Houston & Texas R. Co. v. Mayes, 201 U.S. 321 (1906)


U.S. Supreme Court

Houston & Texas R. Co. v. Mayes, 201 U.S. 321 (1906)

Houston & Texas Railroad Company v. Mayes

No. 198

Argued March 8, 1906

Decided April 2, 1906

201 U.S. 321



U.S. Supreme Court

Houston & Texas R. Co. v. Mayes, 201 U.S. 321 (1906) Houston & Texas Railroad Company v. Mayes

No. 198

Argued March 8, 1906

Decided April 2, 1906

201 U.S. 321




An absolute requirement that a railroad engaged in interstate commerce shall furnish a certain number of cars on a specified day to transport merchandise to another state, regardless of every other consideration except strikes and other public calamities, transcends the police power of the states and amounts to a burden upon interstate commerce, and Articles 4497-5000, Rev.Stat. Texas, being such a requirement, are, when applied to interstate commerce shipments, void as a violation of the commerce clause of the federal Constitution

Such a regulation cannot be sustained as to interstate commerce shipment as an exercise of the police power of the state.

This was an action begun by Mayes in the District Court of Llano County, Texas, against the Houston and Texas Central Railroad Company to recover a penalty of $475, by reason of defendant's failure to furnish seventeen stock cars, applied for in

Page 201 U. S. 322

writing by the plaintiff under the provisions of certain statutes of Texas hereinafter referred to for the purpose of shipping plaintiff's cattle from Llano, Texas, to Red Rock, Oklahoma, and for damages occasioned by defendant's negligence.

The petitioner alleged that the defendant company formed with two other railroad companies a continuous line from Llano to Red Rock, and were engaged as common carriers in the business of shipping livestock and other freight; that, on April 9, 1903, plaintiff, being the owner of six hundred and twenty-five head of cattle, made application in writing to the local agent of the road for seventeen stock cars, to be delivered on April 20, and deposited with the agent one-fourth of the freight on the same, namely, $268.82, promising to pay the remainder on demand, and that he afterwards paid the same; that, upon the day named, April 20, he had cattle sufficient to load the cars, delivered them to the defendant at its stock pens at Llano for shipment, but the defendant failed to furnish the cars, and did not furnish the same until the afternoon of the twenty-first of April, 1903.

The trial resulted in a judgment in favor of the plaintiff for $425 penalty for delay, and $500 damages to the stock while in the pens at Llano. This judgment was affirmed by the court of civil appeals, and an application for a writ of error to the supreme court of the state was overruled.

Page 201 U. S. 326

MR. JUSTICE BROWN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves the constitutionality of certain articles of the Revised Statutes of Texas, set forth in the margin, * the

Page 201 U. S. 327

material requirement of which is that, when the shipper of freight shall make a requisition in writing for a number of cars to be furnished at any point indicated within a certain number of days from the receipt of the application, and shall deposit one-fourth of the freight with the agent of the company, the company failing to furnish them shall forfeit $25 per day for each car failed to be furnished, the only proviso being that the law "shall not apply in cases of strikes or other public calamity."

The defense was that this statute was not applicable to demands made for cars to be sent out of the state and to be used in interstate commerce, and as the shipment was intended for Oklahoma, the act did not apply, and the defendant was not liable. The question is whether the statute, applied, as it is,

Page 201 U. S. 328

by the Texas court, to interstate shipments, is an infringement upon the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce.

That, notwithstanding the exclusive nature of this power, the states may, in the exercise of their police power, make reasonable rules with regard to the methods of carrying on interstate business, the precautions that shall be used to avoid danger, the facilities for the comfort of passengers and the safety of freight carried, and, to a certain extent, the stations at which stoppages shall be made, is settled by repeated decisions of this Court. Of course, such rules are inoperative if conflicting with regulations upon the same subject enacted by Congress, and can be supported only when consistent with the general requirement that interstate commerce shall be free and unobstructed, and not amounting to a regulation of such commerce. As the power to build and operate railways and to acquire land by condemnation usually rests upon state authority, the legislatures may annex such conditions as they please with regard to intrastate transportation, and such other rules regarding interstate commerce as are not inconsistent with the general right of such commerce to be free and unobstructed.

