Cooper Manuf Co of Mount Vernon, Ohio v. Ferguson

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation5 S.Ct. 739,28 L.Ed. 1137,113 U.S. 727
PartiesCOOPER MANUF'G CO. OF MOUNT VERNON, OHIO, v. FERGUSON and another, Partners, etc. 1
Decision Date16 March 1885

Section 10 of article 15 of the constitution of the state of Colorado, adopted in 1876, and still in force, provides as follows: corporation shall do any business in this state without having one or more known places of business, and an authorized agent or agents in the same upon whom process may be served.' To carry into effect this clause of the constitution, the legislature of Colorado, in the year 1877, in an act entitled: 'An act to provide for the formation of corporations,' enacted as follows:

'Sec. 23. Foreign corporations shall, before they are authorized or permitted to do any business in this state, make and file a certificate, signed by the president and secretary of such corporation, duly acknowledged, with the secretary of state, and in the office of the recorder of deeds of the county in which such business is carried on, designating the principal place where the business of such corporation shall be carried on in this state, and an authorized agent or agents in this state residing at its principal place of business upon whom process may be served; and such corporation shall be subjected to all the liabilities, restrictions, and duties which are or may be imposed upon corporations of like character organized under the general laws of this state, and shall have no other or greater powers.'

Section 26 of the same act provided that a failure to comply with the provisions of section 23 should render the officers, agents, and stockholders of the corporation individually liable on all its contracts made while the corporation was so in default.

These provisions of the organic and statute law of the state being in force, the plaintiff in error, which was a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the state of Ohio, and having its principal place of business at Mount Vernon, Ohio, on February 22, 1880, at the county of Larimer, in the state of Colorado, entered into a contract in writing of that date with the defendants, who were citizens of Colorado, by which it was agreed that the plaintiff should sell to the defendants, and deliver to them on the cars at Mount Vernon, in the state of Ohio, a steam engine and other machinery, in consideration whereof, the defendants were to pay the plaintiff the price stipulated in the contract for such machinery.

This suit was brought by the plaintiff on August 10, 1880, to recover of the defendants damages for their breach of the contract. The defendants, among other defenses, pleaded—First, that when the contract was entered into, the plaintiff had not made and filed the certificate required by section 23 of the act of 1877; second, that at the time of making the contract the plaintiff did not have a known place of business in the state of Colorado, and did not have an authorized agent or agents in the state upon whom process might be served. The plaintiff demurred to both these answers, because they did not state facts sufficient to constitute a defense to the action. Upon the hearing of the demurrer the judges of the circuit court were divided in opinion, and the presiding judge being of opinion that the demurrer should be overruled, it was overruled accordingly, and the plaintiff electing to stand by its demurrer, judgment was entered against it dismissing its suit, and for costs. By the present writ of error the plaintiff brings that judgment under review.

The certificate of division of opinion recites the facts above set forth, and states the question upon which the judges differed to be: 'Whether the tenth section of article sixteen' (fifteen) 'of the constitution of the state of Colorado, and the twenty-third section of an act of the general assembly of the state of Colorado, passed in the year A. D. 1877, entitled an 'Act to provide for the formation of corporations,' were, or either of them was, under all the circumstances stated, and the various acts passed by the legislature of the state of Colorado, a bar in this action.'

Walter H. Smith, for plaintiff in error.

Thos. M. Robinson, for defendant in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 730-732 intentionally omitted]


The right of the people of a state to prescribe generally by its constitution and laws the terms upon which a foreign corporatio shall be allowed to carry on its business in the state, has been settled by this court. Bank of Augusta v. Earle, 13 Pet. 519; Paul v. Virginia, 8 Wall. 168; Ducat v. Chicago, 10 Wall. 410. The plaintiff in error does not deny this right, but insists that, upon a proper construction of section 10 of article 15 of the constitution of Colorado, and of section 23 of the act of 1877, its* contract with the defendants was valid, and that its suit should have been maintained. As the clause in the constitution and the act of the legislature relate to the same subject, like statutes in pari materia, they are to be construed together. Eskridge v. State, 25 Ala. 30. The act was passed by the first legislature that assembled after the adoption of the constitution, and has been allowed to remain upon the statute book to the present time. It must therefore be considered as a contemporary interpretation, entitled to much weight. Stuart v. Laird, 1 Cranch, 299; Martin v. Hunter, 1 Wheat. 304; Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat, 264; Adams v. Storey, 1 Paine, 90. It must be conceded that if the contract on which the suit was brought was made in violation of a law of the state, it cannot be enforced in any court sitting in the state charged with the interpretation and enforcement of its laws. U. S. Bank v. Owens, 2 Pet. 527; Groves v. Slaughter, 15 Pet. 449; Harris v. Runnels, 12 How. 79; Brown v. Tarkington, 3 Wall. 377; Davidson v. Lanier, 4 Wall. 447; Hanauer v. Doane, 12 Wall. 342; Wheeler v. Russell, 17 Mass. 258; Law v. Hodson, 11 East, 300; Little v. Poole, 9 Barn. & C. 192; Thorne v. Travelers' Ins. Co. 80 Pa. St. 15; Allen v. Hawks, 13 Pick. 82; Roche v. Ladd, 1 Allen, 441; In re Comstock, 3 Sawy, 218.

So far as appears by the record, the plaintiff had no principal place of business, nor any place of business whatever, in the state of Colorado, and the making of the contract set out in the complaint was the only business ever done by it, or that it ever purposed to do, in that state. The question, therefore, is whether, upon a true construction of the constitution and statute, the making of the contract which the plaintiff seeks to enforce, was, under the circumstances stated, forbidden. The contention of the defendant in error is that the prohibition against the doing of any business in the state by a foreign corporation, except upon the prescribed condition, includes the doing of any single and isolated act of business what- ever. Thus broadly stated, it is clear that the interpretation of the defendants cannot be sustained. In a case involving the construction of the statute, the supreme court of Colorado held that a foreign corporation might, without complying with the provisions of the statute, maintain an action in the courts of the state to recover damages for trespass to its real estate. The court said: 'The prohibition extends to doing business before compliance with the terms of the statute. We do not think this an abridgment of the right of a foreign corporation to sue. It extends only to the exercise of the powers by which it may be said ordinarily to transact or carry on its business. To what extent the exercise of these powers is affected we do not decide.' Utley v. Clark-Gardner Lode Min. Co. 4 Colo. 369. So it is clear that the statute cannot be construed to impose upon a foreign corporation limitations of its right to make contracts in the state for carrying on commerce between the states, for that would make the act an invasion of the exclusive right of congress to regulate commerce among the several states. Paul v. Virginia, 8 Wall. 168. The prohibition against doing any business cannot, therefore, be literally interpreted.

Reasonably construed, the constitution and statute of Colorado forbid, not the doing of a single act of business in the state, but the carryi g...

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