Cato v. Mills, (No. 11834.)

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtJOHNSON
Citation129 S.E. 203
Decision Date10 September 1925
Docket Number(No. 11834.)
PartiesCATO. v. GRENDEL COTTON MILLS.

129 S.E. 203

CATO.
v.
GRENDEL COTTON MILLS.

(No. 11834.)

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Sept. 10, 1925.


Watts, J., dissenting.

Appeal from Greenwood County Court; H. C. Tillman, Judge.

Action by J. M. Cato against the Grendel Cotton Mills. Judgment for plaintiff, and defendant appeals. Affirmed.

Grier, Park & McDonald, of Greenwood, for appellant,

R. F. Davis, of Greenwood, for respondent.

JOHNSON, A. A. J. This action was brought under section 5592 of volume 3, Code 1922, for the recovery of wages alleged to be due plaintiff by defendant, and for the statutory penalty for failure of defendant to pay the same after due demand in writing. The case was tried before a magistrate, who gave judgment for plaintiff for the full amount claimed, less $18 accrued rent. An appeal was taken from this judgment to the county court for Greenwood county, and resulted in an order of his honor, H. C. Tillman, dismissing the appeal, and affirming the judgment of the magistrate. From this judgment defendant appeals to this court, and alleges error on the part of. the county judge by two exceptions:

(1) That his honor erred in holding that the defendant was liable for the penalty under the statute; the error being that, plaintiff being in possession of the defendant's house as a part of his compensation, defendant had the right to demand the surrender of possession of same as a condition precedent to the payment of wages.

(2) That his honor erred in holding that plaintiff's wages were due, within the meaning of the statute, so as to make defendant liable for the penalty for its failure to pay such wages within 24 hours after written demand, notwithstanding that under plaintiff's contract of employment he enjoyed the possession of defendant's house as a part of his compensation; the error being that under such contract, and by virtue of the well-understood custom, defendant was entitled to the surrender of possession of the house, and plaintiff's wages did not become due until such possession was surrendered.

The record shows that on August 13, 1923, plaintiff, Cato, was in the employ of defendant, Grendel Cotton Mills; that on that day he was discharged by defendant; that defendant then owed plaintiff $19.12; that on September 1, 1923, Cato made written demand on defendant for his wages; that defendant refused to pay until Cato should va-

[129 S.E. 204]

cate the house of defendant then occupied by Cato, defendant alleging that by a custom of the mill a discharged employee is not entitled to his pay until he vacates the house of the company occupied by him.

The section of the Code mentioned supra is as follows:

"When any corporation carrying on any business in this state in which laborers are employed, whose wages, under the business rule or custom of such corporation, are paid monthly or weekly on a fixed day beyond the end of the month or week in which the labor is performed, shall discharge any such laborer, the wages which have been earned by such discharged laborer shall become immediately due and payable. And if not so paid within twenty-four hours after written demand therefor, then such laborer shall recover in addition thereto a penalty of as much per day for the time said wages shall remain unpaid, not exceeding thirty days, as he was receiving at the time of his discharge."

When the defendant hired Cato, the statute just quoted formed a part of the contract. It wrote the condition that in the event of defendant's discharge his wages became immediately due and payable. But defendant says that plaintiff agreed to waive his statutory rights by accepting employment subject to the condition that his wages should not become due and payable until he vacated plaintiff's house. The evidence adduced to prove this allegation is the statement of the magistrate, in his return, that "this practice is a well-understood and universal custom or usage with this defendant." If it be conceded that the magistrate's finding of fact as to the custom of this defendant was equivalent to a finding that plaintiff, Cato, knew of the custom, and acquiesced in and was bound by it, then his conclusion of law must rest upon the proposition that Cato could not legally waive his right to immediate payment of his wages, or could not, by contract, add to the statute something the Legislature did not see fit to write into it.

The question then arises: Was Cato's right upon discharge to immediate payment of his wages a right he could either expressly or impliedly waive or contract away? The statute the court is called upon to construe was passed, no doubt, to meet an evil prevalent at the time of its passage. We have corporations in this state employing thousands of laborers. Most of these laborers are employed in the cotton mills. Defendant's counsel say in their printed argument, in substance, that most of these employees are impecunious. I think this is true. Some of these corporations employed their help either by the week or month, and if the employee was discharged before his wages became due he had to wait until "pay day" before he could get his wages. It is easy to picture the consequences to the impecunious laborer of this mode of settlement. To remedy the hardships that, no doubt, followed this practice by corporations, the statute in question was enacted.

To recur to the question hereinbefore propounded: Was Cato's right, upon discharge, to immediate payment of his wages, a right he could either expressly or impliedly waive or contract away? We answer, No; that, in the light of the reason for the enactment of the statute, it would be against public policy to allow him to do so. The following authorities bear upon the question at issue:

"The public policy of the government is to be found in its statutes, and, when they have not directly spoken, then in the decisions of the courts and the constant practice of the government officials; but, when the lawmaking power speaks upon a particular subject, over which it has constitutional power to legislate, public policy in such a case is what the statute enacts." United States v. Trans-Missouri Freight Ass'n, 166 U. S. 290, 17 S. Ct. 540, 41 L. Ed. 1007.

