreme Court of Connecticut upholding the constitutionality of a state statute. Chapter 308 of the Public Acts of Connecticut of 1927 (printed in the margin *)

Page 280 U. S. 122

provides that no person carried gratuitously as a guest in an automobile may recover from the owner or operator for injuries caused by its negligent operation. The appellant brought suit in the Superior Court of New Haven county against appellee, her husband, for injuries so sustained. Judgment for the defendant was affirmed by the Supreme Court. Both courts ruled that the statute barred appellant, a guest carried gratuitously, from recovery for injuries caused by ordinary negligence in the operation of the car, and the Supreme Court, by divided bench, held that the statute did not deny to appellant the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. 108 Conn. 371, 143 A. 240.

As the record does not disclose the constitutional grounds on which the appellant challenged the validity of the statute, our review will be limited to the single question arising under the federal Constitution which was considered in the opinion of the court below. Saltonstall v. Saltonstall,276 U. S. 260. We need not, therefore, elaborate the rule that the Constitution does not forbid the creation of new rights, or the abolition of old ones recognized by the common law, to attain a permissible legislative object. See Louis Pizitz Dry Goods Co. v. Yeldell,274 U. S. 112, 274 U. S. 116; New York Central Railroad Co. v. White,243 U. S. 188; Mountain Timber Co. v. Washington,243 U. S. 219; Wilmington Star Mining Co. v. Fulton,205 U. S. 60, 205 U. S. 74.

The use of the automobile as an instrument of transportation is peculiarly the subject of regulation. We cannot assume that there are no evils to be corrected or permissible social objects to be gained by the present statute. We are not unaware of the increasing frequency of litigation in which passengers carried gratuitously in automobiles, often casual guests or licensees, have sought the recovery of large sums for injuries alleged to have

Page 280 U. S. 123

been due to negligent operation. In some jurisdictions, it has been judicially determined that a lower standard of care should be exacted where the carriage in any type of vehicle is gratuitous. See Massaletti v. Fitzroy, 228 Mass. 487; Marcienowski v. Sanders, 252 Mass. 65; Epps v. Parrish, 26 Ga.App. 399. Whether there has been a serious increase in the evils of vexatious litigation in this class of cases where the carriage is by automobile is for legislative determination, and, if found, may well be the basis of legislative action further restricting the liability. Its wisdom is not the concern of courts.

It is said that the vice in the statute is not that it distinguishes between passengers who pay and those who do not, but between gratuitous passengers in automobiles and those in other classes of vehicles. But it is not so evident that no grounds exist for the distinction that we can say a priori that the classification is one forbidden as without basis and arbitrary. See Ohio ex rel. Clarke v. Deckebach,274 U. S. 392, 274 U. S. 397.

Granted that the liability to be imposed upon those who operate any kind of vehicle for the benefit of a mere guest or licensee is an appropriate subject of legislative restriction, there is no constitutional requirement that a regulation, in other respects permissible, must reach every class to which it might be applied -- that the legislature must be held rigidly to the choice of regulating all or none. Patsone v. Pennsylvania,232 U. S. 138, 232 U. S. 144; Miller v. Wilson,236 U. S. 373, 236 U. S. 382-384; International Harvester Co. v. Missouri,234 U. S. 200, 234 U. S. 215; Barrett v. Indiana,229 U. S. 26, 229 U. S. 29. In this day of almost universal highway transportation by motorcar, we cannot say that abuses originating in the multiplicity of suits growing out of the gratuitous carriage of passengers in automobiles do not present so conspicuous an example of what the legislature may regard as an evil as to justify

Page 280 U. S. 124

legislation aimed at it, even though some abuses may not be hit. Carroll v. Greenwich Insurance Co.,199 U. S. 401, 199 U. S. 411; New York ex rel. Bryant v. Zimmerman,278 U. S. 63, 278 U. S. 73. It is enough that the present statute strikes at the evil where it is felt and reaches the class of cases where it most frequently occurs.

Affirmed.

*

"Chapter 308. An Act Releasing Owners Of Motor Vehicles From Responsibility For Injuries To Passengers Therein."

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:"

"Section 1. No person transported by the owner or operator of a motor vehicle as his guest without payment for such transportation shall have a cause of action for damages against such owner or operator for injury, death or loss, in case of accident unless such accident shall have been intentional on the part of said owner or operator or caused by his heedlessness or his reckless disregard of the rights of others."

"Sec. 2. This act shall not relieve a public carrier or any owner or operator of a motor vehicle while the same is being demonstrated to a prospective purchaser of responsibility for any injuries sustained by a passenger being transported by such public carrier or by such owner or operator."

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