253 U.S. 206 (1920), 42, Fort Smith & Western R. Co. v. Mills

Docket NºNo. 42
Citation253 U.S. 206, 40 S.Ct. 526, 64 L.Ed. 862
Party NameFort Smith & Western R. Co. v. Mills
Case DateJune 01, 1920
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 206

253 U.S. 206 (1920)

40 S.Ct. 526, 64 L.Ed. 862

Fort Smith & Western R. Co.



No. 42

United States Supreme Court

June 1, 1920

Argued December 13, 1917




The Act of September 3, 5, 1916, known as the Adamson Law, although by its general terms purporting to apply to all railroad and railroad employees subject to the Act to Regulate Commerce, was not intended to govern the exceptional case of an insolvent railroad operating at a loss under an agreement with its men, which they desired to keep, allowing them less wages than the act prescribed. Wilson v. New, 243 U.S. 332, considered.


The case is stated in the opinion.

HOLMES, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a bill in equity brought by the Fort Smith and Western Railroad Company and the trustee of a mortgage given to secure bonds of that road, to enjoin the receiver of the road from conforming to the Act of September 3, 5, 1916, c. 436; 39 Stat. 721, in respect of hours of service and wages, and to enjoin the District Attorney of the United States from proceeding to enforce the Act. The bill alleges

Page 207

that the physical property is worth over $7,000,000, but that no dividends ever have been paid upon the stock, that no interest has been paid upon the bonds since October 1, 1907, and that there is a yearly deficit in the earnings of the road. The receiver was appointed in proceedings to foreclose the mortgage. The bill further alleges that the railroad now (1917) is being carried on under an agreement with the men which the men desire to keep, but that the receiver, yielding to the threats of the District Attorney to prosecute him unless he does so, purposes to substitute the much more onerous terms of the Act. It is set up that the Act, if construed to apply to this case, is void under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. The bill was dismissed by the district court, on motion, for want of equity, and the plaintiffs appealed.

The Act in question, known as the Adamson Law, was passed to meet the emergency created by the threat of a general railroad strike. It fixed eight hours as a day's work and provided that, for some months, pending an investigation, the compensation of employees of railroads subject to the Act to Regulate Commerce should not be "reduced below the present...

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