"Courts must refuse to sustain that which is against the public policy of the state, when such public policy is manifested by the legislative or fundamental law of the state." People ex rel. Peabody v. Chicago Gas Trust Co., 130 Ill. 268, 22 N. E. 798, 8 L. R. A. 497, 17 Am. St. Rep. 319.

"Contracts contravening the established policy of the state cannot be enforced in the courts thereof." Commonwealth Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Hayden, 60 Neb. 636, 83 N. W. 922, 83 Am. St. Rep. 545.

"Parties arc permitted, by contract, to make a law for themselves only in cases where their agreements do not violate the express provisions of any law, nor injuriously affect the interests of the public." Little Rock & Ft. S. Ry. Co. v. Eubanks, 48 Ark. 460, 3 S. W. SOS, 3 Am. St. Rep. 248.

"And it is for the welfare of society that their employers shall not be permitted, under the guise of enforcing contract rights, to abdicate their duties to them. The consequence would be that every railroad company, and every owner of a factory, mill, or mine, would make it a condition precedent to the employment of labor, that the laborer should release all right of action for injuries sustained in the course of the service, whether by the employer's negligence or otherwise." Id. 249.

"The courts of no state will hold valid any contract that is injurious to the public rights of its people, offends their...

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10 practice notes
  • Muench v. Paine, No. 139
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • January 16, 1970
    ...388; Clark v. State, 142 N.Y. 101, 36 N.E. 817; Larsen v. Rice, 100 Wash. 642, 171 P. 1037; Cato v. Grendel Cotton Mills, 132 S.Ct. 454, 129 S.E. 203, 41 A.L.R. 439. As was said by the New York Court of Appeals, In Wright v. State, 223 N.Y. 44, 119 N.E. 83, 85, 'Such conclusion would permit......
  • Futch v. McAllister Towing of Georgetown, No. 24976.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • July 26, 1999
    ...employers from asserting valid defenses or counterclaims against employees. See Cato v. Grendel Cotton Mills, 132 S.C. 454, 456-61, 129 S.E. 203, 205 (1925) (emphasizing the remedial nature of the statute and the sound public policies underlying it, and refusing to allow employers to ignore......
  • School Dist. No. 1 v. Teachers' Retirement Fund
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oregon
    • November 10, 1939
    ...549, 81 Am. St. Rep. 686; Glendale v. Coquat, 46 Ariz. 478, 52 P. (2d) 1178, 102 A.L.R. 837; Cato v. Grendel Cotton Mills, 132 S.C. 454, 129 S.E. 203, 41 A.L.R. 439, 2-4. The requirements of a statute enacted for the public good may not be nullified by private contract: Central R. Co. v. Ma......
  • Fosscett v. Lake Charles Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Bd., No. 85
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
    • November 17, 1960
    ...388; Clark v. State, 142 N.Y. 101, 36 N.E. 817; Larsen v. Rice, 100 Wash. 642, 171 P. 1037; Cato v. Grendel Cotton Mills, 132 S.C. 454, 129 S.E. 203, 41 A.L.R. For the reasons hereinabove set forth, it is ordered, adjudged and decreed that the judgment rendered on May 31, 1960, by the Court......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
10 cases
  • Muench v. Paine, No. 139
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • January 16, 1970
    ...388; Clark v. State, 142 N.Y. 101, 36 N.E. 817; Larsen v. Rice, 100 Wash. 642, 171 P. 1037; Cato v. Grendel Cotton Mills, 132 S.Ct. 454, 129 S.E. 203, 41 A.L.R. 439. As was said by the New York Court of Appeals, In Wright v. State, 223 N.Y. 44, 119 N.E. 83, 85, 'Such conclusion would permit......
  • Futch v. McAllister Towing of Georgetown, No. 24976.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • July 26, 1999
    ...employers from asserting valid defenses or counterclaims against employees. See Cato v. Grendel Cotton Mills, 132 S.C. 454, 456-61, 129 S.E. 203, 205 (1925) (emphasizing the remedial nature of the statute and the sound public policies underlying it, and refusing to allow employers to ignore......
  • School Dist. No. 1 v. Teachers' Retirement Fund
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oregon
    • November 10, 1939
    ...549, 81 Am. St. Rep. 686; Glendale v. Coquat, 46 Ariz. 478, 52 P. (2d) 1178, 102 A.L.R. 837; Cato v. Grendel Cotton Mills, 132 S.C. 454, 129 S.E. 203, 41 A.L.R. 439, 2-4. The requirements of a statute enacted for the public good may not be nullified by private contract: Central R. Co. v. Ma......
  • Fosscett v. Lake Charles Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Bd., No. 85
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
    • November 17, 1960
    ...388; Clark v. State, 142 N.Y. 101, 36 N.E. 817; Larsen v. Rice, 100 Wash. 642, 171 P. 1037; Cato v. Grendel Cotton Mills, 132 S.C. 454, 129 S.E. 203, 41 A.L.R. For the reasons hereinabove set forth, it is ordered, adjudged and decreed that the judgment rendered on May 31, 1960, by the Court......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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