Commonwealth ex rel. Woodruff v. American Baseball Club of Philadelphia

Decision Date25 June 1927
Docket Number13
Citation290 Pa. 136,138 A. 497
PartiesCommonwealth ex rel. Woodruff v. American Baseball Club of Philadelphia, Appellant
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Argued April 12, 1927

Appeal, No. 13, May T., 1927, by defendant, from judgment of C.P. Dauphin Co., Commonwealth Docket 1926, No. 69, awarding writ of quo warranto, in case of Commonwealth ex rel. George W. Woodruff, Attorney General, v. American Baseball Club of Philadelphia. Affirmed.

Petition for writ of quo warranto. Before HARGEST, P.J.

The opinion of the Supreme Court states the facts.

Judgment for Commonwealth. Defendant appealed.

Error assigned, inter alia, was judgment, quoting record.

The judgment and decree of the court below are affirmed at the cost of appellant.

John R Geyer, with him Charles G. Gartling and Paul G. Smith, for appellant. -- Quo warranto will not lie for the enforcement of the Sunday Law of 1794.

Appellant has the express power granted to it to play professional baseball and nowhere in the act of its incorporation, or in its charter, is it prohibited from conducting this undertaking on Sunday.

The sentence of corporate death cannot be imposed for minor infractions which do not go to the essence of the corporate franchise nor inflict injury upon the public: Com. v Bridge Co., 216 Pa. 108; Com. v. Bank, 28 Pa. 383; Com. v. Bridge Co., 20 Pa. 185; Com. v. R.R., 58 Pa. 26.

If the writ would lie in the instant case then any manufacturing corporation might suffer corporate death, in whole or in part, because it did not equip its factory with fire escapes as provided by law; a mercantile corporation might lose its charter because it worked its employees over time; and a taxi-cab company might have judgment of ouster entered against it, if one or more of its drivers violated the speed laws or any other provision mala prohibita. In fact, every corporation could be subjected to a forfeiture of its charter for violations by its agents or employees.

The Sunday Law of 1794 provides the sole penalty for its violation: Com. v. Wilkins, 271 Pa. 523; Com. v. Foster, 28 Pa.Super. 400; Phila., W. & B. Ry. v. Phila., etc., Co., 64 U.S. 209.

The playing of professional baseball on Sunday with or without an admission charge, is not a violation of the Act of 1794, unless it disturbs or interrupts the religious worship of the community: Com. v. Nesbit, 34 Pa. 398; Com. v. Junkin, 170 Pa. 194; Com. v. Reyburg, 122 Pa. 299; Foster's Petition, 243 Pa. 92; Johnston v. Com., 22 Pa. 102.

If the interpretation of the Act of 1794, as contended for by the Commonwealth, is adopted, it renders the entire act unconstitutional.

John Robert Jones, Special Counsel, with him Thomas J. Baldrige, Attorney General, for Commonwealth, appellee. -- That quo warranto will lie to oust a corporation from the exercise of powers not granted to it is settled law: Com. v. Canal Co., 43 Pa. 295; Com. v. Mut. Aid Union, 7 Dauphin Co. R. 312; Com. v. Phila. Inquirer, 15 Pa. C.C.R. 463.

Appellant is a private business corporation, authorized to engage in a business the proceeds of which enure to the benefit of its stockholders.

The powers granted by, and the purpose stated in, the charter must conform to the legislation authorizing the creation of the corporation: Bly v. White Deer Mt. Water Co., 197 Pa. 92; C. & S. Line Ry. v. Markleton H. Co., 247 Pa. 565; Bank of Penna. v. Com., 19 Pa. 144; Stormfeltz v. Turnpike Co., 13 Pa. 555.

There is no power to violate an Act of Assembly: Pittsburgh Rys. v. Pittsburgh, 226 Pa. 498; Bly v. Water Co., 197 Pa. 80.

Though appellant has the powers claimed by it and the right to exercise them on week-days, it can have no right to exercise such powers on Sundays: Johnston v. Com., 22 Pa. 102.

The question of playing baseball on Sunday has been the subject of judicial inquiry in this State as the following cases establish: Com. v. Coleman, 66 Pa.Super. 380; Com. v. Rapp, 23 Pa. Dist. R. 145; Com. v. Egler, 43 Pa. C.C.R. 90.

The violation of the Sabbath is a crime which deserves punishment: Com. v. Eyre, 1 S. & R. 347; Com. v. Teamann, 1 Phila. 460; Com. v. Foster, 28 Pa.Super. 400; Com. v. Jeandell, 2 Grant (Pa.) 506.

