John Lean v. State of Arkansas

Decision Date04 January 1909
Docket NumberNo. 29,29
Citation29 S.Ct. 206,211 U.S. 539,53 L.Ed. 315
PartiesJOHN McLEAN, Plff. in Err., v. STATE OF ARKANSAS
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Daniel B. Holmes for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from page 540 intentionally omitted] Messrs. James Brizzolara, Henry L. Fitzhugh, and William F. Kirby for defendant in error.

[Argument of Counsel from page 541 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice Day delivered the opinion of the court:

This proceeding is brought to review the judgment of the supreme court of Arkansas (81 Ark. 304, 98 S. W. 729), affirming a conviction of the plaintiff in error for violation of a statute of the state of Arkansas, entitled 'An Act to Provide for the Weighing of Coal Mined in the State of Arkansas as It Comes from the Mine, and before It Is Passed over a Screen of Any Kind.' The act provides:

'Sec. 1. It shall be unlawful for any mine owner, lessee, or operator of coal mines in this state, where ten or more men are employed underground, employing miners at bushel or ton rates, or other quantity, to pass the output of coal mined by said miners over any screen or any other device which shall take any part from the value thereof, before the same shall have been weighed and duly credited to the employee sending the same to the surface, and accounted for at the legal rate of weights fixed by the laws of Arkansas; and no employee, within the meaning of this act, shall be deemed to have waived any right accruing to him under this section by any contract he may make contrary to the provisions thereof, and any provisions, contract, or agreement between mine owners, lessees, or operators thereof, and the miners employed therein, whereby the provisions of this act are waived, modified, or annulled, shall be ovid and of no effect, and the coal sent to the surface shall be accepted or rejected; and, if accepted, shall be weighed in accordance with the provisions of this act; and right of action shall not be invalidated by reason of any contract or agreement; and any owner, agent, lessee, or operator of any coal mine in this state, where ten or more men are employed underground, who shall knowingly violate any of the provisions of this section, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be punished by a fine of not less than $200 nor more than $500 for each offense, or by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not less than sixty days, nor more than six months, or both such fine and imprisonment; and each day any mine or mines are operated thereafter shall be a separate and distinct offense; proceedings to be instituted in any court having competent jurisdiction.' (Acts 1905, chap. 219, § 1.)

The case was tried upon an agreed statement of facts, as follows:

'That the Bolen-Darnall Coal Company is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the state of Missouri, and is also doing business under the laws of the state of Arkansas, and has complied with the laws of Arkansas permitting foreign corporations to transact and do business within said state.

'It is further agreed that John McLean, defendant, is the managing agent of the said Bolen-Darnall Coal Company, and, as such, has charge of the coal mine of said company situated near Hartford, in Sebastian county, Arkansas.

'It is further agreed that the said Bolen-Darnall Coal Company employs more than ten men to work underground in its mine situated near Hartford, of which the said John McLean is agent and manager.

'It is further agreed that the said Bolen-Darnall Coal Company, by and through said John McLean, as its agent and manager, did, on the 19th day of June, 1906, in Greenwood district of said Sebastian county, employ one W. H. Dempsey and others, coal miners, to mine coal underground in said mine by the ton at the rate and price of 90 cents per ton for screened coal, and that the said John McLean, in the said district and county, did knowingly pass the output of coal, so mined and sent up from underground by the said W. H. Dempsey and others, over a screen, according to and as provided by a contract between it and the said Dempsey and others, and paid the said Dempsey and others for only the coal that passed over said screen, according to and as provided under the contract, and paid or allowed them nothing for the coal which passed through said screen, part of the value of said coal having passed through said screen, which part of said coal was not weighed or accredited to the said Dempsey and others, and for which they received no pay; said coal not having been weighed or accredited to the said Dempsey or others before the same was passed over said screen, as provided for by the statutes of Arkansas.

