60 Miss. 641 (Miss. 1882), Chicago, St. Louis And New Orleans Railroad Company v. Moss & Co

Citation:60 Miss. 641
Opinion Judge:CAMPBELL, C. J.
Attorney:W. P. & J. B. Harris, for the motion. Calhoon & Green, contra. M. Green, of counsel opposing the motion, made an oral argument.
Court:Supreme Court of Mississippi

Page 641

60 Miss. 641 (Miss. 1882)




Supreme Court of Mississippi

October, 1882

Motion in Supreme Court.

Moss & Co., citizens of this State, having recovered a judgment in the Circuit Court against the Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans Railroad Company, the defendant appealed to this court; and the Circuit Court, in pursuance of an act of the Legislature, entitled "An act for the relief of certain litigants" (Acts 1882, p. 110), assessed a fee of $ 350 as a reasonable attorney's fee for the appellees, in case the judgment should be affirmed. The judgment was affirmed by this court, and thereupon the appellant made this motion in the nature of a motion in arrest of judgment, to prevent the clerk of this court from entering judgment against the appellant for the sum assessed by the lower court for the appellee's attorney's fee.

This motion involves the construction of the first section of the act above mentioned, which provides: "That whenever an appeal shall be taken from the judgment of any court, in any action for damages, brought by any citizen of this State against any corporation, a reasonable attorney's fee for the appellee shall be assessed by the court and certified by the clerk of the court or justice of the peace, as the case may be, to the appellate court, and upon affirmance of the judgment a judgment for the amount so assessed shall be rendered in favor of the appellee and against the appellant, and the sureties on his appeal-bond, and collection thereof shall be had in the same manner as of other judgments rendered on appeals; provided, the fee so assessed shall not be less than fifteen dollars in appeal from the court of a justice of the peace, nor less than twenty-five dollars in appeal from the judgment of a Circuit Court."

Judgment entered.

W. P. & J. B. Harris, for the motion.

We think the act is contrary to the spirit and the object of our fundamental law, which is to secure equal and exact justice to all, without invidious discrimination. It is in conflict with the first section of the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution of the United States in denying equal protection of the laws; it is in violation of the State Constitution; it is in conflict with the second section of the Bill of Rights; it contravenes the twenty-second section of the Bill of Rights, in making a distinction between citizens of this State and citizens of other States; it conflicts with the twenty-eighth section of the Bill of Rights, which secures to all persons the right to have remedy by due course of law, for all injuries to person, reputation or property. It especially violates the thirtieth section of the Bill of Rights, which declares that "no person shall be debarred from prosecuting or defending any civil cause for or against him or herself before any tribunal in this State, by him, or herself, or counsel, or both." So far as property rights and interests depend for their security and enjoyment on legal remedies in courts of justice, the act violates all the constitutional provisions cited. The act, in express terms, confines the so-called "relief" to citizens of the State of Mississippi. What that relief is, is perhaps not fully disclosed. He or she is to have his or her lawyer's fees paid in suits against corporations, and to have for the satisfaction of judgments rendered for such fees a privilege over all mortgages and other encumbrances extraordinary in character. Here is a discrimination against citizens of other States in favor of our own, and discrimination in favor of those who bring suits against corporations for damages, and against all others who may have claims or demands against such corporations of a different kind. Again, there is discrimination against corporations in favor of citizens--natural persons; for should a corporation sue an individual for damages, the "relief" is not bestowed, although the character of the action and the nature of the injury may be identically the same. It is plain to any one familiar with the character and results of the litigation with corporations for damages, that the purpose was not to relieve corporations at all, but to impose a burden upon them. It is moreover demonstrable from the act itself. The "relief" it not intended, as before observed, where a corporation happens to be plaintiff and a citizen defendant in a suit for damages. It is given only when a citizen of the State (voluntarily, of course) forces a corporation into court to answer a claim for damages, so that in fact the law is in aid of the citizen against a corporation. It is proved by the mortgage feature. It is well understood that railroad corporations, at which this statute was surely aimed, are, without exception, mortgagors. The railroads are built by means of mortgages; it is a feature of railroad enterprise. These mortgages are supposed to stand in the way of claims for damages. The legislation of the State shows signs of a desire to get rid of this obstacle. It is considered a grievance that such a cover of railroad property should exist. Acts 1882, sect. 1, pp. 47-48, and other prior acts of railroad legislation not necessary to be cited. Individuals sometimes create encumbrances, but in no act of the Legislature, nor in any expression of public feeling, is there to be found a symptom of discontent about bona fide encumbrances by individuals of their property; and whoever considered that, in this litigation, as matter of indubitable fact, railroads were oppressed by the existence of mortgages on the property of individuals.

We can demonstrate that this partial and discriminating legislation is grounded on no consideration but one, and that is that a corporation is a party to the suit as a defendant. A natural person shoots a cow or a mule, not having a lawful fence--a railroad locomotive kills a mule or cow. There is no difference as to the extent of the injury. In both cases the law gives an action for damages, but in the case of the individual trespasser no burdens are imposed on the right of appeal. The burden is imposed where the corporation is the delinquent. It is impossible to evade this test. It is a discrimination against corporations. We impeach this act because it is hugger-mugger and false. Its title and its body together constitute a bald legislative joke, and a legislative joke when it takes the form of a statute and works discriminating, or partial use of the important powers confided to the Legislature is, and should be decided, void. We repeat that the Legislature has not the power to enact that when a citizen sues a corporation neither party shall have the right of appeal, save under conditions not applicable to other litigants in like matters. This kind of discrimination is held to violate the fundamental provision, the second section of the Bill of Rights. It is not the law of the land. The parties are singled out and placed under a rule distinct from that which governs like cases between citizens and persons generally. Cooley's Const. Lim. 331, et seq. Walley's Heirs v. Kennedy, 2 Yerg. 554.

Calhoon & Green, contra.

The main objection urged to the act of 1882 is that it discriminates against the person of the suitor, and hence is unconstitutional. This is an assumption not sustained by the act. The legislative motives are impugned "on general principles," and thus the act is sought to be interpreted in the light of these assumptions. This court cannot inquire into legislative motives. The sole question here is one of power. If the...

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