Ex parte Young

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Ex parte Young  (1908) 
Syllabus
Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), is a United States Supreme Court case that allows suits in federal courts against officials acting on behalf of states of the union to proceed despite the State's Sovereign immunity, when the State acted unconstitutionally.
Court Documents
Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion
Harlan

United States Supreme Court

209 U.S. 123

EX PARTE YOUNG

Original

No. 10  Argued: December 2, 3, 1907 --- Decided: March 23, 1908

[Syllabus from pages 123-126 intentionally omitted]

An original application was made to this court for leave to file a petition for writs of habeas corpus and certiorari in behalf of Edward T. Young, petitioner, as attorney general of the state of Minnesota.

Leave was granted and a rule entered directing the United States marshal for the district of Minnesota, third division, who held the petitioner in his custody, to show cause why such petition should not be granted.

The marshal, upon the return of the order to show cause, justified his detention on the petitioner by virtue of an order of the circuit court of the United States for the district of Minnesota, which adjudged the petitioner builty of contempt of that court, and directed that he be fined the sum of $100, and that he should dismiss the mandamus proceedings brought by him in the name and in behalf of the state, in the circuit court of the state, and that he should stand committed to the custody of the marshal until that order was obeyed. The case involves the validity of the order of the circuit court committing him for contempt.

The facts are these: The legislature of the state of Minnesota duly created a railroad and warehouse commission, and that commission, on the 6th of September, 1906, made an order fixing the rates for the various railroad companies for the carriage of merchandise between stations in that state of the kind and classes specified in what is known as the 'Western Classification.' These rates materially reduced those then existing, and were by the order to take effect November 15, 1906. In obedience to the order the railroads filed and published the schedules of rates, which have ever since that time been carried out by the companies.

At the time of the making of the above order it was provided by the Revised Laws of Minnesota, 1905 (§ 1987), that any common carrier who violated the provisions of that section or wilfully suffered any such unlawful act or omission, when no specific penalty is imposed therefor, 'if a natural person, shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor, and shall be punished by a find of not less than $2,500, nor more than $5,000 for the first offense, and not less than $5,000 nor more than $10,000 for each subsequent offense; and, if such carrier or warehouseman be a corporation, it shall forfeit to the state for the first offense not less than $2,500 nor more than $5,000, and for each subsequent offense not less than $5,000 nor more than $10,000, to be recovered in a civil action.'

This provision covered disobedience to the orders of the commission.

On the 4th of April, 1907, the legislature of the state of Minnesota passed an act fixing 2 cents a mile as the maximum passenger rate to be charged by railroads in Minnesota. (The rate had been theretofore 3 cents per mile.) The act was to take effect on the 1st of May, 1907, and was put into effect on that day by the railroad companies, and the same has been observed by them up to the present time. It was provided in the act that 'any railroad company, or any officer, agent, or representative thereof, who shall violate any provision of this act, shall be guilty of a felony, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand ($5,000) dollars, or by imprisonment in the state prison for a period not exceeding five (5) years, or both such fine and imprisonment.'

On the 18th of April, 1907, the legislature passed an act (chapter 232 of the laws of that year), which established rates for the transportation of certain commodities (not included in the Western Classification) between stations in that state. The act divided the commodities to which it referred into seven classes, and set forth a schedule of maximum rates for each class when transported in car-load lots, and established the minimum weight which constituted a car load of each class.

Section 5 provided that it should not affect the power or authority of the railroad and warehouse commission, except that no duty should rest upon that commission to enforce any rates specifically fixed by the act or any other statute of the state. The section further provided generally that the orders made by the railroad and warehouse commission prescribing rates should be the exclusive legal maximum rates for the transportation of the commodities enumerated in the act between points within that state.

Section 6 directed that every railroad company in the state should adopt and publish and put into effect the rates specified in the statute, and that every officer, director, traffic manager, or agent, or employee of such railroad company should cause the adoption, publication, and use by such railroad company of rates not exceeding those specified in the act; 'and any officer, director, or such agent or employee of any such railroad company who violates any of the provisions of this section, or who causes or counsels, advises or assists, any such railroad company to violate any of the provisions of this section, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and may be prosecuted therefor* in any county into which its railroad extends, and in which it has a station, and upon a conviction thereof be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period not exceeding ninety days.' The act was to take effect June 1, 1907.

The railroad companies did not obey the provisions of this act so far as concerned the adoption and publication of rates as specified therein.

