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SOUTHERN RY. CO. v. KING, 217 U.S. 524 (1910)

U.S. Supreme Court

SOUTHERN RY. CO. v. KING, 217 U.S. 524 (1910)

217 U.S. 524

No. 140.

INEZ KING, by Her Next Friend, Mrs. Josephine King.

No. 141.

Nos. 140, 141.
Argued April 6, 7, 1910.
Decided May 16, 1910.

[217 U.S. 524, 525]   Messrs. John J. Strickland, Alfred P. Thom, Hamilton McWhorter, and McDaniel, Alston, & Black for petitioner.

[217 U.S. 524, 528]   Mr. Reuben R. Arnold for respondents.

[217 U.S. 524, 530]  

Mr. Justice Day delivered the opinion of the court:

These cases were tried together in the circuit court, and were so considered in the circuit court of appeals, and will be so disposed of here. In No. 140, Josephine King brought her suit in the superior court of Habersham county, Georgia, to recover $10,000 against the Southern Railway Company for the wrongful death of her husband, killed while riding in a buggy, at a crossing of the defendant's railway. The alleged negligence was the volation of a certain statute of the state of Georgia, in that the company failed to check and to keep checking [217 U.S. 524, 531]   the speed of its train while approaching the crossing at which her husband was killed.

In case No. 141, the action was brought by Inez King, by her next friend, Josephine King, in the same court, because of injuries received at the same time and place, and in alleged violation of the same statute. Both cases were removed to the United States circuit court for the eastern division of the northern district of Georgia. Upon trial, verdicts and judgments was rendered against the railroad company. These judgments were affirmed in the circuit court of appeals for the fifth circuit. 87 C. C. A. 284, 160 Fed. 332. The cases were then brought here by writs of certiorari.

The Federal question presented concerns the validity of the statute of the state of Georgia for violation of which a recovery was had, it being the contention of the petitioner that the statute is in violation of the interstate commerce clause of the Federal Constitution, in that it is an illegal burden upon and a regulation of interstate commerce. This statute is found in 2222 of the Civil Code of Georgia, and reads as follows:

It has been frequently decided in this court that the right to regulate interstate commerce is, by virtue of the Federal Constitution, exclusively vested in the Congress of the United States. The states cannot pass any law directly regulating such commerce. Attempts to do so have been declared unconstitutional in many instances, [217 U.S. 524, 532]   and the exclusive power in Congress to regulate such commerce uniformly maintained. While this is true, the rights of the states to pass laws not having the effect to regulate or directly interfere with the operations of interstate commerce, passed in the exercise of the police power of the state, in the interest of the public health and safety, have been maintained by the decisions of this court. We may instance some of the cases of this nature in which statutes have been held not to be a regulation of interstate commerce, although they may affect the transaction of such commerce among the states. In Smith v. Alabama, 124 U.S. 465 , 31 L. ed. 508, 1 Inters. Com. Rep. 804, 8 Sup. Ct. Rep. 564, it was held to be within the police power of the state to require locomotive engineers to be examined and licensed. In New York, N. H. & H. R. Co. v. New York, 165 U.S. 628 , 41 L. ed. 853, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 418, a law regulating the heating of passenger cars and requiring guard posts on bridges was sustained. In Lake Shore & M. S. R. Co. v. Ohio, 173 U.S. 286 , 43 L. ed. 702, 19 Sup. Ct. Rep. 465, it was held to be a valid enactment to require railway companies operating within the state of Ohio to cause three of its regular passenger trains to stop each way daily at every village containing over 3,000 inhabitants. In Erb v. Morasch, 177 U.S. 584 , 44 L. ed. 897, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 819, it was held that a municipal ordinance of Kansas City, Kansas, although applicable to interstate trains, which restricted the speed of all trains within the city limits to 6 mile an hour, was a valid exertion of the police power of the state. In the case of Crutcher v. Kentucky, 141 U.S. 47 , 35 L. ed. 649, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 851, this court said:

On the other hand, it has been held to be an illegal attempt to regulate interstate commerce to require interstate passenger trains to stop at county seats when adequate train service had already been provided for local traffic. Cleveland, C. C. & St. L. R. Co. v. Illinois, 177 U.S. 514 , 44 L. ed. 868, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 722. In Mississippi R. Commission v. Illinois C. R. Co. 203 U.S. 335 , 51 L. ed. 209, 27 Sup. Ct. Rep. 90, it was held that orders of a state railroad commission which directed the stopping of interstate trains at certain local stations, where adequate transportation facilities had already been provided, was an unlawful attempt to regulate interstate commerce, and repugnant to the Federal Constitution.