'It is further agreed the more than ten men were employed and did work under said employment underground in mining coal for the said Bolen-Darnall Coal Company, in said mine aforesaid, at said time; and it is also agreed that there are coal mines in said state and county operated by both corporations and individuals in which less than ten men are employed underground by the ton and bushel rates.

'It is further agreed that the said John McLean did violate the provisions of § 1, act No. 219, duly passed by the legislature of Arkansas in 1905, which law went into operation and became effective on the 1st day of April, 1906, as hereinabove set out, and the only question herein raised being the validity of said act of the legislature aforesaid, under the law and facts herein.'

The objections to the judgment of the state supreme court of a constitutional nature are twofold: First, that the statute is an unwarranted invasion of the liberty of contract secured by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States; second, that the law, being applicable only to mines where more than ten men are employed, is discriminatory, and deprives the plaintiff in error of the equal protection of the laws, within the inhibition of the same Amendment.

That the Constitution of the United States, in the 14th Amendment thereof, protects the right to make contracts for the sale of labor, and the right to carry on trade or business, against hestile state legislation, has been affirmed in decisions of this court, and we have no disposition to question those cases in which the right has been upheld and maintained against such legislation. Allgeyer v. Louisiana, 165 U. S. 578, 41 L. ed. 832, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 427; Adair v. United States, 208 U. S. 161, 52 L. ed. 436, 28 Sup. Ct. Rep. 277. But, in many cases in this court, the right of freedom of contract has been held not to be unlimited in its nature, and when the right to contract or carry on business conflicts with laws declaring the public policy of the state, enacted for the protection of the public health, safety, or welfare, the same may be valid, notwithstanding they have the effect to curtail or limit the freedom of contract. It would extend this opinion beyond reasonable limits to make reference to all the cases in this court in which quali- fications of the right of freedom of contract have been applied and enforced. Some of them are collected in Holden v. Hardy, 169 U. S. 366, 42 L. ed. 780, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 383, in which it was held that the hours of work in mines might be limited.

In Knoxville Iron Co. v. Harbison, 183 U. S. 13, 46 L. ed. 55, 22 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1, it was held that an act of the legislature of Tennessee, requiring the redemption in cash of store orders or other evidences of indebtedness issued by employers in payment of wages due to employees, did not conflict with any provisions of the Constitution of the United States, protecting the right of contract.

In Frisbie v. United States, 157 U. S. 160, 39 L. ed. 657, 15 Sup. Ct. Rep. 586, the act of Congress prohibiting attorneys from contracting for a larger fee than $10 for prosecuting pension claims was held to be a valid exercise of police power.

In Soon Hing v. Crowley, 113 U. S. 703, 28 L. ed. 1145, 5 Sup. Ct. Rep. 730, a statute of California, making it unlawful for employees to work in laundries between the hours of 10 P. M. and 6 A. M. was sustained.

The statute fixing maximum charges for the storage of grain, and prohibiting contracts for larger amounts, was held valid. Munn v. Illinois, 94 U. S. 113, 24 L. ed. 77.

In Patterson v. The Eudora, 190 U. S. 169, 47 L. ed. 1002, 23 Sup. Ct. Rep. 821, this court held that an act of Congress making it a misdemeanor for a shipmaster to pay a sailor any part of his wages in advance was held to be valid.

In Gundling v. Chicago, 177 U. S. 183, 44 L. ed. 725, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 633, this court summarized the doctrine as follows:

'Regulations respecting the pursuit of a lawful trade or business are of very frequent occurrence in the various cities of the country, and what such regulations shall be and to what particular trade, business, or occupation they shall apply, are questions for the state to determine, and their determination comes within the proper exercise of the police power by the state; and, unless the regulations are so utterly unreasonable and extravagant in thier nature and purpose that the property and personal rights of the citizen are unnecessarily, and in a manner wholly arbitrary, interfered with or destroyed without due process of law, they do not extend beyond the power of the state to pass, and they form no subject for Federal interference.'

In Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U. S. 11, 49 L. ed. 643, 25 Sup. Ct. Rep. 358, 3 A. & E....

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