Farrington v. Pinckney

Decision Date23 March 1956
Citation150 N.Y.S.2d 585,1 N.Y.2d 74,133 N.E.2d 817
Parties, 133 N.E.2d 817 Edward C. FARRINGTON et al., Appellants, v. Elizabeth F. PINCKNEY, as Commissioner of Jurors of the County of Albany, et al., Respondents; Jacob K. Javits, as Attorney General of the State of New York, Intervenor-Respondent.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

Harold E. Blodgett, Albany, for appellants.

Walter L. Collins, County Atty., Albany (Evariste G. Lavigne, Albany, of counsel), for respondents.

Jacob K. Javits, Atty. Gen. (Ruth Kessler Toch and James O. Moore, Jr., Albany, of counsel), for intervenor-respondent.

CONWAY, Chief Judge.

Plaintiffs have appealed directly to our court from a judgment of a Special Term of the Supreme Court, Ulster County, entered upon an order dismissing the complaint in an action brought by them as taxpayers to restrain the defendant officers of the County of Albany from carrying out the provisions of chapter 305 of the Laws of 1954, as amended by chapter 864 of the Laws of 1955, which laws relate to the selecting, drawing, summoning or empaneling of jurors, on the ground that certain provisions of the New York State Constitution have been violated. Plaintiffs and defendants, in Special Term, had moved for judgment on the pleadings. The motion of defendants was granted dismissing the complaint, and the statute, as amended, was declared to be constitutional. The Attorney-General of the State of New York intervened as a party pursuant to stipulation and order. Plaintiffs (hereinafter referred to as 'appellants') and the Attorney-General (hereinafter referred to as 'respondent') have argued before out court and have submitted their respective briefs for our consideration.

The Legislature, by chapter 305 of the Laws of 1954, to take effect July 1, 1955, established a uniform jury system for all the counties of the State except counties within cities having a population of 1,000,000 or more. The five counties within the City of New York which have a uniform jury system of their own (L.1940, ch. 202) were thus excepted, and the 1954 act applied to the remaining 57 counties of the State. Chapter 864 of the Laws of 1955, however, to take effect on July 1, 1955 (the same effective date as the 1954 act), amended the 1954 act by providing that such jury laws should apply to all counties of the State except counties within cities having a population of 1,000,000 or more (the five counties in the City of New York) and except those counties having a population of less than 100,000 which elect to come under the provisions of a newly added article 16 of the Judiciary Law, Consol.Laws, c. 30. In other words (except for the five counties in the City of New York) the jury laws of 1954, as a result of the 1955 amendment, thenceforth mandatorily apply only to those counties of the State with a population of 100,000 or more. According to the census figures of 1950, there are 15 such counties: Albany, Broome, Chautauqua, Dutchess, Erie, Monroe, Nassau, Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Orange, Rensselaer, Schenectady, Suffolk and Westchester. The 1954 jury laws still apply to the remaining 42 counties, i. e., those with a population of less than 100,000, except that, if any of them so desire, by appropriate county governmental action, it could elect not to be governed by such 1954 jury laws.

It is appellants' contention that the 1954 statute, as amended in 1955, violates section 17 of article III, and subdivision (b) of section 1 of article IX of the New York State Constitution.

Section 17 of article III provides that: 'The legislature shall not pass a private or local bill in any of the following cases: * * * Selecting, drawing, summoning or empaneling grand or petit jurors. * * * The legislature shall pass general laws providing for the cases enumerated in this section * * *.'

Subdivision (b) of section 1 of article IX provides that: 'The legislature shall provide by law for the organization and government of counties. No law which shall be special or local in its terms or in its effect, or which shall relate specially to one county only, shall be enacted by the legislature unless (a) upon the request of the board of supervisors or other elective governing body of each county to be affected * * * or (b) upon a certificate of necessity by the governor to the legislature reciting the facts of such necessity existing in the county to be affected and the concurrence of two-thirds of the members elected to each house of the legislature.' (No request or certificate of necessity was made, it is conceded, and thus neither exception is applicable to this case.)

We shall first treat article III, § 17. The issue is simply whether the statute in the instant case is a local or general law.

At the outset, it should be noted that, in a case of this nature, 'we must keep in view the salutary rule, often reiterated, that nothing but a clear violation of the Constitution will justify a court in overruling the legislative will. Every statute is presumed to be constitutional, and every intendment is in favor of its validity.' Matter of New York Elevated R. Co., 70 N.Y. 327, 342; see, also, Kittinger v. Buffalo Traction Co., 160 N.Y. 377, 393-394, 54 N.E. 1081, 1086; McKinney's Consol.Laws of N. Y. Book 1, Statutes, § 150.

