Smith v. Cahoon
283 U.S. 553 (1931)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Smith v. Cahoon, 283 U.S. 553 (1931)

Smith v. Cahoon

No. 449

Argued April 22, 1931

Decided May 25, 1931

283 U.S. 553


1. When a statute, valid upon its face, requires the issue of a license or certificate as a condition precedent to carrying on a business or following a vocation, one who is within the terms of the statute, but has failed to make the required application, is not at liberty to complain because of his anticipation of improper or invalid action in administration. P. 283 U. S. 562.

2. This principle does not apply to one who is being criminally prosecuted for failure to procure a license under a statute that, as concerns him, is invalid upon its face. Id.

3. A state statute applicable by its terms (with certain exceptions) to all who operate motor vehicles in the business of transporting persons or property "for compensation or as a common carrier" over public highways in the state, prohibits such persons from so operating without having first obtained from a state commission a certificate of public convenience and necessity; application for such a certificate shall be accompanied by a schedule of tariffs; no certificate shall be valid without the giving of a bond or an insurance policy by the applicant for the protection of the public against injuries resulting from negligence in the operation of such vehicles and for the protection of the persons and property carried; it vests the commission with supervisory authority over

Page 283 U. S. 554

those to whom it applies, and with authority to fix or approve their rates, regulate their service, prescribe their methods of keeping accounts, and generally to make rules governing their operations, and it provides that schedules of their rates shall be open to the public and that all alterations in their tariffs shall be under the commission's control. The statute also lays a mileage tax, in part payable upon the issuance of such certificate, and makes violation of any of its provisions a misdemeanor, punishable by fine or imprisonment, or by both.


(1) Since the statute on its face affixes the same conditions, without discrimination, to all who apply for certificates of public convenience and necessity, and embraces in those conditions a scheme of supervision and control which constitutionally can be applied only to common carriers, a private carrier for hire may not constitutionally be arrested under it for failure to procure a certificate and pay the required tax. P. 283 U. S. 562.

(2) A section of the statute declaring that, if any of its provisions are held unconstitutional, the validity of the others shall remain unaffected cannot serve, in advance of judicial decision, to separate those parts which are constitutionally applicable to private carriers from those that are not. P. 283 U. S. 563.

(3) If the statute be regarded as intending to afford one constitutional scheme for common carriers and another for private carriers, it fails to define the constitutional obligations of private carriers with the certainty required of criminal statutes, and is therefore void. P. 283 U. S. 564.

(4) In a penal prosecution for violation of a state statute, it is a defense that the statute, as applied to defendant, is unconstitutional on its face, and an arrest cannot be upheld upon the ground that later, when the defendant sought relief by habeas corpus, the statute was relieved of its infirmity by a construction placed upon it by the state court. Pp. 283 U. S. 564-565.

(5) The unconstitutionality of the statute in this case is not removed by a decision of the state court declaring that the statutory provisions are severable, and that only those that are legally applicable to private carriers are intended to apply to them, without deciding which are so applicable. P. 283 U. S. 565.

4. A state statutory provision which requires those who operate motor vehicles on the highways in the transportation of goods for hire to furnish a bond or insurance policy for the protection of the public against injuries received through negligence in such operation, but which does not apply to those

"engaged exclusively

Page 283 U. S. 555

in the transporting agricultural, horticultural, dairy or other farm products and fresh and salt fish and oysters and shrimp from the point of production to the assembling or shipping point en route to primary market, or to motor vehicle used exclusively in transporting or delivering dairy products"

held repugnant to the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 283 U. S. 566.

99 Fla. 1174, 128 So. 632, reversed.

Appeal from a judgment reversing a judgment discharging the appellant in habeas corpus.

Page 283 U. S. 556

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