On the 31st of May, 1907, the day before the act was to take effect, nine suits in equity were commenced in the circuit court of the United States for the district of Minnesota, third division, each suit being brought by stockholders of the particular railroad mentioned in the bill, and in each case the defendants named were the railroad company of which the complainants were, respectively, stockholders, and the members of the railroad and warehouse commission, and the attorney general of the state, Edward T. Young, and individual defendants, representing the shippers of freight upon the railroad.

The order punishing Mr. Young for contempt was made in the suit in which Charles E. Perkins, a citizen of the state of Iowa, and David C. Shepare, a citizen of the state of Minnesota, were complainants, and the Northern Pacific Railway Company, a corporation organized under the laws of the state of Wisconsin, Edward T. Young, petitioner herein, and others, were parties defendant. All of the defendants, except the railway company, are citizens and residents of the state of Minnesota.

It was averred in the bill that the suit was not a collusive one to confer on the court jurisdiction of a case of which it could not otherwise have cognizance, but that the objects and purposes of the suit were to enjoin the railway company from publishing or adopting (or continuing to observe, if already adopted) the rates and tariffs prescribed and set forth in the two acts of the legislature above mentioned and in the orders of the railroad and warehouse commission, and also to enjoin the other defendants from attempting to enforce such provisions, or from instituting any action or proceeding against the defendant railway company, its officers, etc., on account of any violation thereof, for the reason that the said acts and orders were and each of them was violative of the Constitution of the United States.

The bill also alleged that the orders of the railroad commission of September 6, 1906, May 3, 1907, the passenger-rate act of April 4, 1907, and the act of April 18, 1907, reducing the tariffs and charges which the railway company had theretofore been permitted to make, were each and all of them unjust, unreasonable, and confiscatory, in that they each of them would, and will if enforced, deprive complainants and the railway company of their property without due process of law, and deprive them and it of the equal protection of the laws, contrary to and in violation of the Constitution of the United States and the amendments thereof. It was also averred that the complainants had demanded of the president and managing directors of the railway company that they should cease obedience to the orders of the commission dated September 6, 1906, and May 3, 1907, and to the acts already mentioned, and that the rates prescribed in such orders and acts should not be put into effect, and that the said corporation, its officers and directors, should institute proper suit or suits to prevent said rates (named in the orders and in the acts of the legislature) from continuing or becoming effective, as the case might be, and to have the same declared illegal; but the said corporation, its president and directors, had positively declined and refused to do so, not because they considered the rates a fair and just return upon the capital invested, or that they would not be confiscatory, but because of the severity of the penalties provided for the violation of such acts and orders, and therefore they could not subject themselves to the ruinous consequences which would inevitably result from failure on their part to obey the said laws and orders,-a result which no action by themselves, their stockholders or directors, could possibly prevent.

The bill further alleged that the orders of the commission of September, 1906, and May, 1907, and the acts of April 4, 1907, and April 18, 1907, were, in the penalties prescribed for their violation, so drastic that no owner or operator of a railway property could invoke the jurisdiction of any court to test the validity thereof, except at the risk of confiscation of its property, and the imprisonment for long terms in jails and penitentiaries of its officers, agents, and employees. For this reason the complainants alleged that the above-mentioned orders and acts, and each of them, denied to the defendant railway company and its stockholders, including the complainants, the equal protection of the laws, and deprived it and them of their property without due process of law, and that each of them was, for that reason, unconstitutional and void.

The bill also contained an averment that if the railway company should fail to continue to observe and keep in force, or to observe and put in force, the orders of the commission and the acts of April 4, 1907, and April 18, 1907, such failure might result in an action against the company or criminal proceedings against its officers, directors, agents, or employees, subjecting the company and such officers to an endless number of actions at law and criminal proceedings; that if the company should fail to obey the order of the commission or the acts of April 4, 1907, and April 18, 1907, the said Edward T. Young, as attorney general of the state of Minnesota, would, as complainants were advised and believed, institute proceedings by mandamus or otherwise against the railway company, its officers, directors, agents, or employees, to enforce said orders and all the provisions thereof, and that he threatened and would take other proceedings against the company, its officers, etc., to the same end and for the same purpose, and that he would, on such failure, institute mandamus or other proceedings for the purpose of enforcing said acts and each thereof, and the provisions and penalties thereof. Appropriate relief by injunction against the action of the defendant Young and the railroad commission was asked for.

A temporary restraining order was made by the circuit court, which only restrained the railway company from publishing the rates as provided for in the act of April 18, 1907, and from reducing its tariffs to the figures set forth in that act; the court refusing for the present to interfere by injunction with regard to the orders of the commission and the act of April 4, 1907, as the railroads had already put them in operation; but it restrained Edward T. Young, attorney general, from taking any steps against the railroads to enforce the remedies or penalties specified in the act of April 18, 1907.