The exact limit of lawful legislation upon this subject cannot, in the nature of things, be defined. It can only be illustrated from decided cases by applying the principles therein enunciated, determining from these whether, in the particular case, the rule be reasonable or otherwise.

That states may not burden instruments of interstate commerce, whether railways or telegraphs, by taxation, by forbidding the introduction into the state of articles of commerce generally recognized as lawful, or by prohibiting their sale after introduction, has been so frequently settled that a citation of authorities is unnecessary. Upon the other hand, the validity of local laws designed to protect passengers or employees, or persons crossing the railroad tracks, as well as other regulations intended for the public good, are generally recognized. An analysis of all the prior important cases upon this point will be found in the opinion of the court in Cleveland, C.C. &c. R. Co. v.

Page 201 U. S. 329

Illinois, 177 U. S. 514, wherein a requirement that express trains intended only for through passengers should stop at every county seat, when ample accommodations were provided by local trains, was held to be an unreasonable burden. Other similar cases regulating the stoppage of trains are Illinois Central R. Co. v. Illinois, 163 U. S. 142; Gladson v. Minnesota, 166 U. S. 427; Lake Shore &c. Ry. Co. v. Ohio, 173 U. S. 285. In the same line is the more recent case of Wisconsin &c. R. Co. v. Jacobson, 179 U. S. 287.

While there is much to be said in favor of laws compelling railroads to furnish adequate facilities for the transportation of both freight and passengers, and to regulate the general subject of speed, length, and frequency of stops, for the heating, lighting, and ventilation of passenger cars, the furnishing of food and water to cattle and other livestock, we think an absolute requirement that a railroad shall furnish a certain number of cars at a specified day, regardless of every other consideration except strikes and other public calamities, transcends the police power of the state, and amounts to a burden upon interstate commerce. It makes no exception in cases of a sudden congestion of traffic, an actual inability to furnish cars by reason of their temporary and unavoidable detention in other states, or in other places within the same state. It makes no allowance for interference of traffic occasioned by wrecks or other accidents upon the same or other roads, involving a detention of traffic, the breaking of bridges, accidental fires, washouts, or other unavoidable consequences of heavy weather.

A dereliction of the road in this particular, which may have occurred from circumstances wholly beyond the control of its officers, is made punishable not only by damages actually incurred by the shipper in the detention of his stock, but, in addition thereto, by an arbitrary penalty of $25 per car for each day of detention. The penalty which was assessed in this case, though the detention was only for one day, amounted to nearly as much as the damages, and might, in another case, amount to far more.

Page 201 U. S. 330

While perhaps the road may have no right to complain of that portion of the statute which assumes to provide for its own protection, it is illustrative of its general spirit that, if the shipper does not fully load his cars within forty-eight hours after their arrival, he shall forfeit $25 for each car, or if the consignee shall fail to unload them within forty-eight hours after their delivery at the place of consignment, which, in the case of interstate shipments, would be in another state, he shall also forfeit $25 per day for each car unloaded.

In this connection, the recent case of Central &c. R. Co. v. Murphy, 196 U. S. 194, is instructive. In that case, we held that the imposition by a state statute, upon the initial or any connecting carrier, of the duty of tracing the freight and informing the shipper, in writing, when, where, or how, and by which carrier, the freight was lost, damaged, or destroyed, and of giving the names of the parties and their official position, if any, by whom the truth of the facts set out in the information could be established is, when applied to interstate commerce, a violation of the commerce clause of the federal Constitution, and an act of the Legislature of Georgia imposing such a duty on common carriers was held void as to shipments made from points in Georgia to other states.

