Ballard v. Mississippi Cotton Oil Co.

Decision Date27 April 1903
Citation34 So. 533,81 Miss. 507
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

FROM the circuit court of Yazoo county. HON. ROBERT POWELL, Judge.

The appellants, Elizabeth Ballard and others, were plaintiffs and the appellee defendant in the court below.

This was an action brought by Elizabeth Ballard and her husband and their three children against the Mississippi Cotton Oil Co., a corporation, to recover damages for the death of John Ballard, who was the son of Elizabeth Ballard and her husband, and the brother of the other plaintiffs. John Ballard was an employe in defendant's cotton seed oil mill, and while oiling the machinery, in the discharge of his duty, fell, and was killed by a revolving shaft in consequence of the insufficiency and unsafe condition of a step-ladder he was using at the time, which appliance had been furnished to him by defendant for the use to which he was putting it. He had knowledge of its unsafe condition, and on the conclusion of the evidence the same was excluded on the motion of defendant, and a verdict for defendant directed by the court. Chapter 66 of the acts of 1898, under which the plaintiffs claimed that their action was maintainable together with sec. 193 of the constitution of 1890 are set out in the opinion of the court.

From the judgment entered in favor of defendant, plaintiffs appealed to the supreme court.


R. N Miller, for appellants.

We might say, in response to questions put by the court, that in all matters of doubt about the constitutionality of an act the rule is uniform that the doubt must be solved in favor of its constitutionality. The first query of the court amounts in our conception, to asking whether the classification must in every instance be based upon "some difference inhering in the very nature of the business, as, for instance, the dangerous character of steam as an agency" (as an element of danger). We say, "No." This precise question was answered by the supreme court of the United States in Missouri R. R. Co. v. Mackey, 127 U.S. 210 (8 S.Ct. 1163; 32 L. Ed., 107), where, speaking of the right of classification under the fourteenth amendment the court says: "As said by the court below, it is simply a question of legislative discretion whether the same liabilities shall be applied to common carriers by canal and stage coaches, and to persons and corporations using steam in manufactories." This is a clear statement, by the court whose opinions must control this question, that the basis of classification need not "inhere in the nature of the business," and that the agency of steam has nothing to do with it. This matter is one of legislative discretion, if "there is some difference which bears a just and proper relation to the act in respect to which the classification is proposed." Gulf, C. & S. F. R. Co. v. Ellis, 165 U.S. 155 (17 S.Ct. 255; 41 L. Ed., 666). The only ground for classification deducible from all the decisions of the supreme court of the United States is that the selection must be based on some ground which addresses the reason, and not a mere arbitrary selection. Id.; Magoun v. Bank, 170 U.S. 293-296 (18 S.Ct. 594; 42 L. Ed., 1037). Again, in Missouri R. R. Co. v. Mackey, 127 U.S. 208 (8 S.Ct. 1162; 32 L. Ed., 107), the court holds that "it cannot be successfully contended that the state may not prescribe the liabilities under which corporations created by its laws shall conduct their business."

It is decided by a dozen cases in the supreme court of the United States that the very fact that corporations get their rights and privileges from the state gives the right to the state to dictate the terms on which they may transact their business. This right, of course, does not apply to individuals. Now, it is clear to me that the basis of classification as to liability to employes is one of those terms the state may dictate to corporations, simply and solely because the state gives life to the corporation, gives it rights and privileges it does not give to individuals, gives it power to limit its liability--perpetual life and a number of privileges it does not give private persons. The servant of the master who is a private individual has the superintending care and criminal accountability of the master as a guaranty for his safety. If the master kills him by gross negligence, he may be indicted for murder or manslaughter, and deprived of liberty. The master's liability for damages is unlimited. All this guaranty of safety is denied the servant of a soulless corporation, which can only be fined, if indicted for his killing. This is an essential substantial "difference, which bears some just and proper relation to the classification." 165 U.S. 155 (17 S.Ct. 255; 41 L. Ed., 666). The justice, the sufficiency, of the reason on which the classification is based is a matter of legislative discretion. See authorities cited in printed brief in full, pages 9 and 10. "The constitution is not violated by special legislation applying equally to all artificial bodies." Pacific Express Co. v. Seibert, 142 U.S. 352 (12 S.Ct. 250; 35 L. Ed., 1035.) See authorities cited in support of this on page 7, printed brief for appellant. Union Cent. Life Ins. Co. v. Chowning (Tex. Sup.), 26 S.W. 982 (24 L. R. A., 505); McPherson v. Blacker, 146 U.S. 38-40, (13 S.Ct. 3, 36 L. Ed., 869).

