United States v. Illinois Cent. R. Co.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of Kentucky
Citation156 F. 182
Decision Date01 November 1907
PartiesUNITED STATES v. ILLINOIS CENT. R. CO. (two cases).

156 F. 182

UNITED STATES
v.
ILLINOIS CENT. R. CO. (two cases).

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky.

November 1, 1907


[156 F. 183]

George Du Relle, Dist. Atty., and Luther M. Walter, for the United states.

Trabue, Doolan & Cox, for defendant.

EVANS, District Judge.

Section 1 of the act of March 2, 1893 (27 Stat. 531, c. 196 (U.S. Comp. St. 1901, p. 3174)), as amended, known as the 'Safety Appliance Act,' provides that:

'It shall be unlawful for any common carrier engaged in interstate commerce by railroad to use on its line any locomotive engine in moving interstate traffic not equipped with a power driving wheel brake and appliances for operating the train brake system.'

Section 2 provides that:

'It shall be unlawful for any such common carrier to haul or permit to be hauled or used on its line any car used in moving interstate traffic not equipped with couplers coupling automatically by impact, and which can be uncoupled without the necessity of men going between the ends of the cars.'

Section 4 provides that:

'It shall be unlawful for any railroad company to use any car in interstate commerce that is not provided with secure grab-irons or handholds in the [156 F. 184] ends and sides of each for greater security to men in coupling and uncoupling cars.'

Section 5 forbids the use of cars in interstate traffic which are not provided with a standard drawbar.

Section 6 provides that any common carrier who shall violate any of the provisions of the act 'shall be liable to a penalty of $100 for each and every violation, to be recovered in a suit or suits to be brought' in the District Courts of the United States having jurisdiction in the locality where the violation shall have been committed.

Under these provisions these suits were brought by petition as in a civil action at law, and in 27 separate paragraphs the plaintiff has charged the defendant with that many separate violations of the statute. One of these was under section 1, 18 under section 2, 7 under section 4, and 1 under section 5. The defendant, by pleading, raised the issue as to whether it was guilty of any one of the alleged violations of law, and by stipulation the cases were heard by the court without a jury. The testimony developed no very difficult questions of fact, but the questions of law involved, and which were argued at length, are not only of great importance, but are difficult and perplexing, in the absence of authoritative rulings by the higher courts.

That the enforcement of the safety appliance act is demanded, alike because it is a law of the United States and because it was intended to serve an extremely important purpose, goes without saying. The laws of the United States are made to be enforced; but this implies and requires that the courts, when appealed to for that purpose, shall with rigid impartiality and the utmost care endeavor to ascertain what the law is which is to be enforced. If the courts fail in this, they may on the one hand enforce what Congress did not intend to be law, or on the other permit persons to escape who ought to be punished. These cases have strenuously exacted this character of labor, although a casual reading of the clauses of the act above cited might not suggest it.

And, first, we must definitely determine whether the act creates 'criminal offenses,' for, until we do this, we cannot say what rules of construction must govern, nor whether certain rules of evidence should be applied, namely, rules in civil or rules in criminal cases. The fourth clause of the act authorizes 'suits' to be brought for the recovery of the penalties, and from this fact it seems in some jurisdictions to have been inferred that the liability imposed was in the nature of a mere indebtedness, and consequently that the rule as to preponderance of evidence should be applied. The language used in sections 1, 2, and 4 is alike that certain acts shall be 'unlawful.' Before the passage of the law such acts were not unlawful, and the statute for the first time made them so. For doing those unlawful acts a penalty is prescribed as a punishment. In the very important case of Huntington v. Attrill, 146 U.S. 657, 13 Sup.Ct. 224, 36 L.Ed. 1123, the Supreme Court had before it the question of whether a certain statute of New York was a penal statute, within the meaning of that phrase in the rule that one state will not enforce the penal or criminal laws of another. Huntington had obtained a judgment in New York upon which he brought a suit in Maryland. The Maryland court had refused to enforce the [156 F. 185] judgment, or to give it the full faith and credit required by the Constitution of the United States, because in its opinion the judgment was based upon a penal statute of New York, and in such cases it is clearly established that the constitutional provision referred to does not apply. The opinion of the Supreme Court, delivered by Mr. Justice Gray, was elaborate, and clearly stated the criteria upon which the question was determinable. We need not here do more than extract such parts of the opinion as are decisive of the question we are trying to solve. At page 667 of 146 U.S., at page 227 of 13 S.Ct. (36 L.Ed. 1123), it is said:

