Minneapolis St Ry Co v. Beckwith

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtFIELD
Citation9 S.Ct. 207,129 U.S. 26,32 L.Ed. 585
PartiesMINNEAPOLIS & ST. L. RY. CO. v. BECKWITH
Decision Date07 January 1889

9 S.Ct. 207
129 U.S. 26
32 L.Ed. 585
MINNEAPOLIS & ST. L. RY. CO.
v.
BECKWITH.
January 7, 1889.

Page 27

Eppa Hunton, for plaintiff in error.

FIELD, J.

This case comes before us from the circuit court of Kossuth county, Iowa, the highest court of that state in which the controversy between the parties could be determined. Rev. St. § 709. It was an action for the value of three hogs run over and killed by the engine and cars of the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway Company, a corporation existing under the laws of Minnesota and Iowa, and operating a railroad in the latter state. The killing was at a point where the defendant had the right to fence its road. The action was brought before a justice of the peace of Kossuth county. Proof having been made of the killing of the animals, and of their value, and that notice of the fact, with affidavit of the injury, had been served upon an officer of the company in the county where the injury was committed more than 30 days before the commencement of the action, the justice gave judgment for the plaintiff against the company for $24, double the proved value of the animals. The case was then removed to the circuit court of Kossuth county, where the judgment was affirmed. To review this latter judgment the case is brought here on writ of error.

The judgment rendered by the justice was authorized by section 1289 of the Code of Iowa, which is as follows: 'Any corporation operating a railway that fails to fence the same against live stock running at large at all points where such right to fence exists shall be liable to the owner of any such stock injured or killed by reason of the want of such fence

Page 28

for the value of the property or damage caused, unless the same was occasioned by the willful act of the owner or his agent; and in order to recover, it shall only be necessary for the owner to prove the injury or destruction of his property; and if such corporation neglects to pay he value of or damage done to such stock within thirty days after notice in writing, accompanied by an affidavit of such injury or destruction, has been served on any officer, station or ticket agent employed in the management of the business of the corporation in the county where the injury complained of was committed, such owner shall be entitled to recover double the value of the stock killed or damages caused thereto.' The validity of this law was assailed in the state court, and is assailed here, as being in conflict with the first section of the fourteenth amendment of the constitution of the United States, in that it deprives the railway company of property without due process of law, so far as it allows a recovery of double the value of the animals killed by its trains; and in that it denies to the company the equal protection of the laws by subjecting it to a different liability for injuries committed by it from that to which all other persons are subjected.

It is contended by counsel as the basis of his argument, and we admit the soundness of his position, that corporations are persons within the meaning of the clause in question. It was so held in Santa Clara Co. v. Railroad Co., 118 U. S. 394, 396, 6 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1132, and the doctrine was reasserted in Mining Co. v. Penusylvania, 125 U. S. 181, 189, 8 Sup. Ct. Rep. 737. We admit also, as contended by him, that corporations can invoke the benefits of provisions of the constitution and laws which guaranty to persons the enjoyment of property, or afford to them the means for its protection, or prohibit legislation injuriously affecting it.

We will consider the objections of the railway company in the reverse order in which they are stated by counsel. And first, as to the alleged conflict of the law of Iowa with the clause of the fourteenth amendment ordaining that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. That clause does undoubtedly prohibit

Page 29

discriminating and partial legislation by any state in favor of particular persons as against others in like condition. Equality of protection implies, not merely equal accessibility to the courts for the prevention or redress of wrongs and the engorcement of rights, but equal exemption with others in like condition from charges and liabilities of every kind. But the clause does not limit, nor was it designed to limit, the subjects upon which the police power of the state may be exerted. The state can now, as before, prescribe regulations for the health, good order, and safety of society, and adopt such measures as will advance its interests and prosperity. And to accomplish this end special legislation must be resorted to in numerous cases, providing against accidents, disease, and danger in the varied forms in which they may come. The nature and extent of such legislation will necessarily depend upon the judgment of the legislature as to the security needed by society. When the calling, profession, or business of parties is unattended with danger to others, little legislation will be necessary respecting it. Thus, in the purchase and sale of most articles of general use, persons may be left to exercise their own good sense and judgment; but when the calling or profession or business is attended with danger, or requires a certain degree of scientific knowledge upon which others must rely, then legislation properly steps in to impose conditions upon its exercise. Thus, if one is engaged in the manufacture or sale of explosive or inflammable articles, or in the preparation or sale of medicinal drugs, legislation for the security of society may prescribe the terms on which he will be permitted to carry on the business, and the liabilities he will incur from neglect of them. The concluding clause of the first section of the fourteenth amendment simply requires that such legislation shall treat alike all persons brought under subjection to it. The equal protection of the law is afforded when this is accomplished. Such has been the ruling of this court in numerous instances where that clause has been invoked against legislation supposed to be in conflict with it. Thus in Barbier v....

