The protection of charter rights by the contract clause of the
federal Constitution is subject to the rule that a legislature
cannot bargain away the police power, or withdraw from its
successors the power to guard the public safety, health, and
A provision in its charter exempting a railroad company from
liability for death of employees, even if caused by its own
negligence, does not
Page 221 U. S. 409
amount to an irrevocable contract within the protection of the
federal Constitution, but is as much subject to future legislative
action as though embodied in a separate statute.
Provisions in a corporate charter which are beyond the power of
the legislature to grant are not within the protection of the
contract clause of the federal Constitution.
Where there is no allegation or proof that the highest court of
a state has construed a statute of that state, it becomes the duty
of the courts of another state, which do not take judicial
knowledge of decisions of other states, to construe the statute and
its effect upon prior statutes according to their independent
judgment. Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Melton,
218 U. S. 36
The decision of a state court construing a statute of another
state under such circumstances is not subject to review by this
Court if no federal right is involved. Eastern Building &
Loan Assn. v Ebaugh, 185 U. S. 114
This Court will not disturb the decision of the courts of Texas
that the Act of Louisiana of 1884, giving a right of action to
relatives of persons killed by negligence of another, repealed the
provisions in the charter of a railroad company granted in 1878
exempting it from liability for a person killed by its negligence,
and the Act of 1884 is not unconstitutional as impairing any
contract obligation in such charter.
An omission in the complaint can be cured by an allegation in
the answer. United States v.
10 Wheat. 246.
Where an action is commenced in the courts of one state, based
on a right given by the statute of another state provided it be
commenced within a specified period, which has not expired, the
omission of the plaintiff to plead the statute may be cured by the
defendant pleading the statute, although the answer may not be
filed until after the period of limitation has expired, and the
decision of the state court to that effect does not violate the
full faith and credit clause of the federal Constitution, and
involves no federal question.
128 S.W. 1165 affirmed.
The facts, which involve the construction of certain acts of
Louisiana and their constitutionality under the contract clause of
the Constitution and whether the courts of Texas, in construing
them, had failed to give them full faith and credit as required by
the Constitution, are stated in the opinion.
Page 221 U. S. 412
MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.
In that view of it which must be accepted here, this case may be
stated as follows: it was an action to recover damages for the
death of a locomotive engineer resulting
Page 221 U. S. 413
from the derailment of an engine which he was driving while in
the service of two railroad companies which were jointly operating
a line of railroad through the states of Louisiana and Texas. The
derailment and ensuing death occurred in Louisiana, June 1, 1905,
and proximately were caused by the negligence of the two companies.
One of the companies was incorporated by a Louisiana statute of
March 30, 1878, which contained a provision exempting the company
from liability for the death of any person in its service, even if
caused by its negligence. Laws of Louisiana 1878, No. 21, § 17, p.
267. Another Louisiana statute, enacted July 10, 1884, and still in
force, conferred upon designated relatives a right to recover the
damages sustained by them through the death of a person,
negligently caused by another, but subjected the right to the
limitation that the action to enforce it should be begun within one
year from the death. Laws of Louisiana 1884, No. 71, p. 94.
Merrick's Revised Civil Code, Art. 2315. Within the time so
prescribed, the relatives so designated commenced in the District
Court of Harris County, Texas, an action to recover from the two
railroad companies the damages sustained by the engineer's death.
The complaint, although stating all the facts essential to a
recovery under the statute, was defective as a complaint in the
Texas court because it did not conform to the rule prevailing in
that state that statutes of other states cannot be noticed
judicially, but must be pleaded. More than a year after the death,
the defendants answered the complaint, and in their answers
recognized the existence of the statute upon which the plaintiffs'
action was founded, made allegations respecting it, and sought to
enforce the one-year limitation therein. At the trial, the statutes
of 1878 and 1884 were both duly proved, and upon all the evidence,
the finding and judgment were for the plaintiffs. The defendants
appealed to the court of civil appeals of the state, where the
judgment was affirmed (128 S.W.
Page 221 U. S. 414
1165), and then sued out this writ of error. In the trial court,
and again in the court of civil appeals, it was held (1) that the
exempting provision in the statute of 1878 was repealed by the
statute of 1884, and (2) that what appeared in the answers
respecting the statute of 1884 cured the defect in the complaint,
and required that it be treated as an adequate and timely assertion
of a right under that statute. In the assignments of error here,
these rulings are challenged upon the theory, which also was
advanced in the state courts, that the exempting provision in the
statute of 1878 was a contract, and could not be repealed
consistently with the contract clause of the federal Constitution,
and that, if that provision was validly repealed by the statute of
1884, the answers filed more than a year after the death could not
be treated as curing the defect in the complaint without
disregarding the one-year limitation, and thereby violating the
full faith and credit clause of the Constitution.
