Ruggles v. Illinois,
108 U.S. 526 (1883)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ruggles v. Illinois, 108 U.S. 526 (1883)

Ruggles v. Illinois

Decided May 7, 1883

108 U.S. 526


An amendment was made to the charter of a railroad company in Illinois providing that

"The said company shall have power to make, ordain and establish all such bylaws, rules and regulations as may be deemed expedient and necessary to fulfill the purposes and carry into effect the provisions of this act, and for the well ordering, regulating, and securing the affairs, business, and interest of the company, provided that the same be not repugnant to the Constitution and laws of the United States, or repugnant to

Page 108 U. S. 527

this act. The board of directors shall have power to establish such rates of toll for the conveyance of persons or property upon the same as they shall from time to time by their bylaws determine, and to levy and collect the same for the use of the said company. Held that inasmuch as the power to establish rates was to be exercised through bylaws, and the power to make bylaws was restricted to such as should not be repugnant (among other things), to the laws of the state, the amendment did not release the company from restrictions upon the amount of rates contained in general and special statutes of the state."

Grants of immunity from legitimate governmental control are never to be presumed; unless an exemption is clearly established, the legislature is free to act on all subjects within its general jurisdiction as the public interests may require.

When there is an ambiguity in the language of a statute it may be necessary to inquire into the objects of the legislature in its enactment, or, if it be a private act, the purposes of the beneficiaries in asking for it, but when the language is clear and needs no interpretation and leads to no absurd conclusion, this will not be done.

Complaint before a justice of the peace in Illinois against Ruggles for assault and battery upon one Lewis. Lewis came on board a train on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad without a ticket. He tendered Ruggles, the conductor, fare at the rate of three cents a mile. Ruggles refused to receive it and demanded the established rate of the company, which was more. Lewis not paying this, Ruggles attempted at the next station, but without violence, to remove him from the train. This was the alleged assault. Ruggles was convicted. The case was appealed until it reached the supreme court of the state, when the judgment was affirmed. The case came up on a writ of error, with the following certificate of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois:

"This certifies that in the determination of this case there was necessarily drawn in question the construction of that clause of the Constitution of the United States which prohibits a state from passing laws impairing the obligation of contracts. The plaintiff in error or appellant claimed that he was justified in the act for which he was prosecuted in the court below by the charters of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company, he being a conductor on the railroad of said company, and that said charters conceded to said company the right to fix the rates for the

Page 108 U. S. 528

transportation of persons and property over and upon said road, and that said charters constituted a contract substantially guaranteed and protected by the Constitution of the United States; and I certify that said claim was disallowed and decided adversely to the said appellant, by the said Supreme Court, upon the ground that, by virtue of the provisions of a statute of the State of Illinois, passed subsequently to the granting of the charters of the said Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company, a less rate of fare for transportation of persons and property upon said road had been established by state authority than the rate fixed by the company under the authority of its charter, and that said statute controlled the charter of the company in regard to the rates of transportation over and upon said road, and that the provisions of said charters granting to said company the right to fix the rates for the transportation of persons and property over its road did not constitute a contract protected by the Constitution of the United States, but was subject to alteration and modification by the Legislature of Illinois, all of which is hereby duly certified, to the end that the said appellant may present the said question to the Supreme Court of the United States for adjudication."

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