Commonwealth v. People's Express Co.

Decision Date18 May 1909
Citation88 N.E. 420,201 Mass. 564
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

George S. Taft, Dist. Atty., and Ernest I. Morgan, Asst. Dist Atty., for the Commonwealth.

David I. Walsh and Thos. L. Walsh, for defendant.



The defendant was convicted upon two complaints, one for the violation of St. 1906, p. 437, c. 421, and the other for the violation of Rev. Laws, c. 100, § 49, as amended by St. 1907 p. 485, c. 517. St. 1906, c. 421, § 1, provides that 'no person or corporation, except a railroad or street railway corporation, shall, for hire or reward, transport spirituous or intoxicating liquors into or in a city or town in which licenses of the first five classes for the sale of intoxicating liquors are not granted, without first being granted a permit so to do as hereinafter provided.' Rev Laws, c. 100, § 49, as amended by St. 1907, p. 485, c. 517, § 1, after making several regulations respecting the marking of packages or vessels containing intoxicating liquor for transportation into cities and towns where licenses of the first five classes are not granted, provides further that 'no person or corporation not regularly and lawfully conducting a general express business, except a railroad corporation or a street railway corporation authorized to carry freight or express, shall receive such liquors for transportation for hire or reward for delivery in a city or town in which licenses of the first five classes are not granted, nor transport or deliver such liquors in such cities or towns.'

The defendant assails these statutes as invalid under article 1 § 8, of the federal Constitution which vests control of interstate commerce in Congress. This contention makes necessary a critical examination of the facts, in order to ascertain whether any question of interstate commerce is involved. The evidence tended to show that on August 7, 1907 (transactions on this day being identical in kind with those occurring on several other days in the same month), the Crescent Bottling Company delivered to the Boston & Maine Railroad, at Walpole, in the state of New Hampshire, 20 different packages containing beer. These were plainly and legibly marked, as required by law, and directed to 19 differently named individuals at Gardner in this commonwealth. The goods were shipped on bills of lading made out by the Crescent Bottling Company, who were named as consignors. There was a shipping order, which named the Crescent Bottling Company as shipper and under a heading. 'Marks' (apparently indicating the marks upon the several packages) appears this: 'c/o Peoples Express Co., Consignees.' Then follow, one below another, the names of the 19 persons to whom the packages were directed. One Sullivan, an agent of the Boston & Maine Railroad, at Walpole, who had charge of this and other like shipments, testified that the goods were 'all consigned in care of the People's Express Company, Gardner, Mass.,' and that these goods were 'consigned by the Crescent Bottling Company to the People's Express Company, Gardner, Mass.' No separate freight charge was made by the railroad for each package, but a lump sum was charged for all goods shipped in this way on a given day, at a lesser rate for a number of packages in bulk in care of the People's Express Company than for the same number of packages as distinct shipments to the individuals named on each package. The railroad agent in New Hampshire also testified 'that these packages * * * were put in a section of the car by themselves, and that if there were goods enough of the People's Express Company to take an entire car, and if he had no other goods to go to Gardner except the goods of the People's Express Company, they were placed in a car by themselves. This car was not devoted to the People's Express Company. * * *' On arrival of the car in Gardner the packages were unloaded by employés of the Boston & Maine Railroad, and placed in its freighthouse, and there delivered to the defendant, which paid the freight, amounting on the 20 packages to $2.19. One voucher was made in triplicate for the entire shipment, and this was receipted by the defendant at the time of delivery to it. It kept proper books of record for the intoxicating liquor handled by it (as required by the statute) and receipts for all such liquor delivered to individuals, collecting a charge of 25 cents, which, as might have been found from a statement by the treasurer of the defendant, 'was money which the express company received in payment for transportation of the packages.' The defendant had not been granted any permit as required by St. 1906, c. 421, nor does it appear that it had ever applied for and been refused such a permit. Although it was agreed as a fact at the trial that no permits had been granted in the town of Gardner during the period covered by these complaints, nothing more than this bald fact is disclosed on the record.

1. It is necessary first to inquire whether the ruling of the superior court to the effect that no question of interstate commerce was involved and that interstate transit ceased when the goods were delivered in Gardner to the defendant can be sustained.

