Beer Company v. Massachusetts
Annotate this Case
97 U.S. 25 (1877)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Beer Company v. Massachusetts, 97 U.S. 25 (1877)
Beer Company v. Massachusetts
97 U.S. 25
1. An Act of the Legislature of Massachusetts passed Feb. 1, 1828, to incorporate the Boston Beer Company "for the purpose of manufacturing malt liquors in all their varieties" declared that the company should have all the powers and privileges and be subject to all the duties and requirements contained in an Act passed March 3, 1809, entitled " An Act defining the general powers and duties of manufacturing corporations," and the several acts in addition thereto. Said act of 1809 had this clause:
"Provided always that the legislature may from time to time, upon due notice to any corporation, make further provisions and regulations for the management of the business of the corporation and for the government thereof, or wholly to repeal any act or part thereof, establishing any corporation, as shall be deemed expedient."
In 1829, an act repealing that of 1809 and all acts in addition thereto, and reserving similar power was passed. Under the prohibitory liquor law of 1869, certain malt liquors belonging to the company were seized as it was transporting them to its place of business in said state with intent there to sell them, and they were declared forfeited. Held 1. that the provisions of the act of 1809 touching the power reserved by the legislature, having been adopted in the charter, were a part of the contract between the state and the company, rendering the latter subject to the exercise of that power; 2. that the contract so contained in the charter was not affected by the repeal of that act, nor was its obligation impaired by the prohibitory liquor law of 1869.
2. The company, under its charter, has no greater right to manufacture or sell malt liquors than individuals possess, nor is it exempt from any legislative control therein to which they are subject.
3. All rights are held subject to the police power of a state, and if the public safety or the public morals require the discontinuance of any manufacture or traffic, the legislature may provide for its discontinuance notwithstanding individuals or corporations may thereby suffer inconvenience.
4. As the police power of a state extends to the protection of the lives, health, and property of her citizens, the maintenance of good order, and the preservation of the public morals, the legislature cannot, by any contract, divest itself of the power to provide for these objects.
5. While the Court does not assert that property actually in existence and in which the right of the owner has become vested when a law was passed may under its provisions be taken for the public good without due compensation, nor lay down any rule at variance with its decisions in regard to the paramount authority of the Constitution and laws of the United states relating to the regulation of commerce with foreign nations and among the several states or otherwise, it reaffirms its decision in Bartemeyer v. Iowa, 18 Wall. 129, that as a measure of police regulation, a state law prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors is not repugnant to any clause of that Constitution.
6. It appearing from the record that the point that the prohibitory liquor law of 1869 impaired the obligation of the contract contained in the charter of the company was made on the trial of the case and decided adversely to the company, and was afterwards carried, by bill of exceptions, to the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, where the rulings of the lower court were affirmed, this Court has jurisdiction.
This was a proceeding in the Superior Court of Suffolk County, Massachusetts, for the forfeiture of certain malt liquors belonging to the Boston Beer Company and which had been seized as it was transporting them to its place of business in said county with intent there to sell them in violation of an Act of the Legislature of Massachusetts, passed June 19, 1869, c. 415, commonly known as the Prohibitory Liquor Law. The company claimed that under its charter, granted in 1828, it had the right to manufacture and sell said liquors and that said law impaired the obligation of the contract contained in that charter and was void so far as the liquors in question were concerned. The court refused to charge the jury to that effect, and a verdict was found against the claimant. The rulings of the superior court having been affirmed by the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth, the company brought the case here. The statutes of Massachusetts bearing on the case are referred to in the opinion of the Court.