An act lawful on week-days may be unlawful on Sundays: Com. v. Waldman, 140 Pa. 89.

The Act of 1794 is constitutional: Pittsburgh Rys. Co. v. Pittsburgh, 226 Pa. 498; Com. v. Wolf, 3 S. & R. 48; Specht v. Com., 8 Pa. 312; Com. v. Rapp, 23 Pa. Dist. R. 145; Hennington v. Georgia, 163 U.S. 299.

The procedure prescribed and the penalty imposed by the Act of 1794, is not exclusive: Kenton v. Rys., 54 Pa. 452; Com. v. Boulos, 35 Pa.Super. 102.




Defendant, a corporation of the second class and therefore organized for profit, was incorporated under the General Act of April 29, 1874, P.L. 73, and its supplements, for the purpose of organizing and maintaining a team or club for the playing of baseball. It holds a franchise as a member of the American League of professional baseball clubs and owns a baseball park known as Shibe Park, situated in the City of Philadelphia. All its players are paid and it charges the public an admission fee to see the games. In the summer of 1926, appellant announced that it intended playing professional baseball at its parks on Sundays, and on Sunday, August 22d, it did play a game of professional ball with another team of the American League, to which the public was admitted on payment of an admission fee. Thereafter the attorney general in behalf of the Commonwealth filed the suggestion for the writ of quo warranto in this proceeding, his averment being that the playing of the game of baseball on Sunday violates the Act of April 22, 1794, 3 Smith's Laws 177, and that appellant is without power or authority of law, under the letters patent granted to it, to play baseball on Sunday. The answer of defendant denied that the playing of baseball on Sunday is a violation of the Act of 1794 or that it is without authority to play the game on that day and averred that the writ of quo warranto would not lie against it because the sole penalty for its so doing is the payment of the sum of four dollars as provided in the act. The attorney general having demurred to the answer, the court below after hearing sustained the demurrer and entered a judgment that defendant be ousted from any right, privilege or authority to maintain or conduct upon its grounds any game of professional baseball on Sunday and directed that a perpetual injunction issue restraining it from so doing; from the judgment and decree thus entered defendant brings to us this appeal.

The questions we are asked to pass upon may be thus summarized: (1) Is the playing of professional baseball on Sunday as defendant played it a violation of the Act of 1794? (2) Is the act unconstitutional for uncertainty? (3) Is quo warranto the proper remedy and the judgment entered a proper one?

As to the first and main question we fail to see how, when the language of the act is called to mind and account is taken of what defendant is and what it actually did, it can be affirmed that the statute was not violated. To hold otherwise would mean that words do not have their ordinary meaning. The statute says "If any person shall do or perform any worldly employment or business whatsoever on the Lord's Day, commonly called Sunday, works of necessity and charity only excepted . . . and be convicted thereof, every such person so offending shall, for every such offense, forfeit and pay four dollars, to be levied by distress; or in case he or she shall refuse or neglect to pay the said sum . . . he or she shall suffer six days imprisonment in the house of correction of the proper county." The word "worldly" as here used means "concerned with the enjoyments of this present existence, secular," "not religious, spiritual or holy." Chief Justice LOWRIE, speaking for the court in Com. v. Nesbit, 34 Pa. 398, 409, said: "Very evidently, worldly is contrasted with religious, and the worldly employments are prohibited for the sake of the religious ones." We cannot imagine in this sense anything more worldly or unreligious in the way of employment than the playing of professional baseball as it is played today. It is not only worldly employment which is forbidden but business. There are businesses which are not trade or commerce: Hooper v. California, 155 U.S. 648. Can any one hope to successfully contend that today's professional baseball enterprises are not business? It was taken for granted by the Supreme Court of the United States that they are. "The business is giving exhibitions of baseball": National League v. Federal Baseball Club, 259 U.S. 200. We think no one would argue that conducting a circus is not a business or running a theater is not and yet there is no difference between them and playing professional baseball. In all three the participants are hired to give the exhibition and the public is admitted for a price. Pertinent to this line of thought is what was said by Mr. Justice STRONG in Sparhawk v. Union Passenger Ry. Co., 54 Pa. 401, 409, "Many might be found, doubtless, who would affirm on oath that theatrical representations are conducive to mental and bodily health, and that such recreation as they afford is a necessity. Such a construction of the statute would make it but an empty sound. It would be losing sight entirely of the objects sought to be secured, the observance of a day of rest for the community, thereby enabling every one to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience, without distraction, and without disturbance, and thus giving a check to vice and immorality. A construction that leads...

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