164 U.S. 578 (1896), 50, Covington & Lexington Turnpike Road Company v. Sandford

Docket Nº:No. 50
Citation:164 U.S. 578, 17 S.Ct. 198, 41 L.Ed. 560
Party Name:Covington & Lexington Turnpike Road Company v. Sandford
Case Date:December 14, 1896
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 578

164 U.S. 578 (1896)

17 S.Ct. 198, 41 L.Ed. 560

Covington & Lexington Turnpike Road Company

v.

Sandford

No. 50

United States Supreme Court

December 14, 1896

Submitted May 7, 1898

ERROR TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

OF THE STATE OF KENTUCKY

Syllabus

The Legislature of Kentucky, by an act passed in 1834, created the Covington and Lexington Turnpike Road Company with authority to construct a turnpike from Covington to Lexington. One section prescribed the rates of tolls which might be exacted; another provided

that if at the expiration of five years after the said road has been completed, it shall appear that the annual net dividends for the two years next preceding of said company, upon the capital stock expended upon said road and its repairs, shall have exceeded the average of fourteen percent per annum thereof, then and in that case, the legislature reserves to itself the right, upon the fact being made known, to reduce the rates of toll, so that it shall give that amount of dividends per annum, and no more.

In 1851, two new corporations were created out of the one created by the act of 1834, one to own and control a part of the road and the other the remaining part, and each of the new companies was to possess and retain "all the powers, rights and capacities in severalty granted by the act of incorporation, and the amendments thereto, to the original company." In 1865, an act was passed reducing the tolls to be collected on the Covington and Lexington turnpike. In 1890, another act was passed largely reducing still further the tolls which might be exacted.

Held:

(1) That the new corporations created out of the old one did not acquire the immunity and exemption granted by the act of 1834 to the original company from legislative control as to the extent of dividends it might earn.

(2) That the statute of Kentucky passed February 14, 1856, reserving to the legislature the power to amend or repeal at will charters granted by it, had no application to charters granted prior to that date.

(3) That an exemption or immunity from taxation is never sustained unless it has been given in language clearly and unmistakably evincing a purpose to grant such immunity or exemption.

(4) That corporations are persons within the meaning of the constitutional provisions forbidding the deprivation of property without due process of law as well as a denial of the equal protection of the laws.

(5) That the principle is reaffirmed that courts have the power to inquire whether a body of rates prescribed by a legislature is unjust and unreasonable and such as to work a practical destruction of rights

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of property, and if found so to be, to restrain its operation, because such legislation is not due process of law.

(6) That the facts stated make a prima facie case invalidating the act of 1890 as depriving the turnpike company of its property without due process of law. Where a defense arises under an act of Congress or under the Constitution, the question whether the plea or answer sufficiently sets forth such a defense is a question of federal law, the determination of which cannot be controlled by the judgment of the state court.

(7) That when a question arises whether the legislature has exceeded its constitutional power in prescribing rates to be charged by a corporation controlling a public highway, stockholders are not the only persons whose rights or interests are to be considered, and if the establishment of new lines of transportation should cause a diminution in the tolls collected, that is not, in itself, a sufficient reason why the corporation operating the road should be allowed to maintain rates that would be unjust to those who must or do use its property, but that the public cannot properly be subjected to unreasonable rates in order simply that stockholders may earn dividends.

(8) That the constitutional provision forbidding a denial of the equal protection of the laws, in its application to corporations operating public highways, does not require that all corporations exacting tolls should be placed upon the same footing as to rates, but that justice to the public and to stockholders may require in respect to one road rates different from those prescribed for other roads, and that rates on one road may be reasonable and just to all concerned, while the same rates would be exorbitant on another road.

The case is stated in the opinion.

HARLAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The General Assembly of Kentucky, by an Act approved May 24, 1890, made it unlawful to demand, charge, collect, or receive tolls in excess of the rates specified in that act for travel on that portion of the Covington & Lexington Turnpike Road which was then maintained.

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The company announced its purpose to disregard the provisions of the act and to charge such tolls as were prescribed by the prior statutes. Thereupon the appellees living on or near the line of the turnpike road and accustomed to travel on it daily with animals and vehicles, brought this suit for an injunction restraining the appellant from exacting tolls in excess of those fixed by the act of 1890.

A temporary injunction in accordance with the prayer of the petition was granted, and the company filed its answer. A demurrer to the answer was sustained. An amended answer was then tendered by the defendant, but the court would not allow it to be filed, and by final order made the injunction perpetual. That judgment was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of Kentucky. 20 S.W. 1031.

The principal questions are: 1. Whether the act of 1890 impairs the obligation of any contract that the turnpike company had with the state touching the matter of tolls. 2. Whether, independently of any question of contract, the act made such a reduction in tolls as to amount to a deprivation of the company's property without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. 3. Whether the act is repugnant to the clause of the federal Constitution forbidding the denial by the state to any person within its jurisdiction of the equal protection of the law.

As these questions were properly raised by the pleadings and were decided adversely to the company, the jurisdiction of this Court to review the final judgment of the Court of Appeals of Kentucky cannot be doubted.

It is necessary to a clear understanding of the issues presented that reference be made to the enactments preceding the statute of 1890.

The Covington & Lexington Turnpike Road Company was incorporated by an Act approved February 22, 1834, with authority to construct and permanently maintain a turnpike road from Covington, Kentucky, through Williamstown and Georgetown, to Lexington in that state.

By the nineteenth section of that act, the company was

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authorized to collect certain specified tolls. It is contended that the twenty-sixth section is a part of the defendants' contract with the state. That section provided:

That if, at the expiration of five years after the said road has been completed, it shall appear that the annual net dividends for the two years next preceding of said company upon the capital stock expended upon said road and its repairs shall have exceeded the average of fourteen percent per annum thereof, then and in that case, the legislature reserves to itself the right, upon the fact's being made known, to reduce the rates of toll so that it shall give that amount of dividends per annum, and no more.

Acts of Kentucky 1833, pp. 537, 548.

By an Act approved February 23, 1839, amendatory of the act of 1834, the road then having been constructed from Covington to Williamstown, it was provided:

§ 1. That the stockholders is the Covington and Lexington Turnpike Road Company, residing south of Williamstown, in Grant County, and anywhere between that place and Georgetown, may elect a separate board of directors, to consist of the same number as authorized by the original charter, and the directors chosen by them shall have the control and shall superintend the construction of that part of the road to be located and constructed between Georgetown and Williamstown.

§. 2. That the stockholders in said road residing north of Williamstown shall have power also to elect a separate board of directors, for the purpose of controlling and superintending that portion of the road extending from Williamstown to Covington, and each board so chosen shall exercise separate control over its own portion of the road, but nothing herein shall be construed to divide and separate the stock in said road, but the same shall continue joint and common to all the stockholders, after the completion of said road.

Acts of Kentucky 1838-1839, p. 371. This amendment, it is admitted, was accepted by the turnpike company.

Subsequently, by the second section of an Act approved March 22, 1851, it was provided:

§ 2. That so much of the second section of said act to amend the charter of the Covington and Lexington Turnpike

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Road [17 S.Ct. 200] Company [meaning the act of 1839] as declares that the stock in said road shall continue joint and common to all the stockholders after the completion of said road is hereby repealed, and the stockholders whose stock is now under the control and management of the board of directors having control of the road north of Williamstown shall be and are hereby constituted a separate and independent company, under the name and style of the Covington and Lexington Turnpike Road Company, who shall be and forever remain separate and independent of that portion of said company owning the stock in the road now...

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