90 A. 318 (Me. 1914), Laughlin v. City of Portland

Citation90 A. 318, 111 Me. 486
Opinion JudgeCORNISH, J.
Party NameLAUGHLIN et al. v. CITY OF PORTLAND.
AttorneyEben Winthrop Freeman, of Portland, for complainant. James H. McCann, of Portland, for respondent.
Judge PanelArgued before SAVAGE, C. J., and SPEAR, CORNISH, KING, and PHILBROOK, JJ.
Case DateApril 04, 1914
CourtSupreme Judicial Court of Maine

Page 318

90 A. 318 (Me. 1914)

111 Me. 486

LAUGHLIN et al.

v.

CITY OF PORTLAND.

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine.

April 4, 1914

Argued before SAVAGE, C. J., and SPEAR, CORNISH, KING, and PHILBROOK, JJ.

Eben Winthrop Freeman, of Portland, for complainant. James H. McCann, of Portland, for respondent.

CORNISH, J.

The Legislature of Maine in 1903 enacted the following law: "Any city or town is hereby authorized and empowered to establish and maintain, within its limits, a permanent wood, coal and fuel yard, for the purpose of selling, at cost, wood, coal and fuel to its inhabitants. The term 'at cost,' as used herein, shall be construed as meaning without financial profit." Pub. Laws 1903, c. 122; R. S. c. 4, § 87.

At the municipal election held in the city of Portland on December 2, 1912, the question of establishing and maintaining a fuel

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yard under the terms of the above act was submitted to the voters, and a majority vote was cast in favor of the proposition. On February 3, 1913, both branches of the city council passed a resolution in favor of the same proposition, and on February 4, 1913, this resolution was duly approved by the mayor and became effective. At the same time a special committee was appointed, consisting of the mayor, two aldermen, and three councilmen, "to investigate and obtain full information as to the cost of plant, machinery, rolling stock, and things whatsoever necessary to the establishment and maintaining a municipal fuel yard, and carry on the business thereof, including sources from which fuel can be purchased, and prices to be paid therefor, with the duty of furnishing a full report of their findings to the city council; and, for the purpose of defraying the expense of said committee, the the sum of $1,000 is hereby appropriated, the sum to be charged to special appropriation when made."

On February 4, 1913, this bill in equity was brought by 15 taxable inhabitants of Portland, asking that the city and its officers and agents be restrained and enjoined from establishing a municipal fuel yard, from raising by taxation the money necessary for that purpose, and from carrying into effect any of the votes before recited.

The defendant demurred to the bill, and, the demurrer being joined, the case is before the law court on report.

The important question is therefore sharply raised whether this court must declare unconstitutional this act of the Legislature of 1903. It is not a question whether, under the general statutory powers, a municipality has the right to take this step, a question that has often arisen in similar cases, but whether such municipality can exercise the right when conferred upon it by the Legislature in clear and unambiguous terms. In other words, is this court obliged to declare, as the plaintiffs ask us, that this act is so obviously beyond the realm of constitutional legislative action that it must be declared void?

Before considering the main issue, it is necessary to restate certain familiar and yet fundamental propositions that lie at the very basis of our inquiry.

First. The Legislature has, under the Constitution, "full power to make and establish all reasonable laws and regulations for the defense and benefit of the people of this state, not repugnant to this Constitution, nor that of the United States." Const. of Maine, art. 4, pt. 3, § 1. While, therefore, the executive and the judiciary, the other two co-ordinate departments of government, can exercise only the powers conferred upon them by the Constitution, the powers of the Legislature are, broadly speaking, absolute, except as limited or restricted by the Constitution. "As to the executive and judiciary, the Constitution measures the extent of their authority; as to the Legislature, it measures the limitations upon its authority." Sawyer v. Gilmore, 109 Me. 169, 83 A. 673.

