Brass v. North Dakota ex rel. Stoeser/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

153 U.S. 391

Brass  v.  North Dakota ex rel. Stoeser

In the thirteenth article of the constitution of the state of Illinois, adopted in 1870, all elevators or storehouses where grain or other property is stored for a compensation, whether the property stored by kept separate or not, were declared to be public warehouses, and it was made the duty of the general assembly to pass all necessary laws to give full effect to that article of the constitution. By an act approved April 25, 1871, and entitled 'An act to regulate public warehouses and the warehousing and inspection of grain, and to give effect to article 13 of the constitution of the state,' the legislature of Illinois provided that those who conducted such public warehouses located in cities containing not less than 100,000 inhabitants should procure licenses and should give bond conditioned for compliance with the law, prescribed maximum rates for storing and handling grain, and declared certain penalties for the failure to procure licenses.

The validity of this law was upheld by the supreme court of Illinois. Munn v. People, 69 Ill. 80. And that judgment was affirmed by this court. Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113.

In June, 1888, the legislature of the state of New York passed an act entitled 'An act to regulate the fees and charges for elevating, trimming, receiving, weighing, and discharging grain by means of floating and stationary elevators and warehouses in this state,' whereby maximum charges were fixed for elevating, receiving, weighing, and discharging grain, when the business was carried on in a city containing 130,000 inhabitants or upwards, and penalties imposed for disregard of the provisions of the statute. The owner of an elevator in the city of Buffalo was indicted, found guilty, and sentenced, in the superior court of Buffalo, for exacting charges for elevating grain in excess of the statutory rates. An appeal was taken to the court of appeals of the state of New York, which affirmed the judgment of the superior court of Buffalo. People v. Budd, 117 N. Y. 1, 22 N. E. 670, 682. A writ of error brought the case to this court, where the judgment of the court of appeals was affirmed. 143 U.S. 517, 12 Sup. Ct. 468.

The legislature of the state of North Dakota, by an act approved March 7, 1891, and entitled 'An act to regulate grain warehouses and the weighing and handling of grain, and defining the duties of the railroad commissioners in relation thereto,' enacted, in the fourth section thereof, that 'all buildings, elevators, or warehouses in this state, erected and operated, or which may hereafter be erected and operated by any person or persons, association, copartnership, corporation, or trust, for the purpose of buying, selling, storing, shipping, or handling grain for profit, are hereby declared public warehouses, and the person or persons, association, copartnership, or trust owning or operating said building or buildings, elevator or elevators, warehouse or warehouses, which are now or may hereafter be located or doing business within this state, as above described, whether said owners or operators reside within this state or not, are public warehousemen within the meaning of this act, and none of the provisions of this act shall be construed so as to permit discrimination with reference to the buying, receiving, and handling of grain of standard grades, or in regard to parties offering such grain for sale, storage, or handling at such public warehouses, while the same are in operation.' And in the fifth section: 'That the proprietor, lessee, or manager of any public warehouse or elevator in this state shall file with the railroad commissioners of the state a bond to the state of North Dakota, with good and sufficient sureties, to be approved by said commissioners of railroads, in the penal sum of not less than $5,000 nor more than $75,000, in the discretion of said commissioners, conditioned for the faithful performance of duty as public warehousemen, and a compliance with all the laws of the state in relation thereto;' and in the eleventh section thereof: 'The charges for storing and handling of grain shall not be greater than the following schedule: For receiving, elevating, insuring, delivering, and twenty days' storage, two cents per bushel. Storage rates, after the first twenty days, one-half cent for each fifteen days or fraction thereof, and shall not exceed five cents for six months. The grain shall be kept insured at the expense of the warehousemen for the benefit of the owner.' And by the twelfth section it is provided that: 'Any person, firm, or association, or any representative thereof, who shall fail to do and keep the requirements as herein provided, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall, on conviction thereof, be subject to a fine of not less than two hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars, and be liable in addition thereto to imprisonment for not more than one year in the state penitentiary, at the discretion of the court.'

In October, 1891, in the district court of the second judicial district of the state of North Dakota, in proceedings, the nature of which sufficiently appears in the previous statement of facts, the validity of this statute was sustained; and the judgment of that court was, on error, duly affirmed by the supreme court of the state. State v. Brass (N. D.) 52 N. W. 408.

In the cases thus brought to this court from the states of Illinois and New York, we were asked to declare void statutes regulating the affairs of grain warehouses and elevators within those states, and held valid by their highest courts, because it was claimed that such legislation was repugnant to that clause of the eighth section of article 1 of the constitution of the United States which confers upon congress power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states, and to the fourteenth amendment, which ordains that no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

In the case now before us the same contentions are made, but we are not asked to review our decisions made in the previous cases. Indeed, their soundness is tacitly admitted in the briefs and argument of the counsel of the plaintiff in error. But it is said that those cases arose out of facts so peculiar and exceptional, and so different from those of the present case, as to render the reasoning there used, and the conclusions reached, now inapplicable.