'Penal laws, strictly and properly, are those imposing punishment for an offense committed against the state, and which, by the English and American Constitutions, the executive of the state has the power to pardon. Statutes giving a private action against the wrongdoer are sometimes spoken of as penal in their nature, but in such cases it has been pointed out that neither the liability imposed nor the remedy given is strictly penal.'

At page 668 of 146 U.S., at page 228, of 13 S.Ct. (36 L.Ed. 1123), the opinion continues as follows:

'The test whether a law is penal, in the strict and primary sense, is whether the wrong sought to be redressed is a wrong to the public, or a wrong to the individual, according to the familiar classification of Blackstone: 'Wrongs are divisible into two sorts or species: Private wrongs and public wrongs. The former are an infringement or privation of the private or civil rights belonging to individuals, considered as individuals, and are thereupon frequently termed 'civil injuries.' The latter are a breach and violation of public rights and duties, which affect the whole community, considered as a community, and are distinguished by the harsher appellation of 'crimes and misdemeanors." 3 Bl.Com. 2.'

While we only quote these short parts of it, the entire opinion is most instructive. See, also, Lees v. U.S., 150 U.S. 480, 14 Sup.Ct. 163, 37 L.Ed. 1150.

The safety appliance act makes certain things 'unlawful.' It imposes penalties. Those penalties go to the United States, and not to individual persons, and indubitably the Chief Executive might grant pardons to those who violate its provisions.

Under these tests the conclusion is reached that the safety appliance act is a criminal law, and that all violations of its provisions are, in the broad sense, crimes or misdemeanors. Nor can this result be changed by the fact that under section 8 in certain contingencies an employe's suit for damages shall not be defeated by the doctrine of 'assumed risks.' As pointed out in the opinion in the Huntington Case, a statute may embrace provisions which relate to civil rights, as well as provisions which relate to public offenses, but that does not change the essential nature of either class of provisions.

Nor does it affect the result here that section 4 of the act provides that the penalties it prescribes shall be recovered by 'suit.' While in case of capital or other infamous crimes it is otherwise under the fifth amendment to the Constitution, yet in misdemeanor cases indictments are not always necessary, and, as stated by Bouvier in his Law Dictionary, even an indictment is a 'suit.' Whatever form the pleading in the 'suit' may take, either that of indictment, information, or petition, the character of the safety appliance act remains the same, viz., it is a criminal statute creating public offenses, and when one is accused of [156 F. 186] violating its provisions his trial must be governed by the general rules which govern in other like cases. Having ascertained the character of the enactment, we are to inquire as to the rules which must govern its interpretation. And this inquiry is relieved of all doubt in cases where the legislative intent is 'obvious,' by the opinion of the Supreme Court in Johnson v. Southern Pacific Co., 196 U.S. 17, 18, 25 Sup.Ct. 161, 162, 49 L.Ed. 363, wherein the court, through Mr. Chief Justice Fuller, said:

'Moreover it is settled that, though penal laws are to be construed strictly, yet the intention of the Legislature must govern in the construction of penal as well as other statutes; and they are not to be construed so strictly as to defeat the obvious intention of the Legislature. United States v. Lacher, 134 U.S. 624, 10 Sup.Ct. 625, 33 L.Ed. 1080.'

If in any essential respect, however, the legislative intent is not fairly to be called 'obvious,' then we may assume that we are to be governed by other rules in interpreting it. Where the provisions of a statute cannot fairly be called 'obvious,' and where, therefore, construction must be resorted to to ascertain the legislative intent, the following rules may be invoked, viz.:

'All laws should receive a sensible construction. General terms should be so limited in their application as not to lead to injustice, oppression, or an absurd consequence. It will also, therefore, be presumed that the Legislature intended exceptions to its language, which would avoid results of that character. ' United States v. Kirby, 7 Wall. 486, 487, 19 L.Ed. 278.