Second. The court is bound to assume that, in the passage of any law, the Legislature acted with full knowledge of all constitutional restrictions, and intelligently, honestly, and discriminatingly decided that they were acting within their constitutional limits and powers. That determination is not to be lightly set aside. It is not enough that the court be of the opinion that, had the question been originally submitted to it for decision, it might have held the contrary view. The question has been submitted in the first instance to the tribunal designated by the Constitution, the Legislature, and its decision is not to be overturned by the court, unless no room is left for rational doubt. All honest and reasonable doubts are to be solved in favor of the constitutionality of the act. This healthy doctrine is recognized as the settled policy of this court. State v. Doherty, 60 Me. 504; State v. Pooler, 105 Me. 224, 74 A. 119, 24 L.R.A. (N. S.) 408, 134 Am.St.Rep. 543. "The power of the judicial department of the government to prevent the enforcement of a legislative enactment, by declaring it unconstitutional and void, is attended with responsibilities so grave that its exercise is properly confined to statutes that are clearly and conclusively shown to be in conflict with the organic law. It is the duty of one department to presume that another has acted within its legitimate province until the contrary is made to appear by strong and convincing reasons." State v. Rogers, 95 Me. 94, 49 A. 564, 85 Am.St.Rep. 395.

"In determining *** the constitutionality of any legislation, all reasonable presumptions are in favor of its validity, and the courts will not declare an act of the Legislature to be invalid, because contrary to the provisions of the organic law, unless it is clearly so. *** And this is as true respecting legislative enactments by which the power to exercise the right of eminent domain is delegated as in regard to any other species of legislation. The determination by the Legislature that the use for which property is authorized to be taken is a public one is undoubtedly subject to review by the court, but all reasonable presumptions are in favor of the validity of such determination by the legislation, and the act must be regarded as valid, unless it can be clearly shown to be in conflict with the Constitution." Ulmer v. Railroad Co., 98 Me. 579, 57 A. 1001, 66 L.R.A. 387.

With these principles conceded, the precise question before the court is seen to be whether the act in question, having been passed by the Legislature conformably with what it deemed to be an exercise of its constitutional power, can be set aside by this court as invalid on the ground that it palpably

Page 320

and unquestionably transcends that power. We are unable to go that extent.

The main ground of attack is that the maintenance of what, in general terms, may be called a municipal fuel yard is not a public use, and, as the power of taxation is confined to public purposes, the authority conferred by this act cannot be constitutionally exercised.

The Constitution of Maine, art. 1, § 21, provides that "private property shall not be taken for public uses without just compensation, nor unless the public exigencies require it." The power of taxation is akin to the right of eminent domain, because it rests upon the right of the sovereign power to appropriate the private property of its citizens to public purposes. Therefore the power of taxation must rest upon two elements in order to be permitted by the Constitution, first a public use and second a public exigency, the first to be determined in the first instance by the Legislature and finally by the court, if cases are brought before it raising the question, and with the limitations before referred to, and the second to be determined by the Legislature without judicial revision. Brown v. Gerald, 100 Me. 351, 61 A. 785, 70 L.R.A. 472, 109 Am.St.Rep. 526; Hayford v. Bangor, 102 Me. 340, 66 A. 731, 11 L.R.A. (N. S.) 940.

Did, then, the Legislature transcend its constitutional powers when it authorized municipalities to make provision for supplying heat to its citizens? In so doing, was it clearly and unquestionably diverting the power of taxation from a public to a private purpose?

This leads us to consider what is meant by the term "public use," as employed in connection with the power to tax.

The exact line of cleavage between what is, and what is not, a public use, it is somewhat difficult to mark. Some purposes readily align themselves on one side of the line as being clearly public in their nature, while others as readily fall on the other side as being obviously private, and there is a debatable ground between the two. Thus the support of schools, the relief of paupers, and the maintenance of highways are clearly public uses for which taxation is permissible, and it has also been held that the maintenance of a public clock (Willard v. Newburyport, 12 Pick. [Mass.] 227), the purchase of a fire engine (Allen v. Taunton, 19 Pick. [Mass.] 485), the erection of a market house (Spaulding v. Lowell, 23 Pick. [Mass.] 71), the building of a memorial hall (Kingman v. City of Brockton, 153 Mass. 255, 26 N.E. 998, 11 L.R.A. 123), the aid of a railroad (Augusta Bank v. Augusta, 49 Me. 507; Dyar v. Farmington Village Corp., 70 Me. 515), all come within the scope of the same term.

