Fischer v. St. Louis/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

194 U.S. 361

Fischer  v.  St. Louis

 Argued: April 12, 1904. --- Decided: May 16, 1904

The authority of the city of St. Louis to adopt the ordinance in question is found in the Revised Statutes of the state (1899, pp. 2484 and 2488), which declare: 'The mayor and assembly shall have power, within the city, by ordinance not inconsistent with the Constitution or any law of this state, or of this charter, . . . to . . . prohibit the erection of . . . cow stables and dairies . . . within prescribed limits, and to remove and regulate the same.'

'Finally, to pass all such ordinances, not inconsistent with the provisions of this charter or of the laws of the state, as may be expedient in maintaining the peace, good government, health, and welfare of the city, its trade, commerce, and manufactures, and to enforce the same by fines and penalties not exceeding $500, and by forfeitures not exceeding $1,000.

The authority of the municipality of St. Louis, under this Zcharter, to adopt the ordinance in question, was settled by the decision of the supreme court, and is not open to attack here.

Considerable stress is laid upon the fact that at the time the ordinance was adopted (April 6, 1896), the dairy and cow stable had already been erected, and at that time was occupied and in use for that purpose, though such use was subsequently abandoned, and the premises used as a private residence for a short time, when defendant moved his cattle there and established anew the dairy and cow stable which had theretofore been used. The supreme court, however, found that defendant was guilty of maintaining a dairy and cow stable, within the meaning of the ordinance, without permission of the municipal assembly, and as this construction of the ordinance involves no Federal question, we are relieved from the necessity of considering it.

Defendant's objection to the ordinance, that it is made to apply to the whole city, when authority was only given by the charter to prohibit the erection of cow stables and dairies 'within prescribed limits,' is equally without foundation. If it were possible to prescribe limits for the operation of the ordinance, it was held by the supreme court to be equally possible to declare that those limits should be coincident with the limits of the city. This is also a non-Federal question.

Defendant's main contention, however, is that, by vesting in the municipal assembly the power to permit the erection of dairy and cow stables to certain persons, a discrimination is thus declared in favor of such persons, and against all other persons, and the equal protection of the laws denied to all the disfavored class. The power of the legislature to authorize its municipalities to regulate and suppress all such places or occupations as, in its judgment, are likely to be injurious to the health of its inhabitants, or to disturb people living in the immediate neighborhood by loud noises or offensive odors, is so clearly within the police power as to be no longer open to question. The keeping of swine and cattle within the city or designated limits of the city has been declared in a number of cases to be within the police power. The keeping of cow stables and dairies is not only likely to be offensive to neighbors, but it is too often made an excuse for the supply of impure milk from cows which are fed upon unhealthful food, such as the refuse from distilleries, etc. Re Linehan, 72 Cal. 114, 13 Pac. 170; Quincy v. Kennard, 151 Mass. 563, 24 N. E. 860; Love v. Recorder's Court Judge, 128 Mich. 545, 55 L. R. A. 618, 87 N. W. 785.

We do not regard the fact that permission to keep cattle may be granted by the municipal assembly as impairing, in any degree, the validity of the ordinance, or as denying to the disfavored dairy keepers the equal protection of the laws. Such discrimination might well be made where one person desired to keep two cows, and another fifty; where one desired to establish a stable in the heart of the city, and another in the suburds; or, where one was known to keep his stable in a filthy condition, and another had established a reputation for good order and cleanliness. Such distinctions are constantly made the basis for licensing one person to sell intoxicating liquors, and denying it to others. The question in each case is whether the establishing of a dairy and cow stable is likely, in the hands of the applicant, to be a nuisance or not to the neighborhood, and to imperil or conduce to the health of its customers. As the dispensing power must be vested in some one, it is not easy to see why it may not properly be delegated to the municipal assembly which enacted the ordinance. Of course, cases may be imagined where the power to issue permits may be abused, and the permission accorded to social or political favorites and denied to others, who, for reasons totally disconnected with the merits of the case, are distasteful to the licensing power. No such complaint, however, is made to the practical application of the law in this case, and we are led to infer that none such exists. We have no criticism to make of the principle of granting a license to one and denying it to another, and are bound to assume that the discrimination is made in the interest of the public, and upon conditions applying to the health and comfort of the neighborhood. Crowley v. Christensen, 137 U.S. 86, 34 L. ed. 620, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 13; Davis v. Massachusetts, 167 U.S. 43, 42 L. ed. 71, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 731; Soon Hing v. Crowley, 113 U.S. 703, 710, 28 L. ed. 1145, 1147, 5 Sup. Ct. Rep. 730.

The only alternative to the allowance of such exceptions would be to make the application of the ordinance universal. This would operate with great hardship upon persons who desire to establish dairies and cow stables in the outskirts of the city, as well as inconvenience to the inhabitants, who, to that extent, would be limited in their supply of milk. It would be exceedingly difficult to make exceptions in the ordinance itself without doing injustice in individual cases; and we see no difficulty in vesting in some body of men, presumed to be acquainted with the business and its conditions, the power to grant permits in special cases. It has been held in some of the state courts to be contrary to the spirit of American institutions to vest this dispensing power in the hands of a single individual (Chicago v. Trotter, 136 Ill. 430, 26 N. E. 359; Re Frazee, 63 Mich. 396, 6 Am. St. Rep. 310, 30 N. W. 72; State v. Fiske, 9 R. I. 94; Baltimore v. Radecke, 49 Md. 217, 33 Am. Rep. 239; Sioux Falls v. Kirby, 6 S. D. 62, 25 L. R. A. 621, 60 N. W. 156), and in others that such authority cannot be delegated to the adjoining lot owners (St. Louis v. Russell, 116 Mo. 248, 20 L. R. A. 721, 22 S. W. 470; Ex parte Sing Lee, 96 Cal. 354, 24 L. R. A. 195, 31 Am. St. Rep. 218, 31 Pac. 245). But the authority to delegate that discretion to a board appointed for that purpose is sustained by the great weight of authority (Quincy v. Kennard, 151 Mass. 563, 24 N. E. 860; Com. v. Davis, 162 Mass. 510, 26 L. R. A. 712, 44 Am. St. Rep. 389, 39 N. E. 113), and by this court the delegation of such power, even to a single individual, was sustained in Wilson v. Eureka City, 173 U.S. 32, 43 L. ed. 603, 19 Sup. Ct. Rep. 317; and Gundling v. Chicago, 177 U.S. 183, 44 L. ed. 725, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 633.

Whether the defendant be in a position to avail himself of the alleged invalidity of the ordinance without averring that he applied for, and had been refused a permit to establish the dairy and cow stable in question, as was intimated in the latter case, is not necessary to a decision here, and we express no opinion upon the point.

It is sufficient for us to hold, as we do, that the ordinance in question does not deprive the defendant of his property without due process of law, nor deny to him the equal protection of the laws.

The judgment of the Supreme Court of Missouri is, therefore, 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).