Although the statute in question may have been dictated by a due regard for the public interest of the cattle raisers of the state, and may have been intended merely to secure promptness on the part of the railroad companies in providing facilities for speedy transportation, we think that, in its practical operation, it is likely to work a great injustice to the roads, and to impose heavy penalties for trivial, unintentional, and accidental violations of its provisions when no damages could actually have resulted to the shippers.

It should be borne in mind that the act does not apply to cattle alone, but to all cases "when the owner, manager, or shipper of any freight of any kind shall make application in writing," etc. The duty of the railroad company to furnish the cars within the time limited is peremptory, and admits of

Page 201 U. S. 331

no excuses except such as arise from strikes and other public calamities. If, for instance, the owner of a large quantity of cotton should make a requisition under the act for a number of cars, the railways company would be bound to furnish them upon the day named or incur a penalty of $25 for each car, though the detention of the cotton involved no expense to the owner or may even have resulted in a benefit to him through a rise in the market.

While railroad companies may be bound to furnish sufficient cars for their usual and ordinary traffic, cases will inevitably arise where, by reason of an unexpected turn in the market, a great public gathering, or an unforeseen rush of travel, a pressure upon the road for transportation facilities may arise which good management and a desire to fulfill all its legal requirements cannot provide for, and against which the statute in question makes no allowance.

Although it may be admitted that the statute is not far from the line of proper police regulation, we think that sufficient allowance is not made for the practical difficulties in the administration of the law, and that, as applied to interstate commerce, it transcends the legitimate powers of the legislature.

The judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals is therefore reversed, and the cause remanded to that court for further proceedings.

MR. JUSTICE WHITE, not having heard the argument, took no part in the decision of this case.



"Art. 4497. When the owner, manager, or shipper of any freight of any kind shall make application in writing to any superintendent, agent, or person in charge of transportation, to any railway company, receiver, or trustee operating a line of railway at the point the cars are desired upon which to ship any freight, it shall be the duty of such railway company, receiver, trustee, or other person in charge thereof to supply the number of cars so required at the point indicated in the application within a reasonable time thereafter, not to exceed six days from the receipt of such application, and shall supply such cars to the persons so applying therefor in the order in which such applications are made, without giving preference to any person; provided, if the application be for ten cars or less, the same shall be furnished in three days, and provided further that, if the application be for fifty cars or more, the railway company may have ten full days in which to supply the cars. [As amended by the act of 1899, page 67.]"

"Art. 4498. Said application shall state the number of cars desired, the place at which they are desired, and the time they are desired; provided, that the place designated shall be at some station or switch on the railroad."

"Art. 4499. When cars are applied for under the provisions of this chapter, if they are not furnished, the railway company so failing to furnish them shall forfeit to the party or parties so applying for them the sum of $25 per day for each car failed to be furnished, to be recovered in any court of competent jurisdiction, and all actual damages such applicant may sustain."

"Art. 4500. Such applicant shall, at the time of applying for such car or cars, deposit with the agent of such company one-fourth of the amount of the freight charge for the use of such cars, unless the said road shall agree to deliver said cars without such deposit. And such applicant shall, within forty-eight hours after such car or cars have been delivered and placed as hereinbefore provided, fully load the same, and upon failure to do so, he shall forfeit and pay to the company the sum of $25 for each car not used; provided, that, where applications are made on several days, all of which are filed upon the same day, the applicant shall have forty-eight hours to load the car or cars furnished on the first application, and the next forty-eight hours to load the car or cars furnished on the next application, and so on, and the penalty prescribed shall not accrue as to any car or lot of cars applied for on any one day until the period within which they may be loaded has expired. And if the said applicant shall not use such cars so ordered by him, and shall notify the said company or its agent, he shall forfeit and pay to said railroad company, in addition to the penalty herein prescribed, the actual damages that such company may sustain by the said failure of the applicant to use said cars. [As amended by the act of 1899, page 67.]"

Act 4502 contains the following proviso: "That the provisions of this law shall not apply in cases of strikes or other public calamity."