State v. Somerville

Decision Date26 March 1912
Citation67 Wash. 638,122 P. 324
CourtWashington Supreme Court

Department 1. Appeal from Superior Court, King County; John F. Main Judge.

Henrietta Somerville was convicted of crime, and she appeals. Affirmed.

Trefethen & Grinstead, for appellant.

John F Murphy, Hugh M. Caldwell, Herbert B. Butler, and Reah M Whitehead, for the State.


The defendant, Henrietta Somerville, was arrested, tried, convicted, and fined under an information filed by the prosecuting attorney of King county, which, omitting formal parts, charged as follows: 'She, the said Henrietta Somerville, in the county of King, state of Washington, on the 9th day of June, 1911, being then and there the superintendent of R. S. Somerville and H. K. Somerville, copartners, then and there doing business under the name and style of the 'Washington Paper Box Company,' which said R. S. Somerville and H. K. Somerville, as copartners, as aforesaid, then and there owned, conducted, and operated under said name 'Washington Paper Box Company,' a certain mechanical and mercantile establishment for the making and selling of paper boxes, did then and there willfully and unlawfully employ a female, namely, one Mattie Garse, in said establishment more than eight hours, to wit, for a period of nine hours during said day.' From such conviction and the final judgment entered thereon, the defendant has appealed.

Appellant contends that the statute under which she was prosecuted (chapter 37, Session Laws 1911) is unconstitutional. Section 1 of the act reads as follows: 'No female shall be employed in any mechanical or mercantile establishment, laundry, hotel or restaurant in this state more than eight hours during any day. The hours of work may be so arranged as to permit the employment of females at any time so that they shall not work more than eight hours during the twenty-four: Provided, however, that the provisions of this section in relation to the hours of employment shall not apply to, nor affect, females employed in harvesting, packing, curing, canning or drying any variety of perishable fruit or vegetable, nor to females employed in canning fish or shellfish. * * *' By stipulation, a jury was waived, and upon trial to the court it was conceded that the statute, if valid, had been violated by appellant. For the purpose, however, of showing that the action of the Legislature in enacting the law and in attempting to exercise the police power of the state was unreasonable and arbitrary, and that a maximum limit of eight hours cannot be sustained, appellant introduced evidence which was admitted by the trial judge to aid her in making a record for this court. The evidence thus introduced tended to show that appellant's factory was modern, well-equipped, sanitary, and healthful; that the labor performed by the female employés was light and harmless; that they could be thus employed for nine hours per day without endangering or impairing their health or physical condition; and that no sufficient reason existed for a limitation of their labor to eight hours per day. The state introduced no evidence to rebut this showing; its contention then and now being that the evidence was immaterial and irrelevant. In passing upon the constitutionality of a statute, courts cannot be controlled by evidence of this character. Assuming, without deciding, that the undisputed evidence thus admitted supports appellant's contention as to her factory, and as to all other factories of a like character in this state, with reference to their equipment, sanitary condition, and the labor required of female employés, it might be that in another prosecution for the employment of females in a like factory, less convincing evidence would be produced, or that the state, by its evidence, might successfully refute the alleged facts upon which appellant relies in this action. Yet it is manifest that a court could not in one prosecution declare the act unconstitutional, while sustaining it in the other. Evidence upon which appellant thus relies to sustain her present contention that the statute is an unreasonable, arbitrary, and unwarranted exercise of the police power might with propriety have been presented to the Legislature when it had the act under consideration; but it cannot be controlling or conclusive on the courts, when presented as a defense in a criminal prosecution under a statute, the constitutionality of which is assailed. Courts, in passing upon the reasonableness or unreasonableness of a statute, and deciding whether the Legislature has exceeded its powers to such an extent as to render the act invalid, must look at the terms of the act itself, and bring to their assistance such scientific, economic, physical, and other pertinent facts as are common knowledge, and of which they can take judicial notice.

