Davis v. Farmers Equity Co

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation43 S.Ct. 556,262 U.S. 312,67 L.Ed. 996
Docket NumberCO-OP,No. 270,270
PartiesDAVIS, Director General of Railroads, v. FARMERS'EQUITY CO
Decision Date21 May 1923

Messrs. Gardiner Lathrop and Homer W. Davis, both of Chicago, Ill., and William T. Faricy and Thomas F. Quinn, both of St. Paul, Minn., for plaintiff in error.

Mr. Morton Barrows, of St. Paul, Minn., for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

A statute of Minnesota (Laws 1913, c. 218, p. 274; General Statutes 1913, § 7735) provides that:

'Any foreign corporation having an agent in this state for the solicitation of freight and passenger traffic or either thereof over its lines outside of this state, may be served with summons by delivering a copy thereof to such agent.'

Whether this statute, as construed and applied, violates the federal Constitution, is the only question for decision.

The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company is a Kansas corporation engaged in interstate transportation. It does not own or operate any railroad in Minnesota; but it maintains there an agent for solicitation of traffic. In April, 1920, suit was brought by another Kansas corporation in a court of Minnesota against the Director General of Railroads, as agent, on a cause of action arising under federal control. Service was made pursuant to the Minnesota statute.1 The recovery sought was for loss of grain shipped under a bill of lading issued by the carrier in Kansas for transportation over its line from one point in that state to another. So far as appears the transaction was in no way connected with Minnesota or with the soliciting agency located there. Defendant appeared specially, claimed that, as to it, the statute authorizing service violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the commerce clause, and moved to dismiss the suit for want of jurisdiction. The motion was denied. After appropriate proceeding, the trial court entered final judgment for plaintiff, its judgment was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Minnesota (150 Minn. 534, 186 N. W. 130), and the case is here on writ of error under section 237 of the Judicial Code (Comp. St. § 1214).

Solicitation of traffic by railroads, in states remote from their lines, is a recognized part of the business of interstate transportation. McCall v. California, 136 U. S. 104, 10 Sup. Ct. 881, 34 L. Ed. 391. As construed by the highest court of Minnesota, this statute compels every foreign interstate carrier to submit to suit there as a condition of maintaining a soliciting agent within the state. Jurisdiction is not limited to suits arising out of business transacted within Minnesota. Compare Mitchell Furniture Co. v. Selden Breck Co., 257 U. S. 213, 42 Sup. Ct. 84, 66 L. Ed. 201; Missouri Pacific R. R. Co. v. Clarendon Boat Oar Co., Inc., 257 U. S., 533, 42 Sup. Ct. 210, 66 L. Ed. 354; Chipman, Limited, v. Thomas B. Jeffery Co., 251 U. S. 373, 40 Sup. Ct. 172, 64 L. Ed. 314. It is asserted, whatever the nature of the cause of action, wherever it may have arisen, and although the plaintiff is not, and never has been, a resident of the state. Armstrong Co. v. New York Central R. R. Co., 129 Minn. 104, 151 N. W. 917, L. R. A. 1916E, 232, Ann. Cas. 1916E, 335; Langergren v. Pennsylvania R. R. Co., 130 Minn. 35, 152 N. W. 1102; Rishmiller v. Denver & Rio Grande R. R. Co., 134 Minn. 261, 159 N. W. 272; Merchants' Elevator Co. v. Chesapeake & Ohio Ry. Co., 147 Minn. 188, 179 N. W. 734; Callaghan v. Union Pacific R. R. Co., 148 Minn. 482, 182 N. W. 1004. This condition imposes upon interstate commerce a serious and unreasonable burden, which renders the statute obnoxious to the commerce clause. Compare Sioux Remedy Co. v. Cope, 235 U. S. 197, 203, 35 Sup. Ct. 57, 59 L. Ed. 193.

That the claims against interstate carriers for personal injuries and for loss and damage of freight are numerous; that the amounts demanded are large; that in many cases carriers deem it imperative, or advisable, to leave the determination of their liability to the courts; that litigation in states and jurisdictions remote from that in which the cause of action arose entails absence of employees from their customary occupations; and that this impairs efficiency in operation, and causes, directly and indirectly, heavy expense to the carriers—these are matters of common knowledge. Facts, of which we, also, take judicial notice, indicate that the burden upon interstate carriers imposed specifically by the statute here assailed is a heavy one; and that the resulting obstruction to commerce must be serious.2 During federal control absences of e ployees incident to such litigation were found, by the Director General, to interfere so much with the physical operation of the railroads, that he issued General Order No. 18 (and 18A) which required suit to be brought in the county or district where the cause of action arose or where the plaintiff resided at the time it accrued. That order was held reasonable and valid in Alabama & Vicksburg Railway Co. v. Journey, 257 U. S. 111, 42 Sup. Ct. 6, 66 L. Ed. 154. The facts recited in the order, to justify its issue, are of general application, in time of peace as well as of war.

The fact that the business carried on by a corporation is entirely interstate in character does not render the corporation immune from the ordinary process of the courts of a state. International Harvester Co. v. Kentucky, 234 U. S. 579, 34 Sup. Ct. 944, 58 L. Ed. 1479. The requirements of orderly, effective administration of justice are paramount. In Kane v. New Jersey, 242 U. S. 160, 167, 37 Sup. Ct. 30, 61 L. Ed. 222, a statute was sustained which required nonresident owners of motor vehicles to appoint a state official as agent upon whom process might be served in suits arising from their use within the state, because the burden thereby imposed upon interstate commerce was held to be a reasonable requirement for the protection of the public. It may be that a statute like that here assailed would be valid, although applied to suits in which the cause of action arose elsewhere, if the transaction out of which it arose had been entered upon within the state,3 or if the plaintiff was, when it arose, a resident of the state.4 These questions are not before us, and we express no opinion upon them. But orderly effective administration of justice clearly does not require that a foreign carrier shall submit to a suit in a state in which the cause of action did not arise, in which the transaction giving rise to it was not entered upon, in which the carrier neither owns nor operates a railroad, and in which the plaintiff does not reside. The public and the carriers are alike interested in maintaining adequate, uninterrupted transportation service at reasonable cost. This common interest is emphasized by Transportation Act 1920, which authorizes rate increases necessary to ensure to carriers efficiently operated a fair return on property devoted to the public use. See Railroad Commission of Wisconsin v. Chicago, Burlington & Quincy R. R. Co., 257 U. S. 563, 42 Sup. Ct. 232, 66 L. Ed. 371, 22 A. L. R. 1086; The New...

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