State v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co.

Decision Date24 November 1908
Citation56 Fla. 617,47 So. 969
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Headnotes Filed December 11, 1908.

Error to Circuit Court, Orange County; Minors S. Jones, Judge.

Action by the Railroad Commissioners, in the name of the State against the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company. Judgment for defendant, and plaintiff brings error. Affirmed.

Syllabus by the Court


In order to justify the courts in declaring invalid as a delegation of legislative power a statute conferring particular duties or authority upon administrative officers it must clearly appear beyond a reasonable doubt that the duty or authority so conferred is a power that appertains exclusively to the legislative department, and the conferring of it is not warranted by the provisions of the Constitution.

The power accorded the Legislature by the Constitution for the purpose of regulating intrastate transportation by common carriers is not confined to making rules and regulations. The Legislature has authority to do or to cause to be done everything in any manner and by any means requisite to the complete and effectual exercise of the power possessed that is not an undoubted violation of some other provision of the Constitution.

The Constitution should be interpreted so as not to render impotent or inoperative, but so as to preserve and make effective, the sovereign power of the state to regulate intrastate transportation by common carriers; and the specific provision of the Constitution that the Legislature has power to pass laws to correct abuses, and to prevent unjust discriminations and excessive charges by common carriers and others engaged in rendering service of a public nature, should be so applied as to accomplish the purposes expressed therein.

The Legislature may not delegate the power to enact a law, or declare what the law shall be, or to exercise an unrestricted discretion in applying a law; but it may enact a law complete in itself designed to accomplish a general public purpose and may expressly authorize designated officials within definite valid limitations to provide rules and regulations for the complete operation and enforcement of the law within its expressed general purpose. This principle of the law is peculiarly applicable to the regulation of common carriers since the complex and ever-changing conditions that attend and affect such a service make it impracticable for the Legislature to prescribe all necessary rules and regulations.

Authority to make rules and regulations to carry out an expressed legislative purpose, or for the complete operation and enforcement of a law within designated limitations, is not an exclusively legislative power. Such authority is administrative in its nature, and its use by administrative officers is essential to the complete exercise of the powers of all the departments.

The exercise of some authority, discretion, or judgment may be incident or necessary to the performance of administrative or ministerial duties; but such authority, discretion, or judgment is subject to judicial review, and it is not among the powers of government that the Constitution separates into departments.

The common-law duties of common carriers are ascertained by the application of legal principles to particular facts. The statutes of the state do not define all the duties of common carriers, but expressly authorize the Railroad Commission to make reasonable and just rules and regulations to carry into effect the legislative purpose to regulate intrastate transportation by common carriers.

The Legislature may not delegate the power to make a law prescribing a penalty, but it is competent for the Legislature to authorize the Railroad Commission to prescribe duties upon which the law may operate in imposing a penalty and in effectuating the purpose designed in enacting the law. Where a penalty is imposed by law, it may be incurred for the penal violation of a rule prescribed by the Railroad Commission within their express authority.

Even if the provisions contained in the Railroad Commission statute relative to the disposition of the proceeds of fines or penalties recovered, and for the suspension or remission of fines or penalties, be in conflict with the Constitution such provisions may be eliminated without impairing the usefulness of the valid portions of the law for the purposes intended, and without causing results affecting the main purpose of the law in a manner contrary to the intention of the Legislature, and it cannot be said the lawmakers would not have enacted the statute without the invalid and unnecessary portions. The disposition of fines recovered is controlled by existing valid laws. The Constitution provides for the remission and disposition of fines, and affords a guaranty against excessive fines.

In view of the organic provisions relating to common carriers, and to conferring judicial powers upon the Railroad Commission, the constitutional right to jury trial is not, beyond a reasonable doubt, violated by the imposition by the Commission of a penalty or fine prescribed by law for the penal violation of rules provided for regulating a public service, when the fine or penalty is recoverable only by action at law in a jury trial, where any defense the carrier has may be interposed in the action to recover the penalty.

The regulation of intrastate transportation by common carriers is the exercise of the inherent and reserved power of the state. While the Constitution expressly authorizes the regulation of common carrier corporations, it also expressly provides for the protection of property rights against unlawful invasion whether under the guise of regulation of a public service or otherwise.

An arbitrary and unreasonable regulation is not within the authority of the Railroad Commission. If the action of the state through the Railroad Commission is not a legally authorized regulation of a public service, or if the authorized regulation is arbitrary and unreasonable, and in effect deprives the beneficial owners of property used in rendering the public service of the property rights in a manner or to an extent contemplated by law as a limitation upon the rights of those devoting their property to a public use, such action, though under the form of regulation, is in law a deprivation of property without due process of law in violation of the state Constitution.

The Railroad Commissioners are statutory officers whose powers are special and limited. They can exercise only such authority as is legally conferred by express provisions of law, or such as is by fair implication and intendment incident to and included in the authority expressly conferred for the purpose of carrying out and accomplishing the purposes for which the offices were established.

When it can be fairly done, a rule adopted by the Railroad Commissioners should be so construed and applied as to make it conform to the powers conferred upon the Commissioners, rather than as being an assumption of power not conferred.

Under the power given the Railroad Commissioners to require common carriers to furnish all necessary facilities for the convenient and prompt handling, transportation, and delivery of all freight offered for transportation, and to provide and prescribe all rules and regulations necessary to secure the furnishing of such facilities and transportation and delivery of all freights offered, to direct and control all matters pertaining to railroads that shall be for the good of the public, and to do and perform any act or thing necessary to be done to effectually carry out and enforce the provisions of the Railroad Commission law, the Commissioners are authorized to adopt a rule making all railroads liable to a shipper in a charge of $1 per day per car for detaining cars properly loaded, with shipping instructions given, in violation of the Commission rules. Such a charge is not a penalty, but is a monetary obligation incurred for breach of duty that may be enforced by the shipper to which it is due.

The liability or charge prescribed by the rule of the Railroad Commissioners making the carrier liable to the shipper in the sum of $1 per day per car for the unlawful detention of loaded cars does not appear to be excessive or unreasonable or unjustly discriminatory; but it may be considered to be, and may in fact be, a reasonable and salutary means to prevent or to aid in preventing unjust discriminations and abuses in intrastate shipments, which is the purpose of the Constitution and the Railroad Commission law. The rule is general in its terms, and is applicable alike to all under similar conditions. Only railroads use cars in transporting freight.

If a valid excuse exists for not obeying a rule of the Railroad Commission, there is no penal violation of it; and the rule cannot legally be so applied as to directly and materially burden interstate commerce, or so as to deprive the carrier or the shipper of any rights afforded by the law.

Even if it be competent for the Legislature to impose a penalty upon a carrier alone for a refusal to pay a pecuniary liability, in the absence of valid, explicit enactments, a penalty may not be incurred for merely refusing to pay an amount for which only a liability in the nature of a charge for failing to perform a legal duty is created by the rule, in the payment of which liability the public is not concerned. A penalty is not incurred under the statute for refusing to pay a penalty, or for refusing to pay a charge imposed under the Commission rules.

The particular powers and duties prescribed in other acts were not intended to affect, and do not affect, the powers and duties of the Commission, as defined by the Railroad Commission stat...

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    • United States
    • Florida Bar Journal Vol. 75 No. 1, January 2001
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