Applying the general rule to be deduced from these cases to such regulations as are under consideration here, it is evident that the constitutionality of such statute will depend upon their effect upon interstate commerce. It is consistent with the former decisions of this court, and with a proper interpretation of constitutional rights, at least, in the absence of congressional action upon the same subject-matter, for the state to regulate the manner in which interstate trains shall approach dangerous crossings, the signals which shall be given, and the control of the train which shall be required under such circumstances. Crossings may be so situated in reference to cuts or curves as to render them highly dangerous to those using the public highways. They may be in or near towns or cities, so that to approach them at a high rate of speed would be attended with great danger to life or limb. On the other hand, highway crossings may be so numerous and so near together that to require interstate trains to slacken speed indiscriminately at all such [217 U.S. 524, 534]   crossings would be practically destructive of the successful operation of such passenger trains. Statutes which require the speed of such trains to be checked at all crossings so situated might not only be a regulation, but also a direct burden upon interstate commerce, and therefor beyond the power of the state to enact.

It is the settled law of this court that one who would strike down a state statute as violative of the Federal Constitution must bring himself, by proper averments and showing, within the class as to whom the act thus attacked is unconstitutional. He must show that the alleged unconstitutional feature of the law injures him, and so operates as to deprive him of rights protected by the Federal Constitution. Tyler v. Registration Ct. Judges, 179 U.S. 405 , 45 L. ed. 252, 21 Sup. Ct. Rep. 206; Turpin v. Lemon, 187 U.S. 51, 60 , 47 S. L. ed. 70, 74, 23 Sup. Ct. Rep. 20; Hooker v. Burr, 194 U.S. 415 , 48 L. ed. 1046, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 706; New York ex rel. Hatch v. Reardon, 204 U.S. 152, 160 , 51 S. L. ed. 415, 422, 27 Sup. Ct. Rep. 188, 9 A. & E. Ann. Cas. 736.

In the case at bar, the Federal question was sought to be raised by an amendment to the answer. The answer originally filed was general in its nature, and did not set up the defense of violation of the Federal Constitution. The amendment filed set up that the railroad company was engaged in interstate commerce, and, at the time of the injury complained of, was operating an interstate train; and after setting up the statute of the state of Georgia for a violation of which the company was sued, averred that it was inoperative as to the defendant's train, because in violation of 8, article 1, of the Federal Constitution, giving Congress the power to regulate commerce, and further stated:

On oral demurrer to this amendment to the answer, the same was held insufficient, and it was dismissed. Petitioner's counsel further sought to raise the Federal question by an offer of proof at the trial by an engineer of the commpany, as follows:

This testimony was excluded and an exception was taken. It is apparent from this outline of the state of the record that when this testimony was offered there was no answer on file in the case under which it would be competent. A demurrer had been sustained to the amendment to the answer, and the case stood upon the complaint and the general issue filed by the defendant. It is elementary that the proof must conform to the allegations, and that without proper allegations, testimony cannot be admitted. We are then remitted to the question, Did the court err in sustaining the demurrer to the amended answer? The circuit court of appeals held, and we think correctly, that an inspection of that document shows that it did not contain a proper averment of the facts, which would show that the operation of the statute in controversy was such as to unlawfully regulate interstate commerce, and therefore deprive the railway company of its constitutional right to carry on such commerce unhampered by such illegal restrictions. The amended answer contains the general statement that the statute is in violation of the commerce clause of the Constitution, and a direct burden upon, and impedes, interstate traffic, and impairs the usefulness of defendant's facilities for that purpose; that it is impossible to observe the statute in carrying mails and in interstate commerce business. But these averments are mere conclusions. They set forth no facts which would make the operation of the statute unconstitutional. They do not show the number or location of the crossings at which the railway company would be required to check the speed of its trains, so as to interfere with their successful operation. For aught that appears [217 U.S. 524, 537]   as allegations of fact in this answer, the crossing at which this injury happened may have been so located and of such dangerous character as to make the slackening of trains at that point necessary to the safety of those using the public highway, and a statute making such requirement only a reasonable police regulation, and not an unlawful attempt to regulate or hinder interstate commerce. In the absence of facts setting up a situation showing the unreasonable character of the statute as applied to the defendant under the circumstances, we think the amended answer set up no legal defense, and that the demurrer thereto was properly sustained.

