Meehan v. Bd. of Excise Com'rs of Jersey City

Decision Date15 June 1908
Citation70 A. 363,75 N.J.L. 557
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

(Syllabus by the Court.)

Error to Supreme Court.

Certiorari by Hugh Meehan to review a resolution adopted by the board of excise commissioners of Jersey City pursuant to Act April 13, 1906, § 4 (P. L. p. 203), commonly known as the "Bishops' Law." There was a judgment (73 N. J. Law, 382, 64 Atl. 689) sustaining the constitutionality of the act and the validity of the resolution, and Meehan brings error. Affirmed.

R. V. Lindabury, for plaintiff in error.

George L. Record and Peter Backes, for defendants in error.

PITNEY, Ch. The question at issue is the constitutionality of section 4 of the act commonly known as the "Bishops' Law," approved April 13, 1906 (P. L. 1906, p. 203), being a supplement to the act to regulate the sale of spirituous, vinous, malt, and brewed liquors. The question was raised by a certiorari sued out of the Supreme Court to review a resolution adopted by the excise commissioners of Jersey City in pursuance of the section referred to. The resolution requires that "the interior of the bar or business room in which liquors and other intoxicating drinks are sold and served under any license granted by this board shall, during such times as such sales are prohibited by law, be open to full view from the public street; provided, however, this rule shall have no application to such places as are exempt from its operation under the provisions of said law." The Supreme Court sustained the constitutionality of the legislation and the validity of the resolution in an opinion by Mr. Justice Fort, with whose conclusions we agree. In that court the attack upon the law seems to have been based principally upon the provisions of the fourteenth amendment of the federal Constitution. In this court the point is raised that section 4 of the act conflicts with that provision of the Constitution of this state which prohibits the Legislature from passing private, local, or special laws regulating the internal affairs of municipalities. Const. N. J. art. 4, § 7, subd. 11. It is insisted that the law is special because its classification is arbitrary and illusory. Even if it were special for this reason, it does not follow that the section conflicts with the constitutional provision thus invoked; for, as far as we can perceive, it does not in any wise regulate the internal affairs of municipalities. We are referred to Paul v. Gloucester County, 50 N. J. Law, 585, 15 Atl. 272, 1 L. R. A. 86, and Berry v. Cramer, 58 N. J. Law, 278, 33 Atl. 201, as settling the question that the section under consideration constitutes an attempt to regulate the internal affairs of municipalities. But the act that was in question in Paul v. Gloucester County (which is found in P. L. 1888, p. 142) classified the municipalities of the state according to their population for the purpose of establishing the minimum license fee to be paid upon liquor licenses in the several municipalities. It was this provision concerning which Mr. Justice Van Syckel said (50 N. J. Law, 592, 15 Atl. 275, 1 L. R. A. 86): "It is conceded that the section is a regulation of the internal affairs of towns and cities, and the diversity created by it is fatal to its validity unless the basis of the classification is a substantial one." It will be observed that the section referred to affected the municipal revenues, and therefore, under the principle laid down by this court in the case of Freeholders of Passaic v. Stevenson, 46 N. J. Law, 173, amounted to a regulation of "internal affairs." The act that was under consideration in Berry v. Cramer, 58 N. J. Law, 278, 33 Atl. 201 (being found in P. L. 1889, p. 77), likewise fixed a minimum license fee in respect of population, and also, by its fourth section, conferred upon the municipalities the local option of fixing a minimum license fee to be named in the petition for the election, but provided that such elections could only be held where licenses were required to be granted by the court of common pleas. Manifestly this was a regulation of the internal affairs of the municipalities.

The section now before us has no such feature. It applies uniformly throughout the state, and does not regulate the internal affairs of any municipality; for the "internal affairs" which by the Constitution must be regulated under general laws are those which are governmentally, and not merely territorially, internal to the municipalities. Nor is there in section 4 of the "Bishops' Law" and discrimination between municipalities considered as territories. The only discrimination is between liquor dealers.

It is, however, further insisted that the section is invalid because it is a special law granting exclusive privileges or franchises, contrary to the provision of our Constitution in that behalf. Const. N. J. art. 4, § 7, subd. 11. Upon this point Alexander v. City of Elizabeth, 56 N. J. Law, 71, 28 Atl. 51, 23 L. R. A. 525, is cited. In that case it was held by the Supreme Court that the statutory prohibition against the using of any race course that was not in use prior to January 1, 1803, without obtaining a resolution adopted by three-fourths of the members of board of freeholders declaring the maintenance of such a race course to be a public necessity, was a grant of an exclusive privilege to race courses used before the date specified to obtain a license without complying with the condition, that the condition was imposed without rational ground of discrimination as between old race courses and new, and that, therefore, the act was a special law granting to a corporation, association, or individual an exclusive privilege, immunity, or franchise. Without passing upon the propriety of that decision, we think it sufficient to say that it is not in point with the case now presented. In section 4 of the "Bishops' Law" there is no discrimination between places previously licensed and other places, nor between persons previously engaged in the liquor business and others. By our laws all persons are prohibited from retailing Intoxicating liquors without license, and this section imposes regulations equally applicable to all, whenever licensed, provided they engage in a certain line of business. There is here no exclusive privilege, immunity, or franchise. The section is an exercise of the police power of the state, and, unless it be clearly arbitrary or violative of the natural or property rights of the citizen, it cannot be pronounced unconstitutional because of its discriminations.

It divides liquor dealers into two classes: The first class includes (1) keepers of inns, taverns, and hotels having at least 10 spare rooms and beds for the accommodation of boarders, transients, and travelers; (2) restaurant keepers who conduct business on more than one story; (3) keepers of picnic or recreation grounds; (4) keepers of bowling alley buildings; (5) regularly organized clubs or associations. In the second class are embraced all other liquor dealers selling liquor by license in smaller quantities than a quart. Manifestly this class comprises those who are commonly called "saloon keepers" and the keepers of small hotels and taverns, whose chief business is the sale of intoxicating drinks. The regulations which apply to the second class, and not to the first, are the following: (a) No license shall be granted to sell liquors in any place excepting in a bar or business room upon the ground floor or basement of a building on a public street;

(b) no liquor shall be sold or served in any room, except in such bar or business room;

(c) the clear interior view of the whole of said room (excepting for toilet purposes) shall be in no way obstructed by a screen, nontransparent glass, shade, blind, door, shutter, or merchandise, or any other article placed in any of said rooms; (d) the court, excise board, or other licensing body shall, upon the days and times when the sale of liquors is by law...

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