It has many times been said that there is difficulty in laying down any definite or general rule by which the question of whether a law is local or general may be determined, Matter of Henneberger, 155 N.Y. 420, 425, 50 N.E. 61, 62, 42 L.R.A. 132; Matter of Church, 92 N.Y. 1, 4; Matter of New York Elevated R. Co., 70 N.Y. 327, 350, supra; People ex rel. Clauson v. Newburgh & Shawangunk Plank Road Co., 86 N.Y. 1, 6, and 'it has been found expedient to leave the matter, to a considerable extent, open, to be determined upon the special circumstances of each case.' Ferguson v. Ross, 126 N.Y. 459, 464, 27 N.E. 954, 955.

It cannot be doubted that a law which applies to all persons, places or things in the State is general. An act, however, which, by its terms, applies only to a named person, place or thing is clearly local. Between these two extremes there lies a field which has long been a source of anxiety to the courts. Early was it said that an act need not apply to all persons, places or things in the State to be deemed general, if it apply to a class, entry into which was governed by conformity or compliance with specified conditions. Thus was born the theory of 'classification.' A typical condition common to the class, where a place happened to have been concerned, was that the place have a given population. See Matter of Henneberger, 155 N.Y. 420, 426, 430, 50 N.E. 61, 42 L.R.A. 132, supra.

An early line of cases, Matter of Church, 92 N.Y. 1, supra; People ex rel. New York Elec. Lines Co. v. Squire, 107 N.Y. 593, 14 N.E. 820, affirmed 145 U.S. 175, 12 S.Ct. 800, 36 L.Ed. 666, involved statutes which were held constitutional as general laws on the sole ground that the acts, by their terms, applied to all members of a class. The court failed to take cognizance of the true effect of the purported classification Subsequently, however, the court, in Matter of Henneberger, 155 N.Y. 420, 50 N.E. 61, supra, refused to be deluded by this aura of generality and struck down an act which created a class, entry into which, however, was governed by compliance with at least seven conditions. Our court said, 155 N.Y. at page 425, 50 N.E. at page 62: 'That the present act is expressed in general terms is not, and should not be, decisive of the question of its constitutionality.' And, in considering the words of generality in which the act was clothed, the court declared, 155 N.Y. at page 426, 50 N.E. at page 62: 'Although this act is drawn in general terms, if its provisions are such in number and in character as unduly * * * to restrict its operation, and, to all intents, to confine it to a particular locality, then, I think, it comes as much under condemnation as though it designated the locality by name.'

In speaking of Matter of Henneberger, supra, Chief Judge Cardozo, in Matter of City of New York, 246 N.Y. 72, 76, 158 N.E. 24, 25, stated: 'There was here (in the Henneberger case) * * * the germ of a doctrine more adapted to realities.' In Matter of City of New York, supra, the court was confronted with a statute which purported to revive entitlement to condemnation awards which had been barred by a Statute of Limitations. The act, in substance, provided that where an award in condemnation proceedings relating to the alteration or opening of a street in any city had been confirmed by the court, but had not been paid, and was adjudged by a court to have been barred sometime within the previous year, then the collection of the award could be enforced within one year. In striking down this statute as a local law in violation of the City Home Rule provision, now art. IX, § 11, of the Constitution, our court declared, 246 N.Y. at pages 77-78, 158 N.E. at page 26: 'We close our eyes to realities if we do not see in this act the marks of legislation that is special and local in terms and in effect. This group of conditions so unusual and particular is precisely fitted to the claimant's case, and only by a most singular coincidence could be fitted to any other.' In conclusing, 246 N.Y. at page 79, 158 N.E. at page 26, Chief Judge Cardozo described the act as one where 'A misshapen congeries of accidents has been made to masquerade under the semblance of class.' See, also, Greene v. Dunscomb, 281 N.Y. 261, 22 N.E.2d 365.

The stage was thus set for Stapleton v. Pinckney, 293 N.Y. 330, 57 N.E.2d 38, 155 A.L.R. 783, decided in 1944, in which our court considered the validity of a statute under section 17 of article III of the State Constitution, which statute, similar to the one in the instant case, related to the selection of jurors. The act was applicable to counties with a population of not less than 200,000 and not more than...

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