Grand Rapids & Indiana R. Co. v. Osborn

Court Case Details
  • Case Name: Grand Rapids & Indiana R. Co. v. Osborn
  • Court: Supreme Court of the United States
  • Filed: February 23, 1904
  • Precedential Status: Published
  • Citations: 193 U.S. 17, 24 S. Ct. 310, 48 L. Ed. 598, 1904 U.S. LEXIS 977
  • Docket #: 61
  • Judges: White, After Making the Foregoing Statement
Court Case Opinion
193 U.S. 17 (1904)


No. 61.

Supreme Court of United States.

Argued November 6, 1903.
Decided February 23, 1904.

*23 Mr. Thomas J. O'Brien, with whom Mr. James II. Campbell was on the brief, for plaintiff in error.

Mr. Horace M. Oren, with whom Mr. Charles A. Blair, Attorney General of the State of Michigan was on the brief, for defendant in error.

*27 MR. JUSTICE WHITE, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

A jurisdictional question which was raised by the defendant in error requires first to be disposed of. It was objected that the judgment of the Supreme Court of Michigan in the case at bar was not based upon a Federal question, and hence this court is, it is urged, without jurisdiction to entertain this writ of error. The objection, however, is not well founded. It is plain from the averments of the answer of the railroad company to the petition in mandamus that the company relied upon the provisions of the general railroad law of 1873, authorizing the incorporation of the purchasers of a railroad after sale in the foreclosure proceedings, as constituting a contract protected by the Constitution of the United States. The determination of the alleged estoppel embodied in the ground *28 of demurrer to the answer of the railroad company, and which was sustained by the Supreme Court of Michigan, necessarily involved a consideration of this claim of a contract right, protected from impairment by the Constitution of the United States. In substance, if not in express terms, such question was passed upon by the court below. A Federal question which gives this court jurisdiction therefore arises on the record.

That the section of the general railroad law of 1873, making provision for the creation of a new corporation upon the reorganization of a railroad by the purchaser at a foreclosure sale, did not constitute a contract protected by the Constitution of the United States, is concluded by the decision in People ex rel. Schurz v. Cook, 148 U.S. 397. There the purchasers of railroad property in the State of New York under a sale upon foreclosure of a mortgage sought to escape the payment of an incorporation fee laid by the authority of certain statutes of the State of New York enacted after the execution of the mortgage. The claim was made that the statutes of the State of New York authorizing the purchasers of railroads sold upon foreclosure to incorporate, which were in force when the mortgage was executed, constituted a contract between the State of New York and the bondholders and their privies, and that the enforcement of the subsequent statute providing for the payment of an incorporation fee violated the obligation of the alleged contract. The Court of Appeals of New York held to the contrary, and its judgment was affirmed by this court. In the course of the opinion of this court it was said (p. 410):

"The plaintiffs in error acquired the properties and franchises of these corporations, which were subject to the taxing power of the State, after the act of 1886 was passed and went into effect. There is no provision of the law under which they made their purchase requiring them to become incorporated, but desiring corporate capacity, they demanded the grant of a new charter under which to exercise the franchises so acquired, without compliance with the law of the State existing at the time their application for incorporation was made. We are clearly of the opinion that the act of 1874, as amended in 1876, set up and relied upon by them, does not sustain such a *29 claim. The provisions of that act do not constitute a contract on the part of the State with either the corporations, or the mortgagees, bondholders or purchasers at foreclosure sale. They are merely matters of law instead of contract, and the right therein conferred upon purchasers of the corporate properties and franchises sold under foreclosure of mortgages thereon, to reorganize and become a new corporation, is subject to the laws of the State existing or in force at the time of such reorganization and the grant of a new charter of incorporation. Memphis &c. Railroad Co. v. Commissioners, 112 U.S. 609."

It results from the foregoing that Sims — the purchaser of the railroad property in question at the sale under foreclosure — and his associates could not demand to be incorporated under the statutes of Michigan as a matter of contract right. Possessing no such contract right, they or their privies cannot now be heard to assail the constitutionality of the conditions which were agreed to be performed when the grant by the State was made of the privilege to operate as a corporation the property in question. Having voluntarily accepted the privileges and benefits of the incorporation law of Michigan the company was bound by the provisions of existing laws regulating rates of fares upon railroads, and it is estopped from repudiating the burdens attached by the statute to the privilege of becoming an incorporated body. Daniels v. Tearney, 102 U.S. 415, and cases cited. That a railroad corporation may contract with a municipality or with a State to operate a railway at agreed rates of fare is unquestionable. And where the provisions of an accepted statute respecting rates to be charged for transportation are plain and unambiguous, and do not contravene public policy or positive rules of law, it is clear that a railroad company cannot avail of privileges which have been procured upon stipulated conditions and repudiate performance of the latter at will. Whether if a condition in a statute is couched in ambiguous language and is susceptible of two constructions, as it is claimed is the case before us in respect to the basis upon which the gross receipts per mile of operated road were to be calculated, a construction should be *30 adopted which will not render the condition repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, we need not determine. The statute in question, in its entirety, has been construed by the Supreme Court of Michigan and held valid, and its decision as to the proper interpretation of the language of the act in respect to the mode of ascertaining the gross receipts per mile does not render the statute repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, within the ruling recently made by this court in Wisconsin & Michigan Railway Company v. Powers, 191 U.S. 379.

Judgment affirmed.

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