Alexandria and Washington Railroad Company v. Brown

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United States Supreme Court

84 U.S. 445

Alexandria and Washington Railroad Company  v.  Brown

ERROR to the Supreme Court for the District of Columbia; the case being thus:

In the year 1854, Congress authorized the Alexandria and Washington Railroad Company, [1] a company which had been incorporated by the State of Virginia, and whose road began at Alexandria, a town seven miles south of Washington, and ran northward to the south side of the Potomac, to extend their road into the District of Columbia, in a way designated.

The act of incorporation provided that in case of suit against the company 'the service of process . . . may be made on . . . any director of the company.'

In 1863, the company got a further grant of power, [2] authorizing it to extend its road northward, so as to connect itself with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. This grant was, however, accompanied with a provision, 'that no person shall be excluded from the cars on account of color.'

In 1866, the Washington, Alexandria, and Georgetown Railroad Company, which had succeeded to the chartered rights of the old Alexandria and Washington Company, obtained from Congress an amendment [3] to the last-mentioned act-the act of 1863-so as to change the route of extension, and for other purposes. This act speaks of 'the Washington, Alexandria, and Georgetown Railroad Company,' as 'a corporation lawful succeeding to the charter, rights, and privileges of the Alexandria and Washington Railroad Company.' The road, under its new name, was at the time of this act leased to two persons named Stevens and Phelps. The new company not very long after fell into pecuniary difficulties, and the portion of it within the District of Columbia, by a decree of the Supreme Court of the District, was placed in the possession of a receiver, and the whole road was worked on the joint-account of the lessees on the Virginia side and the receiver on the District side.

In this condition of things, one Catharine Brown, a colored woman, on the 8th of February, 1868, anterior to the adoption of the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the Constitution, bought a ticket to come from Alexandria to Washington. The ticket was issued in the name of 'the Washington, Georgetown, and Alexandria Railroad Company;' as were, indeed, all the tickets at each end of the route. No tickets were distinguished as for white persons or colored persons, nor for any particular sort or class of cars. All were exactly alike.

When the woman went to take her place in the cars there were standing there two cars, alike comfortable; the one, however, set apart for colored persons, and the other 'for white ladies, and gentlemen accompanying them;' the regulation having been that in going down from Washington to Alexandria, the first should be occupied by the former, and the last by the latter; and that in coming back the use should be simply reversed. When about to get into one of the cars, a servant of the persons managing the road, stationed near the cars to direct passengers, told the woman not to get into the car into which she was about to enter, but to get into the one before it; that he had been instructed by persons in charge of the road not to permit colored persons to ride in the car in which she was getting, but to have them go in the other. The woman, however, persisted in going into the car appropriated for white ladies, and the man put her out with force, and as she alleged, some insult. She then got into the car into which she had been directed to get-the one assigned to colored people-was carried safely into Washington and got out there.

Hereupon she sued the Washington, Alexandria, and Georgetown Railroad Company in the Supreme Court of the District.

The marshal of the District made return that he had 'served copy of summons and declaration on Joseph Stewart, reputed to be one of the directors of the company, the defendant.' Judgment was entered by default, and the question of damages referred to a jury for inquisition. The company afterwards moved to set aside the judgment because no sufficient service had been made. The court refused to grant this motion as thus asked for; but granted it on the entry of an appearance in ten days by the company and the receiver; and ordered the case to be put on the calendar for trial. The case was tried. On the trial evidence was introduced by the defendant tending to show that the ejection had not been with insult or unnecessary force; that the regulation of separating white from colored persons was one which was in force on the principal railroads in the country; that unless the said regulation had been adopted on this road, travel upon it would have been seriously injured; and that the establishment of such a regulation itself increased the expenses of the road considerably, and that without such a regulation the receipts of the road would have decreased.

The counsel of the company requested the court to instruct the jury:

1st. That on the evidence there had not been due service of process on the defendant, and that the plaintiff could not recover.

2d. That if the injuries complained of were received when the road was in the possession of the lessees and receiver,-worked and conducted by them,-the verdict should be for the defendant.

3d. That if by a standing regulation certain cars were appropriated and designated for the use of white persons, and certain others for the use of colored, and all the cars were equally safe, clean, and comfortable, and if this sort of regulation was one in force on the principal railroads of the country, and one which unless it has been adopted on this road, the travel on it would have been seriously injured and the receipts of the road decreased, and if the establishment of such a regulation itself increased the expenses of the road considerably then, in case no insult nor greater force than was necessary had been used, and the plaintiff after taking a seat in the car appropriated for colored persons, was carried safely into Washington and got out there-that the plaintiff could not recover.

The court refused to give any one of the instructions, and a verdict having been given in $1500 for the plaintiff and judgment entered on it, the company brought the case here, assigning as three causes of error the refusals to give the charges requested.

Messrs. T. T. Crittenden and D. Clarke, for the plaintiff in error; Messrs. S. R. Bond and W. A. Cook, contra.

Mr. Justice DAVIS delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  10 Stat. at Large, 810, § 3.

^2  12 Id. 805.

^3  14 Stat. at Large, 248.

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).