111 U.S. 746 (1884), Butchers' Union Slaughter-house & Live-stock Landing Co. v. Crescent City Live-stock Landing & Slaughter-House Co.

Citation:111 U.S. 746, 4 S.Ct. 652, 28 L.Ed. 585
Case Date:May 05, 1884
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 746

111 U.S. 746 (1884)

4 S.Ct. 652, 28 L.Ed. 585



CRESCENT city live-stock landing & SLAUGHTER-HOUSE CO. 1

United States Supreme Court.

May 5, 1884

Appeal from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Louisiana.


[4 S.Ct. 652] B. R. Forman, for appellant.

Thos. J. Semmes, for appellee.



This is an appeal from the circuit court for the Eastern district of Louisiana. The appellee brought a suit in the circuit court to obtain an injunction against the appellant forbidding the latter from exercising

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the business of butchering, or receiving and landing live-stock intended for butchering, within certain limits in the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Bernard, and obtained such injuction by a final decree in that court. He ground on which this suit was brought and sustained is that the plaintiffs had the exclusive right to have all such stock landed at their stock landing-place, and butchered at their slaughter-house, by virtue of an act of the general assembly of Louisiana, approved March 8, 1869, entitled 'An act to protect the health of the city of New Orleans, to locate the stock landing and slaughterhouses, and to incorporate the Crescent City Live-stock Landing & Slaughter-house Company.' An examination of that statute, especially of its fourth and fifth sections, leaves no doubt that it did grant such an exclusive right. The fact that it did so, and that this was conceded, was the basis of the contest in this court in the slaughter-house Cases, 16 Wall. 36, in which the law was assailed as a monopoly forbidden by the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments to the constitution of the United States, and these amendments, as well as the fifteenth, came for the first time before this court for construction. The constitutional power of the state be enact the statute was upheld by this court. This power was placed by the court in that case expressly on the ground that it was the exercise of the police power which had remained with the states in the formation of the original constitution of the United States, and had not been taken away by the amendments adopted since. Citing the definition of this power from Chancellor KENT, it declares that the statute in question came within it. 'Unwholesome trades, slaughter-houses, operations offensive to the senses, the deposit of powder, the application of steam-power to propel cars, the building with combustible materials, and the burial of the dead, may all (he says) be interdicted by law in the midst of dense masses of population, on the general and rational principle that every person ought so to use his property as not to injure his neighbors; and that private interests must be made subservient to the general interest of the community.'

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2 Kent, Comm. 340; 16 Wall. 62. In this latter case it was added that 'the regulation of the place and manner of conducting the slaughtering of animals, and the business of butchering within a city, and the inspection of the animals to be killed for meat, and of the meat afterwards, are among the most necessary and frequent exercises of this power.'

[4 S.Ct. 653] But in the year 1879 the state of Louisiana adopted a new constitution, in which were the following articles:

'Art. 248. The police juries of the several parishes, and the constituted authorities of all incorporated municipalities of the state, shall alone have the power of regulating the slaughtering of cattle and other live-stock within their respective limits: Provided, no monopoly or exclusive privilege shall exist in this state, nor such business be restricted to the land or houses of any individual or corporation: provided, the ordinances designating places for slaughtering shall obtain the concurrent approval of the board of health or other sanitary organization.'

'Art. 258. * * * The monopoly features in the charter of any corporation now existing in the state, save such as may be contained in the charters of railroad companies, are hereby abolished.'

Under the authority of these articles of the constitution the municipal authorities of the city of New Orleans enacted ordinances which opened to general competition the right to build slaughter-houses, establish stock landings, and engage in the business of butchering in that city under regulations established by those ordinances, but which were in utter disregard of the monopoly granted to the Crescent City Company, and which in effect repealed the exclusive grant made to that company by the act of 1869. The appellant here, the Butchers' Union Slaughter-house Company, availing themselves of this repeal, entered upon the business, or were about to do so, by establishing their slaughter-house and stock landing within the limits of the grant of the act of 1869 to the Crescent City Company. Both these corporations, organized under the laws of Louisiana and doing business in that state, were citizens of the same

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state, and could not, in respect of that citizenship, sue each other in a court of the United States. The Crescent City Company, however, on the allegation that these constitutional provisions of 1879, and the subsequent ordinances of the city, were a violation of their contract with the state under the act of 1869, brought this suit in the circuit court as arising under the constitution of the United States, art. 1, § 10. That court sustained the view of the plaintiff below, and held that the act of 1869, and the acceptance of it by the Crescent City Company, constituted a contract for the exclusive right mentioned in it for 25 years; that it was within the power of the legislature of Louisiana to make that contract, and as the constitutional provisions of 1879 and the subsequent ordinances of the city impaired its obligation, they were to that extent void. No one can examine the provisions of the act of 1869, with the knowledge that they were accepted by the Cresecent City Company, and so far acted on that a very large amount of money was expended in a vast slaughter-house, and an equally extensive stock-yard and landing-place, and hesitate to pronounce that in form they have all the elements of a contract on sufficient consideration. It admits of as little doubt that the ordinance of the city of New Orleans, under the new constitution, impaired the supposed obligation imposed by those provisions on the state, by taking away the exclusive right of the company granted to it for 25 years, which was to the company the most valuable thing supposed to be secured to it by the statutory contract. We do not think it necessary to spend time in demonstrating either of these propositions. We do not believe they will be controverted.

The appellant, however, insists that, so far as the act of 1869 partakes of the nature of an irrepealable contract, the legislature exceeded its authority, and it had no power to tie the hands of the legislature in the future from legislating on that subject without being bound by the terms of the statute then enacted. This proposition presents the real point in the case.

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Let us see clearly what it is. It does not deny the power of that legislature to create a corporation, with power to do the business of landing live-stock and providing a place for slaughtering them in the city. It does not deny the power to [4 S.Ct. 654] locate the place where this shall be done exclusively. It does not deny even the power to give an exclusive right, for the time being, to particular persons or to a corporation to provide this stock landing and to establish this slaughter-house. But it does deny the power of that legislature to continue this right so that no future legislature, nor even the same body, can repeal or modify it, or grant similar privileges to others. It concedes that such a law, so long as it remains on the statute-book as the latest expression of the legislative will, is a valid law, and must be obeyed, which is all that was decided by this court in the Slaughter-house Cases. But it asserts the right of the legislature to repeal such a statute, or to make a new one inconsistent with it, whenever, in the wisdom of such legislature, it is for the good of the public it should be done. Nor does this proposition contravene the established principle that the legislature of a state may make contracts on many subjects which will bind it, and will bind succeeding legislatures for the time the contract has to run, so that its provisions can neither be repealed nor its obligation impaired. The examples are numerous where this has been done and the contract upheld. The denial of this power, in the present instance, rests upon the ground that the power of the legislature intended to be suspended is one so indispensable to the public welfare that it cannot be bargained away by contract. It is that well-known but undefined power called the police power. We have not found a better definition of it for our present purpose than the extract from Kent's Commentaries in the earlier part of this opinion. 'The power to regulate unwholesame trades, slaughter-houses, operations offensive to the senses,' there mentioned, point unmistakably to the powers exercised by the act of 1869, and the ordinances of the city under the constitution of 1879. While we are not prepared to say that the legislature can make

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valid contracts on no subject embraced in the largest definition of the police power, we think that, in regard to two subjects so embraced, it cannot, by any contract, limit the exercise of those powers to the prejudice of the general welfare. These are the public health and public morals. The preservation of these is so necessary to the best interests of social organization, that a wise policy forbids the legislative body to divest itself of the power to enact laws for the preservation...

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