Alexandria and Washington Railroad Company v. Brown/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

84 U.S. 445

Alexandria and Washington Railroad Company  v.  Brown

There are but three points in this record which the assignments of error bring before us for review, and only the last relates to the merits of the controversy.

1. It is objected that the Circuit Court did not acquire jurisdiction of the defendant below for want of proper service of process. But this objection is not well taken, because the process was served on Stewart, a director of the road, and this service was in conformity to law. [4] It is true the marshal does not return as a fact that Stewart was a director, only that he was reputed to be so, but the record shows he was a director when the road was leased, and in the absence of proof to the contrary, it will be presumed this relation existed when the summons in this case was served. Even if the service were defective, the plaintiff in error is not in a position at this time to except to it. The record discloses that, soon after the action was commenced, a judgment by default was entered for want of a plea, and that the plaintiff in error appeared by attorney and moved the court to set it aside on the ground that there had been no sufficient service of process. This motion was denied for the reason stated, but the court ordered the default to be opened and the cause placed on the trial calendar, on the condition that the appearance of the plaintiff in error was entered by the receiver within a period of ten days. This order was, doubtless, made in order to give the company an opportunity to defend, and at the same time to set at rest the point raised about the service in case the merits of the action were tried. The condition thus imposed was complied with, and for aught that appears, the subsequent litigation has been conducted on the part of the company by its voluntary appearance in every stage of the case.

2. The second assignment of error denies the liability of the corporation for anything done while the road is operated by the lessees and receiver.

It is the accepted doctrine in this country, that a railroad corporation cannot escape the performance of any duty or obligation imposed by its charter or the general laws of the State by a voluntary surrender of its road into the hands of lessees. [5] The operation of the road by the lessees does not change the relations of the original company to the public. It is argued, however, that this rule is not applicable where the proceeding, instead of being voluntary, is compulsory, as in the case of the transfer of possession to a receiver by a decree of a court of competent jurisdiction. Whether this be so or not, we are not called upon to decide, because it has never been held that the company is relieved from liability, unless the possession of the receiver is exclusive and the servants of the road wholly employed and controlled by him. In this case the possession was not exclusive, nor were the servants subject to the receiver's order alone. On the contrary, the road was run on the joint account of the lessees and receiver, and the servants employed and controlled by them jointly. Both were, therefore, alike responsible for the act complained of, and if so, the original company is also responsible, for the servants under such an employment, in legal contemplation, are as much the servants of the company as of the lessees and receiver.

Apart from this view of the subject, the ticket on which the plaintiff rode, was issued in the name of the Washington, Georgetown, and Alexandria Railroad Company, as were all the tickets sold at both ends of the route. The holder of such a ticket contracts for carriage with the company, not with the lessees and receiver. Indeed, there is nothing to show that Catharine Brown knew of the difficulties into which the original company had fallen, nor of the part performed by the lessees and receiver in operating the road. She was not required to look beyond the ticket, which conveyed the information that this road was run as railroads generally are, by a chartered company. Besides, the company having permitted the lessees and receiver to conduct the business of the road in this particular, as if there were no change of possession, is not in a position to raise any question as to its liability for their acts.

The third and last assignment of error asserts the right of the company to make the regulation separating the colored from the white passengers.

If the defendant in error had the right to retain the seat she had first taken, it is conceded the verdict of the jury should not be disturbed.

It appears that the Washington and Alexandria Railroad Company, in 1863, was desirous of extending its road from the south side of the Potomac near to the Baltimore and Ohio depot, in Washington, and Congressional aid was asked to enable it to do so. The authority to make the extension was granted, [6] and the streets designated across which the road should pass. This grant was accompanied with several provisions, among the number was one that no person shall be excluded from the cars on account of color. In 1866, the plaintiff in error, which had succeeded to the chartered rights of the previous company, obtained from Congress an amendment to the former act, so as to change the route of the extension, and for other purposes. [7] The latter act leaves all the provisions of the former act in full force, and the present company, therefore, is obliged to observe in the running of its road all the requirements imposed by Congress in its previous legislation on the subject. This leads us to consider what Congress meant in directing that no person should be excluded from the cars of the company on account of color.

The plaintiff in error contends that it has literally obeyed the direction, because it has never excluded this class of persons from the cars, but on the contrary, has always provided accommodations for them.

This is an ingenious attempt to evade a compliance with the obvious meaning of the requirement. It is true the words taken literally might bear the interpretation put upon them by the plaintiff in error, but evidently Congress did not use them in any such limited sense. There was no occasion in legislating for a railroad corporation to annex a condition to a grant of power, that the company should allow colored persons to ride in its cars. This right had never been refused, nor could there have been in the mind of any one an apprehension that such a state of things would ever occur, for self-interest would clearly induce the carrier-south as well as north-to transport, if paid for it, all persons, whether white or black, who should desire transportation. It was the discrimination in the use of the cars on account of color, where slavery obtained, which was the subject of discussion at the time, and not the fact that the colored race could not ride in the cars at all. Congress, in the belief that this discrimination was unjust, acted. It told this company, in substance, that it could extend its road within the District as desired, but that this discrimination must cease, and the colored and white race, in the use of the cars, be placed on an equality. This condition it had the right to impose, and in the temper of Congress at the time, it is manifest the grant could not have been made without it. It was the privilege of the company to reject it, but to do this, it must reject the whole legislation with which it was connected. It cannot accept a part and repudiate the rest. Having, therefore, constructed its road as it was authorized to do, and in this way greatly added to the value of its property, it will be held to a faithful compliance with all the terms accompanying the grant by which it was enabled to secure this pecuniary advantage.

In our opinion there is no error in the record, and the judgment below must be



^4  10 Stat. at Large, 810, § 3.

^5  1 Redfield on the Law of Railways, 5th ed., chap. 22, § 1, p. 616.

^6  12 Stat. at Large, 805.

^7  14 Id. 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).