Dutton Phosphate Co. v. Priest

Decision Date21 April 1914
Citation65 So. 282,67 Fla. 370
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Error to Circuit Court, Alachua County; T. H. Wills, Judge.

Action by Lawton Priest against the Dutton Phosphate Company, a corporation. Judgment for plaintiff, and defendant brings error. Affirmed.

Syllabus by the Court


The word 'company,' as used in sections 3152, 3153, Gen States., includes 'corporations.'

The guaranties of due process of law and of equal protection of the laws contained in the fourteenth amendment are expressly applicable to the states, and protect corporations as well as individual persons.

A corporation is not a 'citizen' within the protection of the 'privileges and immunities' provisions of the federal Constitution.

The provisions of the organic law that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor denied the equal protection of the laws, are not intended to hamper states in the discretionary exercise of any of their appropriate sovereign governmental powers unless substantial private rights are arbitrarily invaded by illegal or palpably unjust, hostile, and oppressive exactions, burdens, discriminations, or deprivations.

Where a statute may be so construed as to render it unconstitutional a construction in accord with organic law should be adopted when it can fairly be done; and when, by a just and reasonable construction of a statute with reference to the object designed, its operation and effect will not violate the Constitution, a party attacking the statute, on the ground that it may be so construed as to invade private rights secured by the Constitution, must show that, in the case he presents, the effect of applying the statute is to deprive him of a constitutional right.

The application of a statute in a particular case may violate organic law, but the statute as framed may not be unconstitutional when properly applied.

All property rights are held and enjoyed subject to the fair exercise of the state's police power to establish regulations that are reasonably necessary to secure the general welfare of the state.

The wisdom and necessity, as well as the policy, of a statute are authoritatively determined by the Legislature.

Courts may inquire only into the power of the Legislature to lawfully enact a particular statute, and all doubts as to its constitutionality are resolved in favor of the statute.

The common-law rule making it unlawful and a trespass for live stock belonging to one person to go upon the uninclosed premises of another has been changed in this state by legislative action.

A statute should not be declared to be unconstitutional and ineffectual unless its terms or its operation make that result necessary in giving supremacy to the Constitution.

If there is any sphere within which a statute may operate without violating organic law, it should within that sphere be made effective in appropriate proceedings taken for that purpose, for statutes are binding upon the courts as the law of the land when not in conflict with the Constitution.

A statute prescribing regulations does not offend any provision of organic law merely because it may not in legal effect cover the entire field that is subject to similar or other legislative regulations.

Courts have no power to annul a legislative enactment on the ground that it is unreasonable in its terms or in its operation, when the statute does not because of arbitrary unreasonableness conflict with the superior force of the Constitution as the higher law.

The Legislature has a wide discretion in classifying the subjects of police regulation, and a legislative classification will not be annulled by the courts unless it is wholly without a reasonable or practical basis.

Unless a legislative regulation is applicable to some persons and not to others under essentially similar conditions so as to make the classification an arbitrary exercise of the powers of government that in material substance and effect unjustly discriminates between persons similarly conditioned with reference to the subject regulated, there is no denial of the equal protection of the laws.

As applied to any company or individual who, being the possessor and occupant of lands, negligently leaves open and uninclosed holes or pits of the stated dimensions that have been made on the lands, in which cattle perish, sections 3152 and 3153 are not unconstitutional and inoperative in authorizing the recovery of double damages.

COUNSEL Robert E. Davis of Gainesville, for plaintiff in error.

Fred Cubberly, of Gainesville, for defendant in error.



The declaration herein is as follows:

'Lawton Priest, a citizen and resident of Levy county, Fla., plaintiff, by Fred Cubberly, his attorney, sues the Dutton Phosphate Company, a corporation, organized and existing under the laws of the state of Florida, with its principal office at Gainesville, Alachua county, state of Florida, defendant, for that whereas the defendant on and before February 10, 1910, was the possessor and occupier of a certain premises and tract of land, to wit, west half of the southwest quarter of section 36, in township 14, south of range 19 east, situate in Marion county, state of Florida, which said premises was unfenced and uninclosed, and before and on said day there was on said premises a certain hole or pit, which said hole or pit was of greater depth and width than two feet, and said pit or hole was left open by the fault and negligence of defendant, and not inclosed with a fence or other inclosure that would be a safeguard against cattle falling into the said pit or hole, said pit or hole at said time not being used on said land by said defendant while bona fide engaged in actual mining operations, and on or about said date, to wit, the 10th day of February, 1910, three cattle of plaintiff of the value of $25 each, then and there lawfully grazing on and over said land of defendant, went into said pit or hole while the same was uninclosed and unprotected and said cattle being unable to escape from said pit or hole died therein, without fault or negligence on the part of plaintiff, to the damage of plaintiff; wherefore plaintiff brings this suit and demands of defendant damages for the loss of said cattle in a sum equal to double the actual damages sustained as by the statute provided, and plaintiff claims $150.'

A motion for compulsory amendment of the declaration under the statute and also a demurrer to the declaration were overruled, and a writ of error was taken to a final judgment for the full amount claimed, which was rendered at the trial for the plaintiff below.

The grounds of the motion and demurrer insisted on here are:

'1. No liability is imposed by law upon the defendant herein, which is a corporation.

'2. No cause of action is set out in the plaintiff's amended declaration against the defendant.'

'7. Sections 3152 and 3153, General Statutes of Florida, under which plaintiff's cause of action is founded, are unconstitutional and in conflict with and in violation of section 12, Declaration of Rights, of the Constitution of the State of Florida; article 5, Amendments of the Constitution of the United States; and of article 14, Amendments of the Constitution of the United States, in this:

'(1) These sections exempt from the provisions thereof all persons or companies operating mines or engaged in mining operations.

'(2) Double damages, or damages doulbe in amount of actual damages, are imposed against the defendants who are liable thereunder, and no opportunity is given or afforded defendants to avoid the payment of damages in amount double the actual damages therein.

'(3) No notice is provided by said law to be given to the defendant of the existence of the liability, or opportunity afforded such defendant to satisfy such claims without suit, or of avoiding the entry of judgment in an amount double the actual damages incurred.

'(4) The defendant is deprived of its property without due process of law thereunder.

'(5) Said sections abridge the privileges and immunities of this defendant with respect to its own property.

'(6) Said sections deny to this defendant equal protection of the laws with that of other persons, companies, and corporations within the jurisdiction of the state of Florida.'

The statute under which the action is brought is as follows:

'It shall not be lawful for any company or individual to leave open any pit or other hole outside of an inclosure of a greater depth and breadth than two feet: Provided, however, such pit or hole may be left open by inclosing the same with a fence or other inclosure that would be a safeguard against horses, cattle or other domestic animals falling into the same: Provided, further, that this section shall not apply to pits or holes made by any company or individual while bona fide engaged in actual mining operations, such pits and holes to be inclosed as herein provided when said mining operations shall cease or be discontinued.

'Any company or individual who may leave open pits or other holes contrary to the provisions of the preceding section shall be liable in damages to any person injured thereby in an amount double the actual damages sustained, which may be recovered in any court of competent jurisdiction.' Sections 3152, 3153, Gen. Stats. of 1906.

It is argued that the above statute imposing double damages for the act of omission made unlawful does not apply to corporations and that consequently a cause of action against the defendant corporation under the statute is not stated. The Constitution and statutes of this state use the words 'company' and 'companies' as including corporations, and such is the...

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