The concession, then, is that, upon the facts found to exist by the legislatures of Illinois and New York, their enactments were by the courts properly declared valid; and the contention is that the facts upon which the legislature of North Dakota proceeded, and of which we can take notice in the present case, are so different as to call for the application of other principles, and to render an opposite conclusion necessary.

The differences in the facts of the respective cases, to which we are pointed, are mainly as follows: In the first place, what may be called a geographical difference is suggested, in that the operation of the Illinois and New York statutes is said to be restricted to the city of Chicago, in the one case, and to the cities of Buffalo, New York, and Brooklyn, in the other, while the North Dakota statute is applicable to the territory of the entire state.

It is, indeed, true that while the terms of the Illinois and New York statutes embrace, in both cases, the entire state, yet their behests are restricted to cities having not less than a prescribed number of inhabitants, and that there is no such restriction in the North Dakota law.

Upon this it is argued that the statutes of Illinois and New York are intended to operate in great trade centers, where, on account of the business being localized in the hands of a few persons in close proximity to each other, great opportunities for combinations to raise and control elevating and storage charges are afforded, while the wide extent of the state of North Dakota, and the small population of its country towns and villages, are said to present no such opportunities.

The considerations mentioned are obviously addressed to the legislative discretion. It can scarcely be meant to contend that the statutes of Illinois and New York, valid in their present form, would become illegal if the lawmakers thought fit to repeal the clauses limiting their operation to cities of a certain size, or that the statute of North Dakota would at once be validated if one or more of her towns were to reach a population of 100,000, and her legislature were to restrict the operation of the statute to such cities.

Again, it is said that the modes of carrying on the business of elevating and storing grain in North Dakota are not similar to those pursued in the eastern cities; that the great elevators used in transshipping grain from the lakes to the railroads are essential; and that those who own them, if uncontrolled by law, could extort such charges as they pleased. And great stress is laid upon expressions used in our previous opinions, in which this business, as carried on at Chicago and Buffalo, is spoken of as a practical monopoly, to which shippers and owners of grain are compelled to resort. The surroundings in an agricultural state, where land is cheap in price and limitless in quantity, are thought to be widely different, and to demand different regulations.

These arguments are disposed of, as we think, by the simple observation, already made, that the facts rehearsed are matters for those who make, not for those who interpret, the laws. When it is once admitted, as it is admitted here, that it is competent for the legislative power to control the business of elevating and storing grain, whether carried on by individuals or associations, in cities of one size and in some circumstances, it follows that such power may be legally exerted over the same business when carried on in smaller cities, and in other circumstances. It may be conceded that that would not be wise legislation which provided the same regulations in every case, and overlooked differences in the facts that called for regulations. But, as we have no right to revise the wisdom or expediency of the law in question, so we would not be justified in imputing an improper exercise of discretion to the legislature of North Dakota. It may be true that in the cases cited the judges who expressed the conclusions of the court entered, at some length, into a defense of the propriety of the laws which they were considering, and that some of the reasons given for sustaining them went rather to their expediency than to their validity. Such efforts, on the part of judges, to vindicate to citizens the ways of legislatures, are not without value, though they are liable to be met by the assertion of opposite views as to the practical wisdom of the law, and thus the real question at issue, namely, the power of the legislature to act at all, is obscured. Still, in the present instance, the obvious aim of the reasoning that prevailed was to show that the subject-matter of these enactments fell within the legitimate sphere of legislative power, and that, so far as the laws and constitution of the United States were concerned, the legislation in question deprived no person of his property without due process of law, and did not interfere with federal jurisdiction over interstate commerce.

Another argument advanced is based on the admitted allegation that the principal business of the plaintiff in error, in connection with his warehouse, is in storing his own grain, and that the storage of the grain of other persons is, and always has been, a mere incident; and it is said that the effect of this law will be to compel him to renounce his principal business, and become a mere warehouseman for others. We do not understand this law to require the owner of a warehouse, built and used by him only to store his own grain, to receive and store the grain of others. Such a duty only arises when he chooses to enter upon the business of elevating and storing the grain of other persons for profit. Then he becomes subject to the statutory regulations, and he cannot escape them by asserting that he also elevates and stores his own grain in the same warehouse. As well might a person accused of selling liquor without a license urge that the larger part of his liquors was designed for his own consumption, and that he only sold the surplus as a mere incident.

Another objection to the law is found in its provision that the warehouseman shall insure the grain of others at his own expense. This may be burdensome, but it affects alike all engaged in the business, and, if it be regarded as contrary to sound public policy, those affected must instruct their representatives in general assembly met to provide a remedy.

The plaintiff in error, in his answer to the writ of mandamus, based his defense wholly upon grounds arising under the constitution of the state and of the United States. We are limited by this record to the questions whether the legislature of North Dakota, in regulating by a general law the business and charges of public warehousemen engaged in elevating and storing grain for profit, denies to the plaintiff in error the equal protection of the laws, or deprives him of his property without due process of law, and whether such statutory regulations amount to a regulation of commerce between the states. The allegations and arguments of the plaintiff in error have failed to satisfy us that any solid distinction can be found between the cases in which those questions have been heretofore determined by this court and the present one. The judgment of the court below is accordingly affirmed.


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).