The case is now before us on a motion to dismiss, with which is
united a motion to affirm.
The doctrine that a corporate charter is a contract which the
Constitution of the United States protects against impairment by
subsequent state legislation is ever limited in the area of its
operation by the equally well settled principle that a legislature
can neither bargain away the police power nor in any wise withdraw
from its successors the power to take appropriate measures to guard
the safety, health, and morals of all who may be within their
jurisdiction. Boston Beer Co. v. Massachusetts,
97 U. S. 25
Northwestern Fertilizing Co. v. Hyde Park, 97 U. S.
; Stone v. Mississippi, 101 U.
; Douglas v. Kentucky, 168 U.
. In the first of these, cases it was said:
"Whatever differences of opinion may exist as to the extent and
boundaries of the police power, and however difficult it may be to
render a satisfactory definition of it, there seems to be no doubt
that it does extend to the
Page 221 U. S. 415
protection of the lives, health, and property of the citizens,
and to the preservation of good order and the public morals. The
legislature cannot, by any contract, divest itself of the power to
provide for these objects. They belong emphatically to that class
of objects which demand the application of the maxim salus
populi suprema lex,
and they are to be attained and provided
for by such appropriate means as the legislative discretion may
devise. That discretion can no more be bargained away than the
The fact that the provision in question was embodied in the
statute incorporating the Louisiana company does not suffice to
show that it became a part of the charter contract, for obviously
nothing became a part of that contract that was not within the
contracting power of the legislature. Such of the provisions of the
statute as were within that power became both a law and a contract
and were within the protection of the contract clause of the
Constitution, but such of them as were not within that power became
a law only, and were as much subject to amendment or repeal as if
they had been embodied in a separate enactment. As was said by this
Court in Stone v. Mississippi, supra:
"It is to be kept in
mind that it is not the charter which is protected, but only any
contract the charter may contain."
The subject to which the provision in question relates is the
civil liability of a railroad company for the death of its
employees, resulting from its negligence. That is a matter of
public concern, and not of mere private right. It is closely
connected with the safety of the employees, and undoubtedly belongs
to that class of subjects over which the legislature possesses a
regulatory but not a contracting power. Manifestly therefore the
charter contract did not embrace that provision, and the contract
clause of the Constitution did not prevent its repeal.
There is some discussion in the briefs as to whether the
Page 221 U. S. 416
provision was repealed by the statute of 1884, which was in
apparent conflict with it, but upon this record that is not a
federal question. There was neither allegation nor proof that the
court of last resort in Louisiana had considered the question or
made any ruling upon it, and so it became the duty of the Texas
courts, which do not take judicial notice of decisions of courts of
other states, to decide the question according to their independent
judgment. Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Melton,
218 U. S. 36
218 U. S. 52
This they did, and no federal right being involved, their decision
is not subject to review by this Court. Eastern Building &
Loan Assn. v. Ebaugh, 185 U. S. 114
Of the ruling that the defect in the complaint was cured by the
answers, little need be said. While recognizing that the right
created by the Louisiana statute was qualified by the one-year
limitation, and that the Texas courts could not disregard the
qualification without impinging upon the full faith and credit
clause of the Constitution, we think the claim that they did
disregard it is quite untenable. The action was begun within the
time prescribed, and what the Texas courts really held was that the
omission from the complaint of an essential allegation was cured by
its inclusion in the answers. In so holding, they but gave effect
to a generally recognized rule upon the subject. United
States v. Morris,
10 Wheat. 246, 23 U. S. 286
There was no shifting from one right of action to another, as in
Union Pacific Railway Co. v. Wyler, 158 U.
, and United States v. Dalcour,
203 U. S. 408
203 U. S. 423
but, on the contrary, an adherence to the right originally
asserted. In these circumstances, nothing more was involved than a
question of pleading and practice in the Texas courts, and its
decision by them is final.
Although regarding the question presented under the contract
clause of the Constitution as sufficiently substantial to sustain
our jurisdiction, we think it is so manifest
Page 221 U. S. 417
that it was decided rightly by the Texas courts that the case
ought not to be retained for further argument. See Arrowsmith
v. Harmoning, 118 U. S. 194
Richardson v. Louisville & Nashville R. Co.,
169 U. S. 128
Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Melton, 218 U. S.
, 218 U. S.
The motion to dismiss is denied, and that to affirm is