Johnson v. Harrison

Decision Date28 December 1891
Citation50 N.W. 923,47 Minn. 575
PartiesStina Johnson v. Lawrence L. Harrison
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

A motion for a reargument of this case was denied January 11 1892.

Mary B Harrison, late of St. Paul, Ramsey county, in this state died in that city on April 17, 1890, leaving surviving her Lawrence L. Harrison, her husband, Stina Johnson, her mother and two sisters, but no father, brother, child, or issue of any deceased child. Her estate, which consisted of a single lot of land in St. Paul, was administered in the probate court of that county, which made a final decree assigning the whole of such real estate to her husband in fee simple. At the hearing in the probate court, Stina Johnson, the mother of the decedent, objected to the assigning of more than one-third to the husband, and claimed that two-ninths should be assigned to herself, and from the decree of the probate court she appealed, on questions of law and fact, to the district court for Ramsey county. In that court she made and filed her complaint, to which Lawrence L. Harrison demurred; his demurrer was overruled by Otis, J., and he appealed. By Gen. St. 1878, c. 46, entitled "Title to Real Property by Descent," it is provided (§ 3) in respect to the descent of land in case of intestacy, that the surviving husband or wife shall be entitled to one-third, and, in respect to the other two-thirds, "if the intestate leaves no issue nor father, his estate shall descend, one equal one-third to his mother, and the residue in equal shares to his brothers and sisters." In 1889, an act was passed (Laws 1889, c. 46) entitled "An act to establish a Probate Code," containing 21 chapters and 326 sections. Chapter 3 of this act is entitled "Title to Real Property by Descent," and it is therein provided (§ 63) that the real estate of an intestate, other than the homestead, shall descend as follows: "If there be no child, nor lawful issue of a deceased child living, to the surviving husband or wife." The ground of the decision of the district court was that the matter of the descent of land was a subject not embraced in the title of the act of 1889, so that this part of the Probate Code and also the section repealing Gen. St. 1878, c. 46, are unconstitutional, and the latter chapter is still in force.

Order reversed.

John D. O'Brien, H. F. Stevens, and Edward B. Graves, for appellant.

Henry J. Horn and John W. Lane, for respondent.


Mitchell, J.

Chapter 46, Laws 1889, entitled "An act to establish a Probate Code," is divided into 21 subchapters, containing 326 sections. The intention of the legislature obviously was to enact, in the form of one act, a complete system of statutory law relating to or connected with those matters of which, under the constitution, probate courts have jurisdiction, to wit, "estates of deceased persons and of persons under guardianship." It is contended that the act is repugnant to section 27, article 4, of the constitution of the state, which provides that "no law shall embrace more than one subject, which shall be expressed in the title;" that the act embraces several distinct and separate subjects, some of which, particularly subchapter 3, relating to title to real property by descent, are not expressed in the title.

The purposes of such a constitutional provision, the mischiefs which it is designed to prevent, the rules to be applied to its construction, and the tests to be applied to determine whether a law is repugnant to it, are so familiar, and have been so often passed upon by this and other courts, that they need only be referred to very briefly. Its purposes are two: First, to prevent what is called "logrolling legislation" or "omnibus bills," by which a number of different and disconnected subjects are united in one bill, and then carried through by a combination of interests; second, to prevent surprise and fraud upon the people and the legislature by including provisions in a bill whose title gives no intimation of the nature of the proposed legislation, or of the interests likely to be affected by its becoming a law; and, in deciding whether an act is obnoxious to this provision of the constitution, a very good test to apply is whether it is within the mischiefs intended to be remedied.

Again while this provision is mandatory, yet it is to be given a liberal, and not a strict, construction. It is not intended nor should it be so construed as to embarrass legislation by making laws unnecessarily restrictive in their scope and operation, or by multiplying their number, or by preventing the legislature from embracing in one act all matters properly connected with one general subject. The term "subject," as used in the constitution, is to be given a broad and extended meaning, so as to allow the legislature full scope to include in one act all matters having a logical or natural connection. To constitute duplicity of subject, an act must embrace two or more dissimilar and discordant subjects that by no fair intendment can be considered as having any legitimate connection with or relation to each other. All that is necessary is that the act should embrace some one general subject; and by this is meant, merely, that all matters treated of should fall under some one general idea, be so connected with or related to each other, either logically or in popular understanding, as to be parts of, or germane to, one general subject. The large number of related or cognate matters often treated of under some comprehensive title, such as "Criminal Code," "Penal Code," "Code of Civil Procedure," "Private Corporations," "Railroad Corporations," and the like, are familiar illustrations of what may be legitimately included in one act. Any construction of this provision of the constitution that would interfere with the very commendable policy of incorporating the entire body of statutory law upon one general subject in a single act, instead of dividing it into a number of separate acts, would not only be contrary to its spirit, but also seriously embarrassing to honest legi...

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