The learned counsel for the petitioner insists that under the decisions in Georgia, in the absence of a special demurrer requiring a more particular statement, the answer was sufficient. It is enough to say that we have examined those decisions, and think that they do not indicate a departure from the general rule that a pleading must state facts, and not mere conclusions, and that the want of definite allegations essential to a cause of action or defense renders a pleading subject to demurrer.

We find no error in the judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals, and the same is affirmed in both cases.


Mr. Justice Holmes, dissenting:

The petitioner set up as a defense to these actions that the statute under which it was sued was such a burden on commerce among the states as to violate art. 1, 8, of the Constitution of the United States,-a pure issue of law. If, in order to try this issue intelligently, it was necessary to take evidence of facts, I think the court was bound to hear such evidence, even without any specific allegation of the facts that would maintain it, as it is the court's duty to know and to declare the law. But I [217 U.S. 524, 538]   leave that question on one side because the petitioners did not stop with the naked proposition, but alleged further that 'it is impossible to observe said statute and carry the mails as the defendant is required to carry them under the contract it has with the government; and it is likewise impossible to do an interstate business and at the same time comply with the terms of said statute.' These are pure allegations of fact. They mean on their face that the requirement that the engineer at every grade crossing should have his train under such control as to be able to stop, if necessary, to avoid running down a man or wagon crossing the track, requires such delays as to prevent, or seriously to interfere with, commerce among the states. They refer to physical conditions and to physical facts; they can refer to nothing else. I think it obvious that they mean that the crossings are so numerous as to make the requirement impracticable, since I can think of nothing but the number of them that would have that effect.

The statement may be called a conclusion, but it is a conclusion of fact, just as the statement that a certain liquid was beer is a conclusion of fact from certain impressions of taste, smell, and sight. If the objection to the pleading had been that more particulars were wanted, although, for my part, I think it would have been unnecessarily detailed and prolix pleading to set forth what and where the crossings were, the pleading should not have been rejected, but the details should have been required. The petitioner showed that it was ready to give them, by its offer of proof. But evidently the answer was not held bad on that ground. Presumably, at least, as stated by the counsel for the petitioner, it was held bad on the ground taken by the supreme court of that state, that although the requirement was impracticable, it was the law. Central R. Co. v. Hall, 109 Ga. 367, 369, 34 S. E. 605. See 87 C. C. A. [217 U.S. 524, 539]   284, 289, 160 Fed. 332, 337. For it is to be observed further that the facts involved were public facts, and that although the court might not take notice of the precise situation of particular crossings, it well might take notice, as the supreme court of Georgia seems to have taken notice in the case just mentioned, that they were numerous. See United States v. Rio Grande Dam & Irrig. Co. 174 U.S. 690, 698 , 43 S. L. ed. 1136, 1139, 19 Sup. Ct. Rep 770, and for many cases, Wigmore, Ev. 2575, 2580; 16 Cyc. Law & Proc. p. 862; 17 Am. & Eng. Enc. Law, 2d. ed. p. 904. Again, if any merely technical objection had been thought fatal to the defense, the petitioner undoubtedly would have met it by a further amendment to its plea.

It seems to me a miscarriage of justice tosustain liability under a statute which possibly, and I think probably, is unconstitutional, until the facts have been heard which the petitioner alleged and offered to prove. I think that the judgment should be reversed.

I am authorized to say that Mr. Justice White concurs in this dissent.

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