In Carlisle v. United States, 16 Wall. 153, 21 L.Ed. 426, the rule is thus stated:

'All general...

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13 practice notes
  • United States v. JB Williams Company, Inc., No. 236
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • May 2, 1974
    ...49 L.Ed. 363 (1904); Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. v. United States, 172 F. 194 (7 Cir. 1909); United States v. Illinois Central R. R., 156 F. 182 (W.D. Ky.1907), rev'd, 170 F. 542 (6 Cir.), cert. denied, 214 U.S. 520, 29 S.Ct. 700, 53 L.Ed. 1066 (1909), the civil penalty provision in ? 1......
  • Chicago, B. & Q. Ry. Co. v. United States, 2,787.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • April 24, 1909
    ...v. Brown, Fed. Cas. No. 14,662 (24 Fed.Cas. 1,248). The exhaustive opinion of Judge Evans, in United States v. Illinois Cent. R. Co. (D.C.) 156 F. 182, to which our attention is called, in which the contrary conclusion was reached, has been carefully considered, but we are unable to give ou......
  • United States v. Oregon Short Line Ry. Co.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Idaho
    • June 4, 1908
    ...239, are authority for the construction contended for by counsel for the government. Upon the other hand, U.S. v. I.C.R. Co. (D.C., Ky.) 156 F. 182, U.S. v. Santa Fe R. Co. (D.C., Colo.) 150 F. 442, Mo. Pac. R. Co. v. Brinkmeier, 77 Kan. 14, 93 P. 621, and Elmore v. Seaboard Air Line Co., 1......
  • United States v. Wabash R. Co., 3,352.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • October 25, 1910
    ...reasons stated in United States v. Shapleigh, 4 C.C.A. 237, 241-245, 54 F. 126, 129-134, United States v. Illinois Central R.R. Co. (D.C.) 156 F. 182, and Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. United States, 96 C.C.A. 646, 648, 649, 172 F. 194, 196, 197, 27 L.R.A. (N.S.) 756, and the cases......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
13 cases
  • United States v. JB Williams Company, Inc., No. 236
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • May 2, 1974
    ...49 L.Ed. 363 (1904); Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. v. United States, 172 F. 194 (7 Cir. 1909); United States v. Illinois Central R. R., 156 F. 182 (W.D. Ky.1907), rev'd, 170 F. 542 (6 Cir.), cert. denied, 214 U.S. 520, 29 S.Ct. 700, 53 L.Ed. 1066 (1909), the civil penalty provision in ? 1......
  • Chicago, B. & Q. Ry. Co. v. United States, 2,787.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • April 24, 1909
    ...v. Brown, Fed. Cas. No. 14,662 (24 Fed.Cas. 1,248). The exhaustive opinion of Judge Evans, in United States v. Illinois Cent. R. Co. (D.C.) 156 F. 182, to which our attention is called, in which the contrary conclusion was reached, has been carefully considered, but we are unable to give ou......
  • United States v. Oregon Short Line Ry. Co.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Idaho
    • June 4, 1908
    ...239, are authority for the construction contended for by counsel for the government. Upon the other hand, U.S. v. I.C.R. Co. (D.C., Ky.) 156 F. 182, U.S. v. Santa Fe R. Co. (D.C., Colo.) 150 F. 442, Mo. Pac. R. Co. v. Brinkmeier, 77 Kan. 14, 93 P. 621, and Elmore v. Seaboard Air Line Co., 1......
  • United States v. Wabash R. Co., 3,352.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • October 25, 1910
    ...reasons stated in United States v. Shapleigh, 4 C.C.A. 237, 241-245, 54 F. 126, 129-134, United States v. Illinois Central R.R. Co. (D.C.) 156 F. 182, and Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. United States, 96 C.C.A. 646, 648, 649, 172 F. 194, 196, 197, 27 L.R.A. (N.S.) 756, and the cases......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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