The precise question put by the court, as to whether the basis of classification need "inhere in the very nature of the business," is answered by all the above array of authority--that it need not. The confusion in the mind of the court arises from considering the case of Tullis v. Lake Erie R. R. Co., 175 U.S. 353 (20 S.Ct. 136; 44 L. Ed., 192), by itself, and not with all the cases cited by us. In this case, whilst the statute of Indiana embraced all corporations (not municipal), the case was a suit by a railroad employe, and the court simply contented itself by deciding the case in hand, and holding that the act was at least constitutional as to railroad employes. That is all the court decided. This case simply held that the statute was separable, and was not in conflict with the fourteenth amendment, so far as railroads is concerned. It never undertook to deny the right of the state to "dictate the terms upon which artificial bodies created by it may conduct their business." It never overlooked or criticised the following cases, to wit: Missouri R. R. Co. v. Mackey, 127 U.S. 205 (8 S.Ct. 1161; 32 L. Ed., 107), which, among other things, distinctly held: "When legislation applies to particular bodies or associations, imposing upon them additional liabilities, it is not open to the objection that it denies them the equal protection of the laws, if all . . . brought under its influence are treated alike under the same conditions," or Gulf, C. & S., F. R. R. v. Ellis, 165 U.S. 150 (17 S.Ct. 255; 41 L. Ed., 666.)

As to the second proposition by the court, as to whether the statute is separable, I answer: It is as much so in this case as it was in the Tullis case, 175 U.S. 348 (20 S.Ct. 136; 44 L. Ed., 192). It simply happened there that the court had repeatedly held that classification of railroads by themselves was sound, discreet and proper classification. It has never been held that oil mills are; but the dangers attending employes of oil mills are certainly known to be as great as those attending railroad employes. However, I do not think it necessary to discuss that question. I am so perfectly confident that the single ground of classification of all corporations is so sound and reasonable that the statute ought to be upheld on that ground. The state gives the corporation existence, gives it life and privileges, and can, therefore, dictate its special liabilities as a class. Not only so, but this reasoning is clear when we add the rights and protection given by the individual master to his servant, which the servant of any corporation is denied, as the just reason why the state should provide special liabilities of the one master and not of the other. This is a just reason, a reason having relation to the right to classify, and not a mere arbitrary selection, which alone could make the classification illegal. I repeat: The sufficiency or hardship of the classification is a matter of legislative discretion and remedy. See page 208, about middle of page, 127 U.S. and page 1163 (8 Sup. Ct.; 32 L. Ed., 107). This case answers every inquiry put by the court.

R. N. Miller and Campbell & George, for appellants.

This case has been remanded to the docket for reargument of the question of the constitutionality of ch. 66 of the acts of the legislature of Mississippi of 1898. Section 193 of the constitution of Mississippi, as is well understood, overturns the law, as it had existed prior to its adoption, as to the liability of a railroad master to his servant for injuries received in the service of such master. The last paragraph of this sec. 193 provides: "The legislature may extend the remedies herein provided for to any other class of employes." It will be noted that no classification is attempted by the constitution, but to what other class of employes this remedy shall be extended is left to legislative discretion. By ch. 66, p. 85, acts 1898, the remedies provided by sec. 193 are extended to "employes of all corporations."

It is contended for appellee that this classification of employes of all corporations is violative of the equality clause of the fourteenth amendment to the constitution of the United States, which guarantees to every person equal protection of the laws, and that his life, liberty or property shall never be taken without "due process of law." The power is given the legislature to extend to any other class,...

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