Copies of the bill and the restraining order were served, among others, upon the defendant Mr. Edward T. Young, attorney general, who appeared specially and only for the purpose of moving to dismiss the bill as to him, on the ground that the court had no jurisdiction over him as attorney general; and he averred that the state of Minnesota had not consented, and did not consent, to the commencement of this suit against him as attorney general of the state, which suit was in truth and effect a suit against the said state of Minnesota, contrary to the 11th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

The attorney general also filed a demurrer to the bill, on the same ground stated in the motion to dismiss. The motion was denied and the demurrer overruled.

Thereupon, on the 23d of September, 1907, the court, after a hearing of all parties and taking proofs in regard to the issues involved, ordered a temporary injunction to issue against the railway company, restraining it, pending the final hearing of the cause, from putting into effect the tariffs, rates, or charges set forth in the act approved April 18, 1907. The court also enjoined the defendant Young, as attorney general of the state of Minnesota, pending the final hearing of the cause, from taking or instituting any action or proceeding to enforce the penalties and remedies specified in the act above mentioned, or to compel obedience to that act, or compliance therewith, or any part thereof.

As the court refused to grant any preliminary injunction restraining the enforcement of the rates fixed by the railroad and warehouse commission, or the passenger rates under the act of April 4, 1907, because the same had been accepted by the railroads and were in operation, the court stated that, in omitting the granting of such preliminary injunction, the necessity was obviated upon that hearing of determining whether the rates fixed by the commission, or the passenger rates, together or singly, were confiscatory and did not afford reasonable compensation for the service rendered and a proper allowance for the property employed, and for those reasons that question had not been considered; but inasmuch as the rates fixed by the act of April 18, 1907, had not gone into force, the court observed: 'It seems to me, upon this evidence of the conditions before either of those new rates were put into effect (that is, the order of the commission of September, 1906, or the act of April 4, 1907) and the reductions made by those rates, that, if there is added the reduction which is attempted to be made by the commodity act (April 18, 1907), it will reduce the compensation received by the companies below what would be a fair compensation for the services performed, including an adequate return upon the property invested. And I think, on the whole, that a preliminary injunction should issue, in respect to the rates fixed by chapter 232 (act of April 18) talked of as the commodity rates, and that there should be no preliminary injunction as to the other rates, although the matter as to whether they are compensatory or not is a matter which may be determined in the final determination of the action.'

The day after the granting of this preliminary injunction the attorney general, in violation of such injunction, filed a petition for an alternative writ of mandamus in one of the courts of the state, and obtained an order from that court September 24, 1907, directing the alternative writ to issue as prayed for in the petition. The writ was thereafter issued and served upon the Northern Pacific Railway Company, commanding the company, immediately after its receipt, 'to adopt and publish and keep for public inspection, as provided by law, as the rates and charges to be made, demanded, and maintained by you for the transportation of freight between stations in the state of Minnesota of the kind, character, and class named and specified in chapter 232 of the Session Laws of the state of Minnesota for the year 1907, rates and charges which do not exceed those declared to be just and reasonable in and by the terms and provisions of said chapter 232.'

Upon an affidavit showing these facts the United States circuit court ordered Mr. Young to show cause why he should not be punished as for a contempt for his miseonduct in violating the temporary injunction issuded by that court in the case therein pending.

Upon the return of this order the attorney general filed his answer, in which he set up the same objections which he had made to the jurisdiction of the court in his motion to dismiss the bill, and in his demurrer; he disclaimed any intention to treat the court with disrespect in the commencement of the proceedings referred to, but believing that the decision of the court in the action, holding that it had jurisdiction to enjoin him, as attorney general, from performing his discretionary official duties, was in conflict with the 11th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, as the same has been interpreted and applied by the United States Supreme Court, he believed it to be his duty, as such attorney general, to commence the mandamus proceedings for and in behalf of the state, and it was in this belief that the proceedings were commenced solely for the purpose of enforcing the law of the state of Minnesota. The order adjudging him in contempt was then made.

Messrs. Thomas D. O'Brien, Herbert S. Hadley, Edward T. Young, George T. Simpson, Charles S. Jelly, Royal A. Stone, and F. W. Lehman for petitioner.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 134-139 intentionally omitted]

Messrs. Charles W. Bunn, Jared How, J. F. McGee, Pierce Butler, William D. Mitchell, William A. Lancaster, Frank B. Kellogg, Cordenio A. Severance, Robert E. Olds, Stiles W. Burr, and Walker D. Hines for respondent.

Messrs. Edward B. Whitney and Abel E. Blackmar as amici curice.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 139-141 intentionally omitted]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).