State v. Scoggin, 433

Citation72 S.E.2d 97,236 N.C. 1
Decision Date22 August 1952
Docket NumberNo. 433,433
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

Page 97

72 S.E.2d 97
236 N.C. 1
No. 433
Supreme Court of North Carolina.
Aug. 22, 1952

Harry McMullan, Atty. Gen., and Robert B. Broughton, member of Staff, Raleigh, for the State.

Joseph B. Cheshire, Jr., Raleigh, for defendant appellant.

BARNHILL, Justice.

Following our decision in M.H. Rhodes, Inc., v. City of Raleigh, 217 N.C. 627, 9 S.E.2d 389, 130 A.L.R. 311, the General Assembly adopted Ch. 153, Session Laws of 1941, now G.S. § 160-200, subd. 31, vesting in the municipalities of the State authority 'to regulate and limit vehicular parking on streets and highways in congested areas.' The Act further provides in part that 'In the regulation and limitation of vehicular traffic and parking in cities and towns the governing bodies may, in their discretion, enact ordinances providing for a system of parking meters designated to promote traffic regulation and requiring a reasonable deposit (not in excess of five cents per hour) from those who park vehicles for stipulated periods of time in certain areas in which the congestion of vehicular traffic is such that public convenience and safety demand such regulation.' See also G.S. § 160-501 and sec. 22(36), Ch. 1184, S.L. 1949 (Charter of City of Raleigh).

G.S. § 160-200, subd. 31, vests the City of Raleigh with authority to divide the areas of the city congested by vehicular traffic into zones or districts, [236 N.C. 6] limit the parking of automobiles in such zones as public convenience and safety may demand, install meters in furtherance of the enforcement of such regulations, and require a motorist who leaves his automobile standing in a meter-controlled parking space to put the meter alongside said parking space in operation by depositing the designated coin in the meter at the time he enters the space for the purpose of parking to the end his parking may be timed or measured by the meter for the information of the law enforcement officers of the city.

Pursuant to this authority thus vested in it, the governing body of the City of Raleigh enacted the ordinance which is summarized in the statement of facts zoning areas congested by automobile traffic and providing for the regulation of parking within said zones by the use of parking meters.

The ordinance adopted creates two criminal offenses material here: (1) parking in a meter-controlled parking space with-out first setting the meter in operation by depositing in it one of the designated coins; (2) leaving an automobile standing in said space for a period longer than that specified by the ordinance and signs erected for that particular zone.

The defendant is charged with the violation of each of these penal provisions of the ordinance. He was convicted on both counts. He rests his appeal to this Court primarily upon the contentions that (1) the ordinance is invalid as a police regulation, and (2) the City of Raleigh, in adopting the ordinance it now seeks to enforce, exceeded the authority delegated to it by the General Assembly. He states the question presented in this manner: 'Does the requirement, on pain of criminal liability, for the deposit of money in a parking meter in order to park an automobile on the public streets for a period

Page 101

of time which varies in accordance with the amount of money deposited have a reasonable relation to the legitimate exercise of police power in the regulation and limitation of vehicular traffic and parking?'

It is suggested, however, that this raises a constitutional question, and courts do not let a case turn on a constitutional question when it may be decided on any other grounds. This is a sound rule when rightly applied. It is bottomed on the philosophy of equality between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of our government and the system of checks and balances provided by our fundamental law. While we have cited the rule in cases involving municipal ordinances, strictly speaking, it applies only to Acts of the General Assembly--a co-ordinate branch of the government. State v. Lueders, 214 N.C. 558, 200 S.E. 22; State v. High, 222 N.C. 434, 23 S.E.2d 343.

The constitutionality of the enabling statute is not at issue, and there is no sound reason why we should hesitate to determine whether a municipal corporation, a subordinate branch of the government, a creature of [236 N.C. 7] the Legislature which can exercise only those powers which have been expressly or by necessary implication delegated to it, has exceeded its authority. Madry v. Town of Scotland Neck, 214 N.C. 461, 199 S.E. 618.

It would seem to be clear that this and the companion case against this same defendant, 72 S.E.2d 54, are test cases to ascertain to what extent and in what manner the meter method of controlling parking of vehicles in congested areas of municipalities may be accomplished. It is apparent the defendant agreed to become the guinea pig in the test and is cooperating, for he has made material admissions of fact which the State, no doubt, would have found it most difficult to establish if it had been put to proof.

