Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company v. Iowa.
1. Railroad companies are carriers for hire. Engaged in a public employment affecting the public Interest, they are, unless protected by their charters, subject to legislative control as to their rates of fare and freight.
2. The Burlington and Missouri River Railroad Company has, within the scope of the authority conferred by its charter, and subject to the limitations thereby imposed, the power of a natural person to make contracts in reference to its business. Like such person, it, or its assignee, the plaintiff in error, is, under the same circumstances, subject at all times to such laws as the general assembly of the State may from time to time enact.
3. A power of government which actually exists is not lost by non-user. The fact, therefore, that the power of regulating the maximum rates of fare and freight was not exercised for more than twenty years after the incorporation of that company is unimportant. Nor does it affect the ease, that, before the power was exercised, the company had pledged its income, as security for the payment of debts incurred, and had leased its road to a tenant that relied upon the earnings for the means of paying the stipulated rent. It could neither grant nor pledge more than it had, and its pledgee or tenant took the property subject to the exercise by the State of the same powers of regulation which might have been exercised over the company itself.
4. The set of the general assembly of the State of Iowa, entitled "An Act to establish reasonable maximum rates of charges for the transportation of freight and passengers on the different roads of this State," approved March 23, 1874, is not in. conflict with sect. 4, art. 1, of the Constitution of Iowa, which provides that "all laws of a general nature shall have a uniform operation," and that "the general assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities which, upon the same terms, Shall not equally belong to all citizens;" nor is it a regulation of Inter-state commerce.
APPEAL from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Iowa.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WAITE delivered the opinion of the court.
Railroad companies are carriers for hire. They are incorporated as such, and given extraordinary powers, in order that they may the better serve the public in that capacity. They are, therefore, engaged in a public employment affecting the public interest, and, under the decision in Munn v. Illinois, supra, p. 113, subject to legislative control as to their rates of fare and freight, unless protected by their charters.
The Burlington and Missouri River Railroad Company, the benefit of whose charter the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company now claims, was organized under the general corporation law of Iowa, with power to contract, in reference to its business, the same as private individuals, and to establish by-laws and make all rules and regulations deemed expedient in relation to its affairs, but being subject, nevertheless, at all times to such rules and regulations as the general assembly of Iowa might from time to time enact and provide. This is, in substance, its charter, and to that extent it is protected as by a contract; for it is now too late to contend that the charter of a corporation is not a contract within the meaning of that clause in the Constitution of the United States which prohibits a State from passing any law impairing the obligation of a contract. Whatever is granted is secured subject only to the limitations and reservations in the charter or in the laws or constitutions which govern it.
This company, in the transactions of its business, has the same rights, and is subject to the same control, as private individuals under the same circumstances. It must carry when called upon to do so, and can charge only a reasonable sum for the carriage. In the absence of any legislative regulation upon the subject, the courts must decide for it, as they do for private persons, when controversies arise, what is reasonable. But when the legislature steps in and prescribes a maximum of charge, it operates upon this corporation the same as it does upon individuals engaged in a similar business. It was within the power of the company to call upon the legislature to fix permanently this limit, and make it a part of the charter; and, if it was refused, to abstain from building the road and establishing the contemplated business. If that had been done, the charter might have presented a contract against future legislative interference. But it was not; and the company invested its capital, relying upon the good faith of the people and the wisdom and impartiality of legislators for protection against wrong under the form of legislative regulation.
It is a matter of no importance that the power of regulation now under consideration, was not exercised for more than twenty years after this company was organized. A power of government which actually exists is not lost by non-user. A good government never puts forth its extraordinary powers, except under circumstances which require it. That government is the best which, while performing all its duties, interferes the least with the lawful pursuits of its people.
In 1691, during the third year of the reign of William and Mary, Parliament provided for the regulation of the rates of charges by common carriers. This statute remained in force, with some amendment, until 1827, when it was repealed, and it has never been re-enacted. No one supposes that the power to restore its provisions has been lost. A change of circumstances seemed to render such a regulation no longer necessary, and it was abandoned for the time. The power was not surrendered. That remains for future exercise, when required. So here, the power of regulation existed from the beginning, but it was not exercised until in the judgment of the body politic the condition of things was such as to render it necessary for the common good.
Neither does it affect the case that before the power was exercised the company had pledged its income as security for the payment of debts incurred, and had leased its road to a tenant that relied upon the earnings for the means of paying the agreed rent. The company could not grant or pledge more than it had to give. After the pledge and after the lease the property remained within the jurisdiction of the State, and continued subject to the same governmental powers that existed before.
The objection that the statute complained of is void because it amounts to a regulation of commerce among the States, has been sufficiently considered in the case of Munn v. Illinois. This road, like the warehouse in that case, is situated within the limits of a single State. Its business is carried on there, and its regulation is a matter of domestic
27concern. It is employed in State as well as in inter-state commerce, and, until Congress acts, the State must be permitted to adopt each rules and regulations as may be necessary for the promotion of the general welfare of the people within its own jurisdiction, even though in so doing those without may be indirectly affected.
It remains only to consider whether the statute is in conflict with sect. 4, art. 1, of the Constitution of Iowa, which provides that "all laws of a general nature shall have a uniform operation," and that "the general assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens."
The statute divides the railroads of the State into classes, according to business, and establishes a maximum of rates for each of the classes. It operates uniformly on each class, and this is all the Constitution requires. The Supreme Court of the State, in the case of McAunich v. M. & M. Railroad Co., 20 Iowa. 343, in speaking of legislation as to classes, said, "These laws are general and uniform, not because they operate upon every person in the State, for they do not, but because every person who is brought within the relation and circumstances provided for is affected by the law. They are general and uniform in their operation upon all persons in the like situation, and the fact of their being general and uniform is not affected by the number of persons within the scope of their operation." This act does not grant to any railroad company privileges or immunities which, upon the same terms, do not equally belong to every other railroad company. Whenever a company comes into any class, it has all the "privileges and immunities" that have been granted by the statute to any other company in that class.
It is very dear that a uniform rate of charges for all railroad companies in the State might operate unjustly upon some. It was proper, therefore, to provide in some way for an adaptation of the rates to the circumstances of the different roads; and the general assembly, in the exercise of its legislative discretion, has seen fit to do this by a system of classification. Whether this was the best that could have been done is not for us to decide. Our province is only to determine whether it could be done at all, and under any circumstances. If it could, the legislature must decide for itself, subject to no control from us, whether the common good requires that it should be done.
MR. JUSTICE FIELD and MR. JUSTICE STRONG dissented.
[For the above decision, see iv Otto, vol. 94 U. S. S. C., beginning p. 155.]