Winters v. City of Duluth, Nos. 12,269 - (142).

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Writing for the CourtStart
Citation82 Minn. 127
Decision Date03 January 1901
Docket NumberNos. 12,269 - (142).
82 Minn. 127
Nos. 12,269 - (142).
Supreme Court of Minnesota.
January 3, 1901.

Page 128

Appeal by plaintiff from an order of the district court for St. Louis county, Ensign, J., sustaining a demurrer to the complaint. Affirmed.

J. B. Richards, for appellant.

Oscar Mitchell, for respondent.


This action was brought to recover damages for personal injuries sustained by the plaintiff in the pumping station connected with the defendant's system of waterworks. The complaint alleged that the plaintiff, who was an employee of the city, stumbled upon an obstruction or projection in the floor of the pumping station, which caused him to fall forward into the revolving fly wheel of the engine, which the defendant had negligently left unguarded, whereby his kneecap was broken. The complaint, however, did not allege that the plaintiff gave to the council of the defendant city any notice as to when, where, and how he was injured. The defendant interposed a general demurrer to the complaint, and the plaintiff appealed from an order sustaining it. The sole question here to be decided is whether such notice was required in this case by Laws 1897, c. 248, the title and here material provisions of which are as follows:

"An act relating to actions against cities, villages or boroughs for damages to persons injured on streets and other public grounds, by reason of the negligence of any public officer, agent or employee of any city, village or borough.

"Be it enacted * * *

"Section 1. Before any city, village or borough in this state shall be liable to any person for damages for * * * any injury

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* * * suffered by reason of any defect in any bridge, street, road, sidewalk, park, public ground, ferry boat or public works of any kind in said city, * * * or by reason of any alleged negligence of any officer, agent, servant or employee of said city, * * * the person so alleged to be injured * * * shall give to the city * * * council * * * or other governing body of such city, * * * within thirty days after the alleged injury, notice thereof."

The plaintiff's contention is that this statute has no application to the facts of this case, because: First, it is apparent from the title of the act that it was never intended to apply to any case except injuries received from the condition of public highways as such; second, if the different intent is expressed in the body of the act, then it is unconstitutional, because its subject-matter is not expressed in the title, as required by section 27 of article 4 of the state constitution.

1. The plaintiff's first contention is that the words "other public grounds," following the word "streets," in the title of the act, must, under the rule of ejusdem generis, be held to mean grounds of the same general kind as those previously mentioned, and be limited to public highways and places where the general public have the right to go.

If the words of the title "streets and other public grounds" were the only ones used to designate the public places in the body of the act, the rule of construction invoked might be controlling as to the legislative intent. But "canons of construction are not the masters of the courts, but merely their servants, to aid them in ascertaining the legislative intent"; and when it is ascertained the statute must be so construed as to give effect to such intention, even if it seem contrary to such rules and the strict letter of the statute. Barker v. Kelderhouse, 8 Minn. 178 (207); Ott v. Great Northern Ry. Co., 70 Minn. 50, 55, 72 N. W. 833; Foster v. Blount, 18 Ala. 687. The rule that, where general words in a statute follow particular and specific words, the former must be limited to things of the same kind as those specifically mentioned, can be used only as an aid in ascertaining the legislative intent, and when that is apparent from the statute itself the rule has no application. Sutherland, St. Const. §§ 279, 280; Willis v. Mabon,

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48 Minn. 140, 156, 50 N. W. 1110. Such is this case, so far as the title to the act in question is concerned; for, when we turn to the body of the act, it is perfectly obvious that the legislature did not intend to limit the words "other public grounds" to public grounds of the same kind as streets.

The legislative intent, as declared in section 1 of the act, is clear and specific. The intention is to require a notice of the injury to be given, as a condition precedent to the liability of any city to any person for any injury received by reason of any defect in any bridge, street, road, sidewalk, park, public ground, ferryboat, or public works of any kind in such city. It would be absurd as well as discourteous to impute to the legislature an intention to limit the meaning of general words used in the title of the act so as to defeat the expressed purpose of its enactment. It is true that material omissions in the title to an act cannot be supplied by a reference to the enacting clause, but when the question is whether general words appearing in the title of an act were intended to be read according to their natural and usual meaning, or in a restricted sense, the title and the enacting clause should be read and construed together. See Gillitt v. McCarthy, 34 Minn. 318, 25 N. W. 637. For the reasons stated, the rule ejusdem generis does not apply to the title of this act, and we hold that the words "public grounds" were intended to be used therein in their general and usual sense; that is, as including all grounds held, used, or controlled by a city or other municipality for the use, benefit, or enjoyment of the public, and not in their restricted meaning, as including only streets, highways, and grounds which the people, without discrimination, are entitled to use, subject only to reasonable regulations.

2. The statute expressly provides that, before any city shall be liable for any injury to any person by reason of any defect in any public ground or public works of any kind of the city, the notice therein required must be given. The words "public works of any kind," as used in the statute, are broad enough to, and do, cover the facts of this case; for all fixed works constructed for public use, as railways, docks, canals, waterworks, and roads, are included in the term "public works." Cent. Dict. The plaintiff was

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injured by an alleged defect in the pump house and its appliances, which were a part of the defendant's system of waterworks.


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