Appellant contends that the statute is in contravention of sections 3 and 12 of article 1 of the state Constitution, and the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, in that, without due process of law, it deprives employers and employés in the enumerated factories and callings of their right to contract relative to the employés' labor. Labor is property as to which employer and employé may contract. To arbitrarily deprive either of such right to contract would be a violation of the federal and state Constitutions, and when the Legislature attempts to restrict such right the duty devolves upon the courts to determine whether the restrictions are within constitutional limitations. Statutes regulating and restricting hours of labor, and the right of private individuals to contract therefor, when valid, are sustained as a proper exercise of the police power; and many courts have held that a large discretion is necessarily vested in the Legislature when exercising that power, and that the Legislature may determine, not only what the public interest demands, but also what measures are requisite and necessary to secure and protect the same. Referring to limitations imposed by a state upon the hours of workmen and their right to contract therefor, the Supreme Court of the United States, in Holden v. Hardy, 169 U.S. 366, 391, 18 S.Ct. 388, 42 L.Ed. 780, said: 'This right of contract, however, is itself subject to certain limitations which the state may lawfully impose in the exercise of its police powers. While this power is inherent in all governments, it has doubtless been greatly expanded in its application during the past century, owing to an enormous increase in the number of occupations which are dangerous, or so far detrimental to the health of employés as to demand special precautions for their well-being and protection, or the safety of adjacent property. While this court has held, notably in the cases of Davidson v. New Orleans, 96 U.S. 97 , and Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 [6 S.Ct. 1064, 30 L.Ed. 220], that the police power cannot be put forward as an excuse for oppressive and unjust legislation, it may be lawfully resorted to for the purpose of preserving the public health, safety, or morals, or the abatement of public nuisances, and a large discretion 'is necessarily vested in the Legislature to determine, not only what the interests of the public require, but what measures are necessary for the protection of such interests.' Lawton v. Steele, 152 U.S. 133, 136 [14 S.Ct. 499, 38 L.Ed. 385].'

We have before us, then, the question whether, in this particular act, the Legislature has so far exceeded the necessary and reasonable exercise of the police power, in fixing the maximum daily labor at eight hours, as to render the act invalid. Any legislative enactment must be regarded as valid unless it unquestionably and palpably violates some right secured by fundamental law. All doubts as to its validity must be resolved in favor of the statute. Courts are not concerned with questions of the propriety, advisability, or wisdom of any statute. Those questions are for the exclusive consideration of the Legislature. Legislative functions are not to be usurped by the courts. After we have given the statute a careful consideration in all of its bearings, if we are not clearly convinced that it is unconstitutional, we should resolve all doubts in its favor and sustain it. The courts have not agreed at all times as to what are reasonable restrictions upon the right of private individuals to contract for hours of labor; but the later decisions have evinced marked liberality in sustaining legislation of this character. The police power which may be invoked to protect the health, property, welfare, and morals of citizens is an inherent attribute of sovereignty, the exercise of which is necessary to secure good government and promote the public welfare. Circumstances and occasions calling for its exercise have multiplied with marvelous rapidity in recent years, by reason of the well-recognized fact that modern social and economic conditions have called into existence agencies previously unknown, many of which so vitally affect the health and physical condition of laborers, and especially female laborers, that legislation of the character here involved has been sustained with greater liberality than was formerly evinced under less exacting conditions. In State v. Buchanan, 29 Wash. 602, 70 P. 52, 59 L. R. A. 342, 92 Am. St. Rep. 930, this court sustained as a legitimate exercise of the police power an act limiting the employment of females in and mechancial or mercantile establishment, or any laundry, hotel, or restaurant, to 10 hours per day. The Supreme Court of the United States, in Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45, 25 S.Ct. 539, 49 L.Ed. 937, Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412, 28 S.Ct. 324, 52 L.Ed. 551, 13 Ann. Cas. 957, the same cou...

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