On the other hand, taxes cannot be imposed to aid a private enterprise, and a municipality cannot assist individuals or corporations to establish or carry on such business, either directly or indirectly, nor can it engage in such business itself. Opinion of Justices, 58 Me. 590; Allen v. Jay, 60 Me. 124, 11 Am.Rep. 185; Loan Ass'n v. Topeka, 20 Wall. 655, 22 L.Ed. 455; Parkersburg v. Brown, 106 U.S. 487, 1 S.Ct. 442, 27 L.Ed. 238; Opinion of Justices, 204 Mass. 607, 91 N.E. 405, 27 L.R.A. (N. S.) 483. If the direct...

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85 practice notes
  • 108 N.E.2d 687 (Ind. 1952), 28914, Ennis v. State Highway Commission
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • November 17, 1952
    ...unless there is a plain departure from every public purpose which could reasonably be conceived. Laughlin v. City of Portland, 1914, 111 Me. 486, 90 A. 318, 51 L.R.A.,N.S. 1143; Carmichael v. Southern Coal & Page 698 Coke Co., 1937, 301 U.S. 495, 57 S.Ct. 868, 81 L.Ed. 1245, 109 A.L.R. ......
  • 205 N.W. 614 (S.D. 1925), 6030, White Eagle Oil & Refining Co. v. Gunderson
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • October 28, 1925
    ...levied for its enforcement would be as lawful as a tax to raise funds to build a state house." In the case of Laughlin v. Portland, 111 Me. 486, 90 A. 318, 51 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1143, Ann. Cas. 1916C, 734, the act empowering a city or town to maintain a permanent wood, coal, and fuel yar......
  • 148 N.W.2d 683 (Wis. 1967), State ex rel. Bowman v. Barczak
    • United States
    • Wisconsin Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • February 28, 1967
    ...taxes or appropriations as public in purpose, doubtless in recognition of the fact, as was stated in Laughlin v. City of Portland, supra (111 Me. 486, 90 A. 318, 51 L.R.A.N.S., 1143), that: "Times change. The wants and necessities of the people change. The opportunity to satisfy those ......
  • 205 N.W.2d 784 (Wis. 1973), 180, State ex rel. Hammermill Paper Co. v. La Plante
    • United States
    • Wisconsin Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • April 9, 1973
    ...taxes or appropriations as public in purpose, doubtless in recognition of the fact, as was stated in Laughlin v. City of Portland, supra, (111 Me. 486, 90 A. 318), that: "'Times change. The wants and necessities of the people change. The opportunity to satisfy those wants and necessiti......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
83 cases
  • 108 N.E.2d 687 (Ind. 1952), 28914, Ennis v. State Highway Commission
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • November 17, 1952
    ...unless there is a plain departure from every public purpose which could reasonably be conceived. Laughlin v. City of Portland, 1914, 111 Me. 486, 90 A. 318, 51 L.R.A.,N.S. 1143; Carmichael v. Southern Coal & Page 698 Coke Co., 1937, 301 U.S. 495, 57 S.Ct. 868, 81 L.Ed. 1245, 109 A.L.R. ......
  • 205 N.W. 614 (S.D. 1925), 6030, White Eagle Oil & Refining Co. v. Gunderson
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • October 28, 1925
    ...levied for its enforcement would be as lawful as a tax to raise funds to build a state house." In the case of Laughlin v. Portland, 111 Me. 486, 90 A. 318, 51 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1143, Ann. Cas. 1916C, 734, the act empowering a city or town to maintain a permanent wood, coal, and fuel yar......
  • 148 N.W.2d 683 (Wis. 1967), State ex rel. Bowman v. Barczak
    • United States
    • Wisconsin Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • February 28, 1967
    ...taxes or appropriations as public in purpose, doubtless in recognition of the fact, as was stated in Laughlin v. City of Portland, supra (111 Me. 486, 90 A. 318, 51 L.R.A.N.S., 1143), that: "Times change. The wants and necessities of the people change. The opportunity to satisfy those ......
  • 205 N.W.2d 784 (Wis. 1973), 180, State ex rel. Hammermill Paper Co. v. La Plante
    • United States
    • Wisconsin Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • April 9, 1973
    ...taxes or appropriations as public in purpose, doubtless in recognition of the fact, as was stated in Laughlin v. City of Portland, supra, (111 Me. 486, 90 A. 318), that: "'Times change. The wants and necessities of the people change. The opportunity to satisfy those wants and necessiti......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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