Chicago Railway Company v. Wellman

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

143 U.S. 339

Chicago Railway Company  v.  Wellman

Action by Thomas Wellman against the Chicago & Grand Trunk Railway Company to recover damages for a refusal to carry him as a passenger. Verdict and judgment for plaintiff, which was affirmed by the state supreme court. 47 N. W. Rep. 489. Defendant brings error. Affirmed.


In 1889 the legislature of the state of Michigan passed an act, No. 202 of the Public Acts of that year, pages 282 and 283, by which, among other things, section 3323 of Howell's Statutes, being a part of the railroad law of that state, was amended. So far as affects the matters in controversy here, it is enough to quote from the ninth paragraph, referring to the powers and liabilities of railroad companies. That is as follows:

'Ninth. To regulate the time and maner in which passengers and property shall be transported, and the tolls and compensation to be paid therefor; but such compensation for transporting any passenger, and his or her ordinary baggage, not exceeding in weight 150 pounds, shall not exceed the following prices, viz.: For a distance not exceeding five miles, three cents per mile: for all other distances, for all companies the gross earnings of whose passenger trains, as reported to the commissioner of railroads for the year one thousand eight hundred and eighty-eight, equaled or exceed the sum of $3,000 per mile of road operated by said company, two cents per mile; and for all companies the earnings of whose passenger trains, reported as aforesaid, were over $2,000 and less than $3,000 per mile of road operated by said company, two and a half cents per mile; and for all companies whose earnings, reported as aforesaid, were less than $2,000 per mile of road operated by said company, three cents per mile.'

Prior thereto the regular fare charged on plaintiff in error's road from Port Huron to Battle Creek was $4.80, the distance being 159 3/4 miles. On the very day on which the law took affect, to-wit, October 2, 1889, the defendant in error, plaintiff below, went to the defendant's office in Port Huron, and tendered $3.20 for a ticket from that place to Battle Creek, which was refused. Thereupon he brought this action in damages, to which the railroad company promptly answered and on November 22, 1889, less than two months from the time the law went into effect, the case was tried, and a verdict and a judgment entered in favor of the defendant in error for the sum of $101, an a mount sufficient to take the case to the higher court. On the trial it was agreed that the railroad company's earnings on its passenger trains for the year 1888 exceeded $3,000 per mile; that its capital stock was $6,600,000, and had been fully paid in; that its bonded debt was $12,000,000, one-helf bearing 6 per cent. and the other half per 5 cent. interest, payable semiannually; that the capital stock and mortgage debt represented an actual amount paid into the corporation; that the railroad property was at the time worth more than the capital stock and mortgage debt; and that, in addition to the mortgage debt, there was a floating debt of the amount of $896,906.40. Further, the following tabulated statement of the earnings and expeuses for the year 1888 was admitted to be correct:

(7) That the total earnings and income of the defendant from all sources .for the year 1888 was $3,228,338.17

Of this amount there was

received from passenger

traffic the sum of. $1,065,502 94

And from freight traffic

the sum of........ 2,160,180 23

From miscellaneous

sources............... 2,655 00

Total........................ $3,228,338 17

(8) That defendant's operatiog

expenses for the

year 1888 were.... $2,404,516 54

The interest paid on its

bonds was.......... 661,335 36

Other necessary expenses,

including interest on

part of the unfunded

debt, rental of cars,

tracks, etc......... 150,305 61

$3,216,157 51

(9) That, in addition to the foregoing expenses,

defendant paid during the

year 1888 from its earnings, on account

of interest on bonds not paid in previous years 12,257 94

$3,228,415 45

In addition to this agreed statement of facts, two witnesses were called, one the traffic manager and the other the treasurer of the plaintiff in error. Their testimony was substantially that, in view of the competition prevailing at Chicago for through business, it was impossible to increase the freight rates then charged by the company, because it would throw the volume of business into the hands of competing roads. Upon such agreed statement and testimony, and that alone, the railroad company asked an instruction that the act of 1889, referred to, was unconstitutiona. The court refused this instruction, and an exception to the refusal to give this instruction was the solitary one taken on the trial. The court proceeded to charge the jury that the act in question was valid, and that the plaintiff was entitled to a verdict and judgment by reason of the failure of the defendant to comply with its provisions. To this charge no exceptions were taken, and the case went to the supreme court of the state on the single exception above stated. That court sustained the ruling of the trial court, and affirmed its judgment, (83 Mich. 592, 47 N. W. Rep. 489;) to reveise which judgment the railroad company sued out a writ of error from this court.

E. W. Meddaugh and Geo. F. Edmunds, for plaintiff in error.

Wm. T. Mitchell, for Wellman.

A. A. Ellis, Atty. Gen., for State of Michigan.

Mr. Justice BREWER, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.


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).