Standard Oil Co v. City of Marysville

Decision Date20 May 1929
Docket NumberNo. 545,545
Citation49 S.Ct. 430,73 L.Ed. 856,279 U.S. 582
PartiesSTANDARD OIL CO. et al. v. CITY OF MARYSVILLE et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Earle W. Evans, of Wichita, Kan., and Thomas F. Doran, of Topeka, Kan., for petitioners.

Messrs. Edgar C. Bennett, of Marysville, Kan., and H. W. Colmery, of Topeka, Kan., for respondents.

Mr. Justice STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case is here on certiorari, granted January 2, 1929, 278 U. S. 596, 49 S. Ct. 177, 73 L. Ed. —, to review a judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, reversing a decree of the District Court for Kansas which enjoined the enforcement of an ordinance of respondent the city of Marysville, as in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution. 27 F. (2d) 478.

The ordinance, No. 350, of October 8, 1923, requires that all tanks within the city limits used for the storage of petroleum products or other inflammable liquids shall be buried at least 3 feet underground. Tanks of a capacity of 500 gallons or less, if used for the storage of crude oil, distillate, or fuel oil, and of less than 10 gallons, if used for the storage of gasoline, kerosene, or naphtha, are exempted from this requirement. Violation of the ordinance is punishable by a fine of $25 for each day of its continuance. Petitioners, who are dealers in petroleum products licensed under a former ordinance, have each for many years maintained within the city limits two tanks for the storage of gasoline and kerosene of approximately 12,000 gallone capacity each. They assert that compliance with the ordinance will impose upon them a large and unnecessary expense and that the ordinance is so arbitrary and capricious as applied to them as to deprive them of their property without due process of law.

At the trial before a master voluminous evidence was taken, much of it conflicting, speculative, and theoretical in character, concerning the relative safety of the storage of petroleum products above and beneath the surface of the earth and their relative likelihood of ignition, and danger to life and property in the vicinity if ignited, when so stored. The master made elaborate findings of fact from which he inferred generally that it is more dangerous, from the standpoint of public safety, to store underground than above, gasoline or kerosene in quantities of 10 gallons or more. From this he drew the legal conclusion, adopted by the District Court, that the ordinance was so arbitrary and capricious as not to be a permissible exercise of the police power.

We need not labor the point, long settled, that, where legislative action is within the scope of the police power, fairly debatable questions as to its reasonableness, wisdom, and propriety are not for and determination of courts, but for that of the legislative body on which rests the duty and responsibility of decision. Zahn v. Board of Public Works, 274 U. S. 325, 328, 47 S. Ct. 594, 71 L. Ed. 1074; Hadacheck v. Sebastian, 239 U. S. 394, 408-412, 413, 414, 36 S. Ct. 143, 60 L. Ed. 348, Ann. Cas. 1917B, 927; Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U. S. 365, 388, 47 S. Ct. 114, 71 L. Ed. 303, 54 A. L. R. 1016; Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U. S. 11, 30, 25 S. Ct. 358, 49 L. Ed. 643, 3 Ann. Cas 765; Laurel Hill Cemetery v. San Francisco, 216 U. S. 358, 365, 30 S. Ct. 301, 54 L. Ed. 515; Cusack Co. v. City of Chicago, 242 U. S. 526, 530, 37 S. Ct. 190, 61 L. Ed. 472, L. R. A. 1918A, 136, Ann. Cas. 1917C, 594; Price v. Illinois, 238 U. S. 446, 451, 35 S. Ct. 892, 59 L. Ed. 1400. To determine that the present ordinance was a permissible exercise of legislative discretion, as thus defined, we need not go beyond those findings of the master to which petitioners offer no serious challenge.

The master found that gasoline and kerosene stored in large quantities are dangerously inflammable substances, as we judicially know, Pierce Oil Corporation v. City of Hope, 248 U. S. 498, 500, 39 .S Ct. 172, 63 L. Ed. 381, which, when ignited, are a menace to life and property in the vicinity; that even with the use of the most modern safety devices, fires or explosions of such storage tanks occur; and that within the four years preceding the trial five disastrous fires of gasoline storage stations had occurred in Kansas, in two of which gasoline tanks had exploded, in one case striking and burning a building 475 feet away, killing 9 people, wounding 26 more, and burning several other houses. His findings show that within an even smaller radius from petitioners' tanks, or within the same or adjacent blocks, there are many...

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