Moreover, the questions here presented are of vital public interest, affecting many of the municipalities of the State. It is a matter of common knowledge that the criminal dockets in the Superior Courts of those counties in which parking meters are used are becoming congested with appeals from city courts in overtime parking cases. Solicitors and judges alike doubt the constitutionality of some of the provisions of the ordinances and the sufficiency of available proof in many cases. At least one judge of the Superior Court has held a similar ordinance unconstitutional in toto and even members of this Court are not in complete accord.

None of the parties are entitled to an advisory opinion from this Court. They have adopted the only method available to them to ascertain the validity of the ordinance. In turn we, in the public interest, must do our part by overlooking nonfatal deficiencies in the record and deciding the essential questions presented to the end any necessary revisions of the ordinance may be made and the officers of the law and the trial courts may proceed to enforce parking regulations with assurance as to their duties and the rights of individual motorists.

While necessity does not create power, it sometimes demands the prompt and effective exercise of power. We must not assume authority we do not possess, but we must at times exercise existing jurisdiction at the first opportunity to the end the executive and legislative branches of the government may know what they may and should do to meet a grave problem of general public concern. This is one of those occasions.

As we said in Miller's Mutual Fire Insurance Ass'n v. Parker, 234 N.C. 20, 65 S.E.2d 341, 344. 'The complexity of today's commercial relations and the constantly increasing number of automobiles render the question of parking a matter of public concern which is taxing the ingenuity of our municipal officials.' Unquestionably, the power to enact laws designed and intended to meet this problem comes within the general authority of the Legislature to enact laws to promote the peace, comfort, convenience, and prosperity of its people. Escanaba, etc., Transp. Co. v. Chicago, 107 U.S. 678, 2 S.Ct. 185, 27 L.Ed. 442; State v. Ballance, 229 N.C. 764, 51 S.E.2d 731, 7 A.L.R.2d 407. The evils

Page 102

to be remedied are [236 N.C. 8] proper objectives of legislation enacted under the police power of the State.

A municipality is a governmental agency or arm of the State, and so the General Assembly may delegate to a city or town the authority to enact ordinances in the exercise of the police power for the government of those within its limits. Bohn v. Salt Lake City, 79 Utah 121, 8 P.2d 591, 81 A.L.R. 215. This includes the power to prescribe rules or standards of conduct the violation of which shall constitute a criminal offense. Suddreth v. City of Charlotte, 223 N.C. 630, 27 S.E.2d 650.

But this power is subordinate to the constitutional guarantee of equality of privilege and of burden contained in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. Republic Iron & Steel Co. v. State, 160 Ind. 379, 66 N.E. 1005, 62 L.R.A. 136; Smith v. Cahoon, 283 U.S. 553, 51 S.Ct. 582, 75 L.Ed. 1264. Any attempted exercise of the police power which results in the denial of equal protection of the law is invalid. Smith v. Cahoon, supra.

Therefore, an ordinance must be uniform and must have a reasonable relation to the evil sought to be remedied. Its objective must be the elimination of the known evil and must be so designed that it applies alike to all within a designated class. In re Appeal of Parker, 214 N.C. 51, 197 S.E. 706; State v. Danenberg, 151 N.C. 718, 66 S.E. 301, 26 L.R.A., N.S., 890; Town of Shelby v. Cleveland Mill & Power Co., 155 N.C. 196, 71 S.E. 218, 35 L.R.A., N.S., 488; Clinton v. Standard Oil Co., 193 N.C. 432, 137 S.E. 183, 55 A.L.R. 252; McRae v. City of Fayetteville, 198 N.C. 51, 150 S.E. 810; Shuford v. Town of Waynesville, 214 N.C. 135, 198 S.E. 585; Rhodes, Inc., v. City of Raleigh, supra.

Furthermore, a municipality is a mere creature of the Legislature. It has no inherent power and must exercise delegated power strictly within the limitations prescribed by the Legislature. Kass v. Hedgpeth, 226 N.C. 405, 38 S.E.2d 164.

So much for the principles of law which must control decision here. In considering the ordinance under which defendant stands indicted, it must be noted in the beginning that its validity depends, in the first instance, upon whether it meets the condition or limitation contained in the enabling statute, and its enforceability is restricted by the condition imposed by the ordinance itself.

The city may enact a meter control parking ordinance only for those 'areas in which the congestion of vehicular traffic is such that public convenience and safey demand such regulation', G.S. § 160-200, subd. 31, and...

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