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GRIFFITH v. CONNECTICUT, 218 U.S. 563 (1910)

U.S. Supreme Court

GRIFFITH v. CONNECTICUT, 218 U.S. 563 (1910)

218 U.S. 563

DORIS GRIFFITH, alias Doris Griffin, Plff. in Err.,
No. 514.

Supreme Court of the United States

December 12, 1910

Submitted November 28, 1910.

Statement by Mr. Justice White: [218 U.S. 563, 564]   Upon a prosecution originating in the police court of the city of Hartford, in Hartford county, Connecticut, the plaintiff in error was tried and convicted in the superior court of the county, upon an information alleging, in six counts, the commission of offenses against chapter 238 of the Public Acts of Connecticut of 1907. The offenses charged were the exacting on certain loans of money a rate of interest greater than 15 per cent per annum, contrary to the provisions of the 1st section of the act, and in accepting notes for an amount greater than that actually loaned, with intent to evade the provisions of said 1st section, contrary to the provisions of the 2d section of the act. During the course of the trial, the accused, in various forms, assailed the validity of the statute referred to because of repugnancy to the contract clause of the Constitution of the United States, and to the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. From a judgment imposing a fine as to the conviction upon each count, an appeal was taken to the supreme court of errors. The judgment of the superior court was affirmed (83 Conn. 1, 74 Atl. 1068), and the case was then brought here. [218 U.S. 563, 565]   Since the filing of the record, the state of Connecticut has moved that the writ of error be dismissed, or, in the alternative, that the judgment be affirmed.

Mr. I. Henry Harris for plaintiff in error.

Mr. Hugh M. Alcorn for defendant in error.

[218 U.S. 563, 567]  

Mr. Justice White, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court:

The motion to dismiss or affirm is in effect based upon the claim that the assignments of error present no substantial Federal question. As the contentions urged required for their elucidation a consideration of the provisions of the statute charged to have been violated, we excerpt the 1st and 2d sections of the act. They are as follows:

The claim that the statute operates to deny the equal protection of the laws is based upon the provision exempting from the operation of the terms of 1 'any national bank, or any bank or trust company duly incorporated under the laws of this state,' and 'any bona fide mortgage of real or personal property.' The contentions elaborated in the assignments of error find succinct expression in the following proposition set out in the brief filed in opposition to the motion to dismiss:

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It is elementary that the subject of the maximum amount to be charged by persons or corporations subject to the jurisdiction of a state for the use of money loaned within the jurisdiction of the state is one within the police power of such state. The power to regulate existing, the details of the legislation and the exceptions proper to be made rest primarily within the discretion of the state legislature, and 'unless such regulations are so unreasonable and extravagant as to interfere with property and personal rights of citizens, unnecessarily and arbitrarily, they are within the power of the state; and that the classification of the subjects of such legislation, so long as such classification has a reasonable basis, and is not merely arbitrary selection without real difference between the subjects included and those omitted from the law, does not deny to the citizen the equal protection of the laws.' Watson v. Maryland, 218 U.S. 173 , 54 L. ed. 987, 30 Sup. Ct. Rep. 644, and cases cited. In the case at bar, the supreme court of errors ruled that the statute was not repugnant to the 14th Amendment, folowing a prior ruling to that effect made in State v. Hurlburt, 82 Conn. 232, 72 Atl. 1079.

In the Hurlburt Case, discussing contentions similar to those here urged against the validity of the Connecticut statute of 1907, based upon the exemption clause in question, the court said:

In the argument on behalf of the plaintiff in error, no attempt is made to meet the force of the foregoing statements of the court below; and, clearly, in the light of such declarations, it is impossible to conclude otherwise than that the classification complained of has a reasonable basis, and that the exemption of national banks, etc., was not a mere arbitrary selection.

In the argument for plaintiff in error no reference is made to the claim urged below of the protection of the contract clause of the Constitution. The claim appears to have had reference to a provision contained in 5 of the act of 1907, forbidding the enforcement of contracts made in violation of the act, thereby operating to deny validity to such contracts when made by those not within the exempted classes. There was power to enact the provision (Missouri, K. & T. Trust Co. v. Krumseig, 172 U.S. 351, 358 , 359 S., 43 L. ed. 474, 476, 477, 19 Sup. Ct. Rep. 179), and, as said by the court below, the contract clause of the Constitution of the United States 'does not give validity to contracts which are properly prohibited by statute.'

The supreme court of errors of Connecticut did not err in its judgment of affirmance. As, however, the particular classification here assailed has not been the subject of express consideration in any prior decision of this court, and hence the power to make it cannot be said to have been so explicitly foreclosed as to cause contention on the subject to be obviously frivolous, the motion to dismiss cannot prevail Louisville & N. R. Co. v. Melton, 218 U.S. 36 , 54 L. ed. 921, 30 Sup. Ct. Rep. 676. It is, however, manifest from the analysis which has been made of prior decisions, that applying the principles settled by the cases which have [218 U.S. 563, 572]   gone before, the contentions now advanced against the correctness of the judgment are so wholly without merit as not to require further argument. The motion to affirm must therefore prevail.


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