St. Clair v. Interstate Sand Car Transfer Company

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

192 U.S. 454

St. Clair  v.  Interstate Sand Car Transfer Company

 Argued: and submitted March 19, 20, 1903. --- Decided: February 23, 1904

Mr. Charles W. Thomas for plaintiff in error.

Messrs. John F. Lee and George R. Lockwood for defendant in error.

[Argument of Counsel from page 455 intentionally omitted]

Mr. Justic

e White delivered the opinion the court:

This suit was commenced in a court of the state of Illinois by the county of St. Clair, a municipal corporation of the state of Illinois, against the Interstate Sand & Car Transfer Company, a Missouri corporation, to recover statutory penalties. We shall hereafter refer to the one party as the county and to the other as the company. The right of the county to recover was based upon the charge that the company had, during certain years, which were stated, incurred penalties to the amount sued for, because it had carried on a ferry for transporting railroad cars, loaded or unloaded, from the county of St. Clair in Illinois to the Missouri shore, and from the Missouri shore to the county of St. Clair, without obtaining a license from the county, as was required by the law of Illinois. The cause of action was thus stated in the complaint:

'And plaintiff avers that the said defendant, in order to keep and use its said ferry at the time of its establishment as aforesaid, constructed and caused to be built a permanent landing place with certain cradles and roadways thereto, within the limits of said county, and has from thence hitherto maintained the same, by means whereof as well as by means of certain steamboats and barges, then and from thence hitherto used for that purpose by the defendant, it, the said defendant, was enabled to and did, at various times and continuously since the day last aforesaid, ferry for profit and hire, property, to wit, certain railroad cars, from said county across the Mississippi river aforesaid, and from the west bank of said river to the said county, and has so ferried said cars within the time aforesaid to the number of, to wit, 80,000 railroad cars across said river, without any license from the county board of the plaintiff so to do, whereby and by virtue of the statute in such case made and provided penalties have accrued to the plaintiff in the sum of $3 for each one of said cars so ferried, to wit, the sum of $240,000.'

The case was removed by the company on diversity of citizenship to the circuit court of the United States for the southern district of Illinois. In that court the company filed a general demurrer, which was sustained. From the final judgment dismissing the complaint the case was brought directly to this court because solely involving the construction or application of the Constitution of the United States.

The court below decided that the company was not liable for the penalties, because the law of Illinois purporting to impose upon the company the obligation of taking out a license was not binding, as it was repugnant to the commerce clause of the Constitution of the United States. The conclusions of the court upon this subject were in substance based on what was deemed to be the result of the rulings in Gloucester Ferry Co. v. Pennsylvania, 114 U.S. 196, 29 L. ed. 158, 1 Inters. Com. Rep. 382, 5 Sup. Ct. Rep. 826, and Convington & C. Bridge Co. v. Kentucky, 154 U.S. 204, 38 L. ed. 962, 4 Inters. Com. Rep. 649, 14 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1087.

In the argument at bar the county insists that the lower court erred in applying the cases mentioned, because those cases did not question the power of the several states to license and regulate ferries, but prevailed upon other considerations, and hence were inapposite. It is insisted that a consistent line of other cases decided by this court, commencing at an early day, determined that the right to establish, regulate, and license ferries, even though they be across a navigable river constituting a boundary between two states, rests exclusively within the several states, as embraced within police powers reserved to the several states, and not delegated to the national government. On the other hand, the company insists that, whilst undoubtedly there are decisions of this court apparently sustaining the contention of the other side, when properly considered the cases referred to must be limited to ferries over streams wholly within a state, and to the extent that certain of the cases cannot be so limited, they have been in effect overruled. As, then, both sides confidently rely upon prior adjudications of this court, and both in effect argue that the cases which are asserted to sustain the view urged by the other side are in irreconcilable conflict with other cases, it becomes necessary to briefly advert to the cases relied upon by both parties in order to ascertain whether the asserted antagonism between the decided cases really obtains so far as it may be necessary for the decision of the question arising on this record, and if not, to apply the rule settled by the previous cases, and, if the conflict does exist between the adjudications, to determine which of the prior decisions announce the correct rule, and to follow it.

In Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) 9 Wheat. 1, 6 L. ed. 23, wherein it was held that the acts of the legislature of New York, granting to Livingston and Fulton exclusive rights to navigation, by steamboats, in the navigable waters within the jurisdiction of the state of New York, was repugnant to the commerce clause of the Constitution, in the course of the opinion Mr. Chief Justice Marshall said (p. 65, L. ed. p. 38):


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