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194 practice notes
  • City of Huntington v. State Water Commission, No. 10476
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • January 14, 1953
    ...may be exerted. Barbier v. Connelly, 113 U.S. 27, 5 S.Ct. 641 [28 L.Ed. 923]; [Minneapolis & St. L.] Railway Co. v. Beckwith, 129 U.S. 29, 9 S.Ct. 207 [32 L.Ed. 585]; Mugler v. Kansas, 123 U.S. 663, 8 S.Ct. 273 [31 L.Ed. 205].' In Nulter v. State Road Commission of West Virginia, 119 W.Va. ......
  • Henderson By and Through Hartsfield v. Alabama Power Co.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • June 25, 1993
    ...Life Ins. Co. v. Haslip, 499 U.S. 1, 16, 111 S.Ct. 1032, 1042, 113 L.Ed.2d 1 (1991), quoting Minneapolis & St. Louis R.R. v. Beckwith, 129 U.S. 26, 36, 9 S.Ct. 207, 210, 32 L.Ed. 585 (1889). Punitive damages have historically been awarded for the sole purpose of vindicating and protecting s......
  • Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company v. Haslip, No. 89-1279
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 4, 1991
    ...damages, it is the peculiar function of the jury to determine the amount by their verdict."); Minneapolis & St. Louis R. Co. v. Beckwith, 129 U.S. 26, 36, 9 S.Ct. 207, 210, 32 L.Ed. 585 (1889) ("The imposition of punitive or exemplary damages in such cases cannot be opposed as in conflict w......
  • Ives v. South Buffalo Ry. Co.
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • March 24, 1911
    .... 411, 22 N. W. 519;Missouri Pac. Ry. Co. v. Humes, 115 U. S. 512, 6 Sup. Ct. 110, 29 L. Ed. 463;Minneapolis & St. L. Ry. Co. v. Beckwith, 129 U. S. 26, 9 Sup. Ct. 207, 32 L. Ed. 585. ‘But even such statutes,’ says Black in his work on Constitutional Law (2d Ed. p. 351), ‘cannot go beyond t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
193 cases
  • City of Huntington v. State Water Commission, No. 10476
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • January 14, 1953
    ...may be exerted. Barbier v. Connelly, 113 U.S. 27, 5 S.Ct. 641 [28 L.Ed. 923]; [Minneapolis & St. L.] Railway Co. v. Beckwith, 129 U.S. 29, 9 S.Ct. 207 [32 L.Ed. 585]; Mugler v. Kansas, 123 U.S. 663, 8 S.Ct. 273 [31 L.Ed. 205].' In Nulter v. State Road Commission of West Virginia, 119 W.Va. ......
  • Henderson By and Through Hartsfield v. Alabama Power Co.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • June 25, 1993
    ...Life Ins. Co. v. Haslip, 499 U.S. 1, 16, 111 S.Ct. 1032, 1042, 113 L.Ed.2d 1 (1991), quoting Minneapolis & St. Louis R.R. v. Beckwith, 129 U.S. 26, 36, 9 S.Ct. 207, 210, 32 L.Ed. 585 (1889). Punitive damages have historically been awarded for the sole purpose of vindicating and protecting s......
  • Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company v. Haslip, No. 89-1279
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 4, 1991
    ...damages, it is the peculiar function of the jury to determine the amount by their verdict."); Minneapolis & St. Louis R. Co. v. Beckwith, 129 U.S. 26, 36, 9 S.Ct. 207, 210, 32 L.Ed. 585 (1889) ("The imposition of punitive or exemplary damages in such cases cannot be opposed as in conflict w......
  • Ives v. South Buffalo Ry. Co.
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • March 24, 1911
    .... 411, 22 N. W. 519;Missouri Pac. Ry. Co. v. Humes, 115 U. S. 512, 6 Sup. Ct. 110, 29 L. Ed. 463;Minneapolis & St. L. Ry. Co. v. Beckwith, 129 U. S. 26, 9 Sup. Ct. 207, 32 L. Ed. 585. ‘But even such statutes,’ says Black in his work on Constitutional Law (2d Ed. p. 351), ‘cannot go beyond t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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