269 U.S. 385 (1926), 314, Connally v. General Construction Company

Docket Nº:No. 314
Citation:269 U.S. 385, 46 S.Ct. 126, 70 L.Ed. 322
Party Name:Connally v. General Construction Company
Case Date:January 04, 1926
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 385

269 U.S. 385 (1926)

46 S.Ct. 126, 70 L.Ed. 322



General Construction Company

No. 314

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 4, 1926

Argued November 30, December 1, 1925




1. A criminal statute which either forbids or requires the doing of an act in terms so vague that men of common intelligence must guess at its meaning and differ as to its application lacks the first essential of due process of law. P. 391.

2. Oklahoma Comp.Stats. 1921, §§ 7255, 7257, imposing severe, cumulative punishments upon contractors with the State who pay their workmen less than the "current rate of per diem wages in the locality where the work is performed" held void for uncertainty. P. 393.

Appeal from a decree of the District Court awarding an interlocutory injunction, upon the bill and a motion to dismiss it (demurrer), in a suit to restrain state and county officials of Oklahoma from enforcing a statute purporting, inter alia, to prescribe a minimum for the wages of workmen employed by contractors in the execution of contracts with the State, and imposing fine or imprisonment for each day's violation.

Page 388

SUTHERLAND, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit to enjoin certain state and county officers of Oklahoma from enforcing the provisions of §§ 7255 and 7257, Compiled Oklahoma Statutes 1921, challenged as unconstitutional. Section 7255 creates an eight-hour day for all persons employed by or on behalf of the state, etc., and provides:

[t]hat not less than the current rate of per diem wages in the locality where the work is performed shall be paid to laborers, workmen, mechanics, prison guards, janitors in public institutions, or other persons so employed by or on behalf of the state, . . . and laborers, workmen, mechanics, or other persons employed by contractors or subcontractors in the execution of any contract or contracts with the state, . . . shall be deemed to be employed by or on behalf of the state. . . .

For any violation of the section, a penalty is imposed by § 7257 of a fine of not less than $50 nor more than $500, or imprisonment for not less than three nor more than six months. Each day that the violation continues is declared to be a separate offense.

Page 389

[46 S.Ct. 127] The material averments of the bill, shortly stated, are to the following effect: the construction company, under contracts with the state, is engaged in constructing certain bridges within the state. In such work, it employs a number of laborers, workmen, and mechanics, with each of whom it has agreed as to the amount of wages to be paid upon the basis of an eight-hour day, and the amount so agreed upon is reasonable and commensurate with the services rendered and agreeable to the employee in each case.

The Commissioner of Labor complained that the rate of wages paid by the company to laborers was only $3.20 per day, whereas, he asserted, the current rate in the locality where the work was being done was $3.60, and gave notice that, unless advised of an intention immediately to comply with the law, action would be taken to enforce compliance. From the correspondence set forth in the bill, it appears that the commissioner based his complaint upon an investigation made by his representative concerning wages "paid to laborers in the vicinity of Cleveland," Okl., near which town one of the bridges was being constructed. This investigation disclosed the following list of employers with the daily rate of wages paid by each: City, $3.60 and $4; Johnson Refining Co., $3.60 and $4.05; Prairie Oil & Gas, $4; Gypsy Oil Co., $4; Gulf Pipe Line Co., $4; Brickyard, $3 and $4; I. Hansen, $3.60; General Construction Company, $3.20; Moore & Pitts Ice Company, $100 per month; cotton gins, $3.50 and $4; Mr. Pitts, $4; Prairie Pipe Line Company, $4; C. B. McCormack, $3; Harry McCoy, $3. The scale of wages paid by the construction company to its laborers was stated to be as follows: six men at $3.20 per day, 7 men at $3.60, 4 men at $4.00, 2 men at $4.40, 4 men at $4.80, 1 man at $5.20, and 1 man at $6.50.

In determining the rate of wages to be paid by the company, the commissioner claimed to be acting under

Page 390

authority of a statute of Oklahoma, which imposes upon him the duty of carrying into effect all laws in relation to labor. In the territory surrounding the bridges being constructed by plaintiff, there is a variety of work performed by laborers, etc., the value of whose services depends upon the class and kind of labor performed and the efficiency of the workmen. Neither the wages paid nor the work performed are uniform. Wages have varied since plaintiff entered into its contracts for constructing the bridges and employing its men, and it is impossible to determine under the circumstances whether the sums paid by the plaintiff or the amount designated by the commissioner or either of them constitute the current per diem wage in the locality. Further averments are to the effect that the commissioner has threatened the company, and its officers, agents, and representatives, with criminal prosecutions under the foregoing statutory provisions, and, unless restrained, the county attorneys for various counties named will institute such prosecutions; and that, under section 7257, providing that each day's failure to pay current wages shall constitute a separate offense, maximum penalties may be inflicted aggregating many thousands of dollars in fines and many years of imprisonment.

The constitutional grounds of attack, among others, are that the statutory provisions, if enforced, will deprive plaintiff, its officers, agents and representatives, of their liberty and property without due process of law, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution; that they contain no ascertainable standard of guilt; that it cannot be determined with any degree of certainty what sum...

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