The People's Express Company was in no sense the interstate carrier. It did not receive, have custody of or any relation to the goods at the point of shipment. The liquors were delivered to the Boston & Maine Railroad, which alone was the interstate carrier and which had the continuous possession of them thereafter, until they were placed in its freight station in Gardner. No messenger of the defendant accompanied the goods from the point of shipment in New Hampshire to their destination in this commonwealth. The defendant was not named as consignee in the shipping order, but was referred to by the phrase, 'in care of People's Ex. Co.' The addressing of a package to a consignee in the care of a third person, as between the consignor and consignee and the carrier, and as to the liability of the latter, and in the absence of known limitations upon the scope of the authority given (see Claflin v. Boston & Lowell Railroad Co., 89 Mass. 341), confers upon such third person the right to receive the goods, and ordinarily constitutes him the proper person to whom to make delivery (Russell v. Livingston, 16 N.Y. 516; C. & N.W. R. R. Co. v. Merrill, 48 Ill. 425; Ela v. Am. Merchants' Union Ex. Co., 29 Wis. 611, 9 Am. Rep. 619). This circumstance may be weighty evidence as to who is in fact the consignee and as to whether such caretaker is the agent of the consignor or of the consignee. Whether the defendant may have been found to have been connected with the interstate transportation involves an examination of federal statutes and decisions. Whatever may be the precise meaning of the words 'interstate commerce,' and their significance is certainly very broad (see Hopkins v. United States, 171 U.S. 578-597, 19 S.Ct. 40, 43 L.Ed. 290), goods brought from one state into another at some time reach a stage where they are no longer immune by reason of the interstate commerce clause from any otherwise legal intrastate regulation.

Respecting intoxicating liquors, that point of time is fixed by the act of Congress of August 8, 1890, known as the 'Wilson Act' Act Aug. 8, 1890, c. 728.26 Stat. 313 [U. S. Comp St. 1901, p. 3177]), to be 'upon arrival' in the state. As the Supreme Court of the United States is the final arbiter as to the meaning of a federal statute, its definition of these words is binding upon this court. The constitutionality of the Wilson act was established in Re Rahrer, 140 U.S. 545, 11 S.Ct. 865, 35 L.Ed. 572. The meaning of the particular words now in question was first discussed in Rhodes v. Iowa, 170 U.S. 412, 18 S.Ct. 664, 42 L.Ed. 1088, where it was said: 'Interpreting the statute by the light of all its provisions, it was not intended to and did not cause the power of the state to attach to an interstate commerce shipment whilst the merchandise was in transit under such shipment and until its arrival at the point of destination and delivery there to the consignee.' The contention that arrival meant physical presence at the boundary line of the state was held to be unsound. In Vance v. Vandercook Co. No. 1, 170 U.S. 438, 451, 18 S.Ct. 674, 679, 42 L.Ed. 1100, the issue was the constitutionality of a statute of South Carolina, which permitted residents of the state to import liquor only after communicating this purpose to the state chemist, and prohibited nonresidents from shipping into the state unless permission was granted. It was said that 'the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution guarantees the right to ship merchandise from one state into another, and protects it until the termination of the shipment by delivery at the place of consignment, and this right is wholly unaffected by the act of Congress which allows authority to attach to the original package before sale but only after delivery.' American Express Co. v. Iowa, 196 U.S. 133, 25 S.Ct. 182, 49 L.Ed. 417, Scott v. Donald, 165 U.S. 58, 17 S.Ct. 265, 41 L.Ed. 632, Pabst Brewing Co. v. Crenshaw, 198 U.S. 17, 25 S.Ct. 552, 49 L.Ed. 925, and Foppiano v. Speed, 199 U.S. 501, 26 S.Ct. 138, 50 L.Ed. 288, discuss the Wilson act, but contain no definition of 'arrival.' Heyman v. Southern Railroad, 203 U.S. 270, 27 S.Ct. 104, 51 L.Ed. 178, held that goods received from another state and placed in the freight warehouse of the carrier, without any act of receipt by the consignee or any unreasonable delay on his part, had not arrived, within the meaning of that act. Adams Express Co. v. Kentucky, 206 U.S. 139, 27 S.Ct. 606, 51 L.Ed. 987, and two cases immediately following it in the same volume...

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